“…it has my South Yarra friend wanting to claim it as her local even though it’s 10 minutes’ drive away”
Matt Preston, The Age
Imagine, if you will, a creamy sweetness that make your taste buds shriek, fused like a fine lacquer to a shattering shard of crispness. For most people this is heaven, and even though – due to a surfeit of taste buds -I am not a sweet tooth, I too was transported.
They say our predilection for foods that are both sweet and fat is a consequence of primal instinct. Apparently food occurring in nature that is not poisonous is generally both fatty in texture and sweet, which makes it desirable to all mankind. We are all also drawn to things that are thin and crisp, hence the popularity of deep fried snacks like crisps.
But I digress; you might assume – given the description of this particular confection – I was in a fine patisserie, eating a concoction originally served upon gilded platters to people of royal extraction. You’d be wrong.
I was at My Restaurant. No, not my own restaurant, that’s the name of the venue. The setting itself is a scruffy low rent building, but bucking the trend for cafes and bars filled with grubby thrift-shop style furniture, it has clean modern dining tables and chairs, seating about thirty people at a push.
Common to modern dining venues there is also the ubiquitous open kitchen, but this one is fronted by a bain-marie filled with curries. Ok so, it doesn’t sound flash, but it is honest and clean, your cutlery sits in baskets on the table with paper napkins and you can clearly see the selection of beverages in the drinks fridge, which you may happen to sit next to.
But I don’t tend to frequent venues based on décor, hype or fashion. My favourites are all about the food. So this place is one of my little secrets, a place where I don’t have to fight for a table with people who want to be seen, and I am loath to give it up, but that amazing sweet has loosened my tongue. Location-wise, My Restaurant is off most people’s radars, being away from Chapel Street in the least sexy part of High Street, Windsor, not far from Edwards Tavern.
In the last couple of years I’ve probably eaten more meals at My Restaurant than anywhere else, because not only is the food delicious, it is cheap and unpretentious. The service is friendly and eager, and I like that sometime’s the staff’s kids are doing homework at the next table. I also like that I can get a meal ay My Restaurant, after 9pm after going to the theatre on a Monday night. And I don’t think we’ve ever spent more than $14 for two courses, inclusive of drinks.
My Restaurant is a Mamak (Tamil Muslim) restaurant. It is halal, serving food from Singapore, Malaysia and South India. Although open for lunch seven days a week, you won’t be able to dine here on Friday or Saturday night. The clientele is mostly South East Asian along with students of all nations and those who have travelled and developed a taste for such food. And the food, including the excellent roti, is cooked to order. The turnover is fast, with regulars also picking up takeaways.
The menu lists sixty two items – of which there are about thirty vegetarian options – however you will see even more items adorning the walls on a vinyl banner. Some of these items, such as idlis are only available on Sunday. There are Murtabak, stuffed roti with a side of curry sauce; long delicate Dosai, fermented rice crepes rolled with a variety of fillings and served with sambol and chutneys; fried noodles and Biryani rice’s. I prefer Nonya style noodles, so am not a fan of the three Mee Goreng listed.
There are two curries however, that I might even crawl over hot coals for: the goat curry -which I can never resist – and the Chilli prawn. The goat is complex, unctuous, slightly oily and tender. The prawns seem a simple dish but strike a perfect balance in flavor. Both can be ordered to have with rice, roti or vadai; either may be ordered in medium or large portions.
Often I’m drawn to the Roti meal – a thali featuring a generous serve of roti, raita and three curries from the bain marie. Unlike many venues in Melbourne, the roti is made to order. Various curries, many of them vegetable, that don’t appear on the menu can be tasted in this package, though invariably I cannot resist making the goat curry one of them. Like a small child at a sweet counter, I take my time choosing my three curries, frequently succumbing to trying something new at the suggestion of the staff.
Recently the treasure trove of a bain-marie gave up a minced lamb curry, subtly spiced, containing chunks of potato in a thin, non dairy based sauce that fabulously lacked the cloying fattiness of many lamb dishes. It also boasted a chicken curry that had the silky texture of poached chicken in a delicious creamy orange sauce seasoned with a garam that tasted vaguely of nigella seeds.
The raita changes too, my favourite is the bright green mint raita which is a perfect palate cleanser and bridge between the various curries and takes the edge of any searing chilli hits. I have tried to get the recipe, but it’s a firmly held family secret.
Roti is a specialty at My Restaurant. I love watching it being stretched, tossed and folded on the large griddle. There are twelve varieties listed, you can have it with an assortment of embellishments: onion, eggs, cheese, chilli, banana and other sweet toppings. And then there’s the wonderful Kottu roti – where it is finely shredded with a manic two handed chopping action on the griddle plate, then tossed with seasonings, green chilli, egg and your choice of meat or vegetables.
And now to the piece de resistance, that wonder of wonders I described in the beginning, Tissu Roti. A circle of paper thin roti cooked with ghee is folded into a cone. Unctuous condensed milk made rich with the melted ghee or margarine, or both, is poured over the hot cone of pastry and fuses like caramel to form layer upon layer of toasted sweetness.
Its arrival strikes awe as it sits likes Harry Potter’s sorting hat upon the table; a perfectly crisp roti and so fine as to be like caramel lacquered pastry. It’s irresistible as you gradually eat your way around the cone, pulling off more crisp, sticky shards that melt in your mouth. A small pool of the caramel – like a vaguely salted, thin, Dulce de Leche – sits at the base of the plate and can be used to dip into for those who prefer their desserts extra sweet.
Wiping the unctuous sweet ooze from my face, I washed down the Tissu Roti with delicious, strong, Tea Tarik, containing yet more condensed milk. It’s probably the most sugar I’ve consumed in the last month, but boy, was it worth it. Now, imagining the sweet crunch between my teeth has me wanting it and goat curry all over again.
Now my secret’s out, please share it sparingly. I’d still like to get a seat.