This year has seen no shortage of new restaurant openings, and Indian food is as hot as ever. With Chaiwala, Kailash Parbat and New Punjab Club making their marks on the Indian culinary circuit this year, it’s challenging to imagine any leftover space in which to introduce a unique concept that can blossom. But tucked away in Wanchai’s Thomson Street is just that.
There’s nothing assuming about Daarukhana on the exterior, but step through their doors and you’ll find yourself in a theatrically lit space from the ground floor up. The walk up along the set of imposing stairs is the stuff of films – and possibly the most dramatic entrance you’ll make all year. Already, it doesn’t feel like a traditional Indian restaurant; we’re met with geometric patterns, gold accents, marble slabs and brushed chrome fixtures. Moody lighting and a cosy space with limited seats set the tone for intimacy.
Daarukhana uses metal straws for all beverages.
A cursory glance at the menu – condensed and well curated: a concise one-pager – sparked excitement. Did our keen eyes spy black garlic naan? A paneer bhurji quesadilla? A duck shami? We were especially drawn towards the balanced amount of carnivorous and vegetarian offerings on the menu – not surprising for an Indian restaurant, but still warmly welcomed.
We’re sure we ate our way through almost the entire menu on the night of our dinner, and these were our favourites:
You can’t go wrong with glazed, succulent pork ribs, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when they’re expertly prepared. Daarukhana’s northern Indian-inspired baby pork ribs ($188) use premium Canadian meat that’s brushed with a sweet-and sour-glaze and topped with slivers of radish, edible flowers and dried mango leather – uncomplicated, fulfilling flavours that hit all the right spots.
There was much for us to love about the modern dosa ($98). From the innovative, deconstructed look reminiscent of jagged peaks on a mountain range – compared to the rounded, smooth cylinder we are so used to with dosa – to the bed of potato foam on which it is served, this South Indian pancake comes a long way, retaining the brittle crispness that we look for in dosa. The shredded curry leaf and mustard squares did well in adding textural contrast and helped to add variety to the flavours of the tempered potato foam. The fragrant aromas were irresistible.
Black garlic is all the rage, and we’re not immune to this fragrant tempter’s charms. Daarukhana’s black garlic naan ($58) imparted a heavenly aroma of perfect scorch and heady, pungent garlic, plus a mildly sweet taste. We paired this with the nourishing nawabi haleem ($178), a Lucknow-style stew of mixed vegetables and lentils.
Palak paneer is a must for us when we feast on Indian food, and true to form, Daarukhana’s refreshing reinvention draws inspiration from Italian cuisine and transforms one of our favourite Punjab dishes into palak paneer pinwheels ($98) – a herby centre of coriander and pesto meets smoked cottage cheese and spinach, rolled up inside a thin and slightly charred cannelloni. This was abundantly aromatic and flawlessly presented.
The vegetable-starved part of us rejoiced at the tandoori portobello mushrooms ($158), looking like a quartet of miniature sandwich wedges. Daintily presented, this Punjab-inspired creation sees meaty portobello mushrooms and Cheddar cheese coming together to form a rich, filling dish. That slightly scorched aroma from the tandoori oven was intoxicating.
The beautiful langoustine moilee ($398) is a luxurious example of the possibilities when East meets West. Imported French langoustine was glazed in chilli and honey and prepared with a mixture of South Indian beans in a sweet coconut moilee – that’s a Goan curry of seafood and coconut milk – inspired by the cuisines of southern India. Traditionally prepared with fish, this crustacean twist added a layer of sophistication.
Regrettably, it’s not much to look at, but what the duck shami ($187) lacked in appearance, it made up for it in substance and creativity. Minced American duck patties were spiced and pan-seared and served with a sticky, sweet fig chutney and smoked popadom flakes. This provided punchy flavours that were well adapted to the Indian palate, despite using ingredients that are quite unusual in traditional cooking.
Moist, tender and seasoned perfectly, the burra short rib ($298) melted on the tongue and made quite a flavour statement – and lasting impression – on its own, even without the trio of chutneys that came with it. Prime short rib was marinated in a mixed spice rub, slow-cooked and served with a side of potato squares. We don’t think the edible flower petals added anything to the overall taste, but we can’t fault the presentation.
We looked forward to this starter with a Mexican twist. The paneer bhurji quesadilla ($98) draws its influences from Punjab and colonial Mexico, where Indian staples of crumbled paneer and mini paratha and typical South American ingredients met to form bite-sized delights. The tomato and bell pepper combo provided refreshing relief against the thick, heavy cottage cheese; we appreciated the balance.
We didn’t think we’d ever see Norwegian salmon on an Indian menu, but we’re all for it. The gongura salmon tikka ($168) was an instant crowd-pleaser, delightful to our noses long before it reached our taste buds. Pickled sorrel-marinated salmon was tandoor-roasted and served with a jaggery and raw mango chutney, drawing heavily on the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh, where sorrel, or gongura, leaves are highly prized edible plants. Needless to say, the salmon was perfectly cooked, and the sorrel marinade added a mildly sour accent to the fish.
It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a convincing global take on Indian cuisine in Hong Kong. While there’s no shortage of Indian restaurants in the city, most have looked to the past for inspiration and focus on preserving tradition rather than taking an adventurous route that looks towards the future like Daarukhana has done. The international ingredients and influences introduced at this newcomer are thoroughly refreshing, and we’d highly recommend that anyone who’s interested in experiencing a different side of regional Indian food gives it a go. The presentation of the dishes is beautiful and sophisticated to boot: a feast for the eyes and your Instagram feed. We suggest bringing friends and making this meal a social, sharing affair – you’ll want to get a taste of as many dishes as possible.
G/F and 1/F, Tai Yip Building, 141 Thomson Road, Wanchai, 9889 9768
This write-up is based on a complimentary media tasting provided in exchange for an honest review and no monetary compensation. The opinions expressed here represent the author’s.
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