The month of December sees Sydney (and probably the whole of Australia) grind to a halt as the weather gets hotter, the lunch dates get longer and the chocolates in the Advent Calendars disappear faster than you can say “Christmas is coming!”
In my case, it’s also seen the celebration of a number of birthdays and a welcome home of some long-lost family that have been gallivanting across the globe for the past 12 months.
To commemorate my cousin Ella’s return and her brother Huon’s 21st, we headed to Nilgiri’s, a Southern Indian restaurant in St Leonards.
When we arrived, there were three chutneys with pappadums waiting. I’m not exactly sure what they were – but they were delicious!
Next was a mini masala dosai with coconut chutney. The coconut flavour was the perfect accompaniment to the mustard potatoes, though the spice combination was a little weak for my tastes.
The token Indian dish – Chicken Tikka with naan – was the next thing to arrive. In contrast, this one was full of flavour, and perfectly cooked. The naan was also super fresh!
The final entree was a cauliflower and cabbage dish, battered and mixed in a sweet and sour chutney. I don’t normally like cauliflower but the flavours of the chutney were beautiful, making it go down very easily.
For mains, we had eggplant with coriander, tamarind and sesame;
black lentil dahl;
cauliflower and potato with cumin and ginger;
and over in the corner, chicken korma.
Goat curry also popped up at one point.
I preferred the goat, dahl and the cauliflower. They all packed a punch flavour-wise and complimented each other. The korma, again, was a bit too diluted in terms of spices, and the eggplant was good, but not amazing.
There was rice and raita for everyone too.
For dessert, we had kulfi – a frozen pistachio-flavoured treat with a mango sauce.
Indian ice-cream is icier than traditional gelato, so it was almost a hard sorbet, which I don’t really enjoy. That said, it was great for what it was – the pistachio flavours were subtle and not too sweet like others I’ve had, and the sauce was a great accompaniment.
I missed the chance to get a photo of the banquet room, but it was simply decorated, with soft seating and walls and some understated cultural decorations. It wasn’t kitsch or overwhelming, which was lovely!
On the way out, there were touches of the Indian culture – simplistic but gorgeous.
It had been a while since I’d visited Nilgiri’s, but it deserves the accolades it gets. While some dishes were a little weak on the flavour side, the ones that worked REALLY worked. The service was also great, with many of us noticing the skills involved in collecting plates while walking on a cushion, leaning down.
It is a little pricey – so save it for celebrations. It’s definitely not in the price range of a local Indian restaurant.
That said, if you are after good Southern Indian food in a central location, Nilgiri’s is hard to beat.