Sydney - my haven't we grown? In recent years our food taste has become more specialised as we understand more about regional cuisines rather than just the food of other countries. The newest addition to this regional knowledge has been in experiencing the food of the northern mountain valley region of India. So without the need for a passport or the price of overseas travel, we stopped off in Crows Nest on the lower north shore to try the food of Kashmir in new restaurant WaazWaan.
WaazWaan is a traditional feast that dates back to the 14th century in the reign of Nasiuddin Muhammad of the Tughlaq dynasty. During that time the invading Mongol ruler Timur brought excellent cooks from Samarkand to the valleys and mountains of Kashmir. These skilled cooks were named Wazas who cooked meat and gravy into different styles of dishes in preparation for a 36 course celebration feast which Sanskrit and Persian immigrants later called WaazWaan.
While the WaazWaan restaurant in Sydney is not going to serve you up 36 courses, the aromatic dishes on the menu carry the inspiration of the original cookery techniques and feast.
You can of course design your own banquet of any number of courses with shared dishes from the middle of the table. That seems like a terrific idea as all the food at this new restaurant is amazingly delicious. Alternatively overlay the western approach to courses and be just as happy.
Here the dishes don't have the heat that you may have experienced in other Indian food, but rather use a more subtle blend of aromatics, where impressively the main ingredient of the dish stays the hero and is not overwhelmed. Rather the spices in Kashmiri food underpin and add complexity from long loving overnight resting.
Totally new to our eating experience, and perfectly demonstrating these differences in cuisine, is the WaazWaan summer menu item of Shami Kebab. In this the flavoursome thigh meat from the chicken is enriched by cooking with lentils in lamb stock, ground and formed into generous forms. This creates a flavour that borders on gamey, with a texture that is interestingly fine and leaning to floury pulse. The patties are quite a top treat, we reckon.
Kingfish is not native to Kashmir but used here locally in Sydney in the traditional fish dish Gaad Nadur. Served as a great big chunk, this is one of the most amazing treatments of fish that we've tasted. Expressing the difference in cookery style from other parts of India where the spices reside in the sauce and dominate, the spices of this dish dry marinate the kingfish overnight before being cooked with lotus root and radish. Also of note is the elegant translucency that protects the moist firm satin finish of this generous starter.
After snacks and starters we sample a couple of delicious mains (khaas) with rice to soak up the sauce. Again the spice is the support cast with the paste made in house. In Kashmiri Pandit Rogan Josh Diced lamb pieces are lovingly cooked in homemade red chilli paste, fennel & ginger. The result is mouth wateringly tender, the sauce is warm and embracing like a fluffy long sleeve cardigan on a cool day. Eggplant cooked in the unusually complimentary yet exciting combo of tamarind pulp and aniseed powder, Choek Vangan is a fulfilling opportunity for ominivores and vegans alike. As is Palak Tschaman spinach served with tomatoes stuffed with homemade cottage cheese (I'm trying that next time).
Everything else from papad and condiments and naan through to dessert were absolutely more than satisfying. Sweets offered more amazing surprises. Phirni frozen treats of milk, and rice, and saffron, and dried fruit, contain the hidden treasure of weight and texture. Another best. Lick lipping, head nodding, we are not hungry but we still want more, goodness.
Of the 10 options for each of starters and mains, 6 represent Kashmir. On the printed menu below the food of the mountain valley, you'll also find a range of other north Indian dishes. Go there if you want as this new Kashmiri restaurant comes from the same quality Indian restaurant family of Grace Of India in Milsons Point and Lavendra in North Sydney. But if you've made the trek to Kashmir why not stick to that regional specialty? Either way, you can balance your dining with the pleasures of glasses or bottles from a well expressed double page wine list. Or with an ice cold beer. Service is attentive, knowledgeable, detailed and caring without being intrusive. All round we reiterate our WaazWaan scoop find with our high recommendation. You'll be impressed. Book soon.