Lal Qila Darling Harbour

Rebecca Varidel
22nd Oct 2016

Lal Qila (Hindi: लाल क़िला, Urdu: لال قلعہ‎ English: Red Fort) is named after the Mughal palaces of Delhi and Agra.

And thus it follows, the Sydney Lal Qila restaurants offer the food of the Mughal Empire, which during its great reign from the 16th to 19th centuries extended across what is today known as Bangladesh, India and Pakistan. The royal ancestry is just as fascinating, as the founder, keen poet and gardener, Babur was descended from Turko-Mongol ruler Timur (Tamurlane) and Genghis Khan. Ousted from his ancestral domains in Central Asia by Uzbek Khan, the 14-year old Prince Babur turned to India to satisfy his ambitions.

In Sydney, there are now two Mughal Lal Qila restaurants both offering really delicious authentic Pakistani dishes. Once a well kept secret, the original Lal Qila venue in Surry Hills is frequented by elite cricketers, celebrity chefs and taxi drivers.

Founder and restaurateur Namir Mirza believes the success of Lal Qila is down to its authenticity and consistency of traditional flavours, rather than simplifying to suit Australian palates.
“We don’t do fusion,” he said. “We’re about bringing the real flavours of the Royal Mughlai cuisine to Sydney,” he said.
Now the humble and most delightful Chef Mirza has opened a second Sydney location at Lime Street, King Street Wharf, Darling Harbour.

There are some differences on the menues. At the original Namir explained the specials are spoken, where Lal Qila Darling Harbour presents an extensive written menu including an expanse of listed signature dishes in the a la carte menu.

While Darling Harbour options include an abundance of lamb (try the mild Kashmiri Firdausi Gosht), goat, beef and chicken plates, we road tested Lal Qila from a mostly vegetarian seat. With the resultant good news, that vegetarians can rejoice here.

Here you'll find the sensational Lahori Chatkhare in its best incarnation. A description of spinach leaves in a crispy lentil batter, sweet and spicy blend of potato sticks, puffed rice, nuts, raisins, topped with yoghurt, tamarind, chili and mint, hardly does this sovereign justice. Make it your go to starter.

Another of my favourite vegetarian dishes is the gloriously spicy cauliflower Aftabi Tandoori Phool. But of course on this extensive menu, there are so many more vegetarian choices.

And of course there is Paneer (cottage cheese) in all its traditional forms: Dilbahar Zafrani Kofta, Shan-e-Mumtaz Mahal (Paneer Karahi), Champa Kali (Palak Paneer) with spinach, Khazana-e-Lazzat dumplings and fresh cottage cheese dish Sabzi Bemisal.

Right next to Sydney Harbour, here on the luscious white clothed restaurant table, the sea also abounds, with nets full of prawn offerings. Try Goan style hot and tangy Nayaab Jheenga Vindaloo prawns, or Pakistani style Jahangiri Jheenga Jalfrezi. For those that want a little more, Darling Harbour has the famous Shahzadi-e-Goan main, fish fillets simmered in a tangy sauce made from coconut, tamarind and red chilies and royal specialty Masala-e-Nawabzadi fish fillets sautéed with crush pepper, brown onion, tomato and a secret blend of spices. Breaking from tradition, Lal Qila also brings some salmon options to this menu. Yet perhaps the King of the Lal Qali seafood, is Nawabzada Aur Anarkali (Okra Prawns) blended with spiced onion, tomato, cumin, garlic and red chilli.

I'm always intrigued, how the staples like rice and bread, vary from country to country and region to region demonstrating the individual influences of an area. At Lal Qila I was most delighted by what I called bubble bread. Little pops of rounds, like bubble wrap add an oomph of buttery texture to a traditional naan. But forget my nickname, you need to know the real name - Rogani (or Roghni) Naan - to order. With nearly twenty breads available at the restaurant, the naan menu also features Chilli Cheese and Pashawari- stuffed with dried fruit, coconut, nuts and baked in tandoor.

The Biryani here is delightfully complex and beautifully spiced, delivering one of the best versions I've been able to find in Sydney. The Darling Harbour menu offers five varieties.

And get this, Lal Qila offers a convenient ‘half portion’ option which leaves room for an additional main or one of the traditional desserts. For ours, we finished with Shahi Kul, a real Punjabi kulfi on the stick, flavored with pistachios and almonds, lightly topped with sprinklings of pistachios and rose syrup.