Where: Daughter In Law, 37/41 Little Bourke Street Melbourne
What: An anticlimactic experience belying the hype
Who: The Better Cher, Poetic Decoloniser
Bloat score: 5 – So full of gas I floated home like a hot air balloon
I’m in a complicated relationship with Indian food. South Indian food is the food I grew up with, but nothing makes me more bloated or brings on my dreaded heartburn like Indian food of every which provenance. Which is why I’m careful with which Indian places I visit in Melbourne, partly because the bloat consequences aren’t worth the homogenised versions of North Indian curries, partly because some of the best Indian I’ll ever have will be in the comfort of my own mother’s home. I have discovered some gems, however. Madras Brothers has, hands down, the best chicken biryani in Melbourne. Delhi Streets does a pretty mean dosa and a decent biryani. Punjabi Curry Café has the best palak paneer. Fork & Fingers is well-executed Indian fusion food. Khabbay has amazing chargrilled meats fresh out of the tandoor. I was interested to try Daughter In Law, the latest from chef Jessi Singh who brought us Horn Please, to see how it compared to my favourites.
First impressions were good. The pink suede couches and blush-flushed walls reminded Poetic Decoloniser of a lunchtime restaurant in Colombo. Everyone and everything were bathed in a moody afternoon glow, befitting the simultaneously ostentatious yet cosy feel of the restaurant. Our metal cups were emblazoned with the bold colours of peacocks and menus arrived in the form of a pink leather wallet. I was charmed.
Daughter In Law prides itself on being an “inauthentic Australian Indian restaurant”, so we made a beeline for the naan pizza section, something we’d read about in every review of the restaurant. So imagine our disappointment when we were told that none of the four pizza naans were available. None!
We contented ourselves instead with three entrees, two curries and one tandoori dish. The Better Cher and I also ordered an Indian-inspired cocktail that I forget the name and composition of, but that I remember liking.
The oysters (one of which costs $4.50) came garnished with green mango pickle butter, black lava salt and lime. This was my favourite dish of the night – the fried curry leaf flavour reminded Poetic Decoloniser of a murukku (a savoury and crunchy twisted Indian snack made from rice flour and chickpeas) and The Better Cher found it highly aromatic.
The chutney platter to share ($25) and Colonel Tso’s cauliflower ($18) were mind-bogglingly big in size, despite belonging to what we thought was the entrees section. We expected the chutney platter to include a small dollop of different chutneys, but instead, eight reasonably sized ramekins arrived with a heaped pile of naan and papadums in the centre. Order this and expect it to be one of your mains, and maybe don’t order two other entrees alongside it as we did. We enjoyed this – each chutney had a different flavour profile and our favourites were the cumin-spiced yoghurt chutney and the mint chutney. This defeated Poetic Decoloniser, however – she felt full soon after and the rest of the meal was a struggle.
Colonel Tso’s cauliflower was, again, a main-sized dish rather than an entrée. Inspired by General Tso’s chicken, America’s answer to Australia’s honey chicken and Mongolian beef, Daughter In Law’s version features fried cauliflower florets doused in a sweet and spicy sauce garnished with chives and sesame seeds. It is said to be owner and chef Jessi Singh’s play on the classic Indochinese dish gobi manchurian, but it didn’t expertly blend sweet and savoury as well as my favourite renditions of gobi manchurian. The sauce leaned too heavily on tomatoes, though I did marvel at how the cauliflower retained its crunch beneath the sauce. Because I’m such an avid eater of cauliflower no matter which way it’s prepared, I was a bigger fan of this than Poetic Decoloniser and The Better Cher, though all three of us were united in our annoyance when a waitstaff whisked the plate away despite us not having finished it. RIP three cauliflower florets.
By this stage, we were well and truly full, but we still had three dishes remaining, not to mention rice. We battled through.
The Aussie lamb chops ($36) were succulent owing to their masala yoghurt marinade, with satisfying concentrations of spice clinging to the edges of the meat, but the lamb was sadly dry.
The hallmark of any vindaloo is its fieriness, but Daughter In Law’s pork neck vindaloo ($28) was lacking in any spice whatsoever, and yes, we were three people of colour dining out on curry so our sense of spice might be skewed but this didn’t even make me break out in a sweat or acquire a runny nose, something that’s prone to happening to me with a medium level of spice. The pork neck was beautifully cooked, however, with the use of pork due to the Portuguese influence in the state of Goa, where vindaloo originated. It was interesting observing which aspects of regional Indian cooking chef Singh departed from and which he retained.
The palak paneer ($22) was similarly underwhelming. It was smooth and creamy, but lacked any real bite or heat. By this stage, I was so bloated I could barely sit up straight and sadly, this wasn’t one of those times where the bloat aftermath was worth it.
Though there were some highlights, we found our meal at Daughter In Law largely uneven. I suspect the naan pizzas are the must order, but we sadly didn’t get the choice of trying them. I have no bones with inauthenticity, but it should culminate in something that tastes as good as the traditional fare or reinvents it in new and exciting ways. Maybe the naan pizzas do this, but most of the dishes we ordered at Daughter In Law didn’t.
Daughter In Law is open Monday to Thursday from 12pm to 2.30pm and from 5pm to 9pm, on Friday from 12pm to 2.30pm and from 5pm to 10pm, on Saturday from 5pm to 10pm, and on Sunday from 5pm to 9pm.