Published on 24 March 2021
If you’ve lived in Melbourne over the last three decades, or just walked its streets, chances are you know of Gaylord, the Indian restaurant that sat on Tattersalls Lane in Chinatown for 35 years. In June 2019, Mohammed Musharraf, the longtime owner, decided it was time for a change and rather than sell the business, he moved it to a new venue in the Grand Hotel on Spencer Street. But, only a few months in, he decided he did want to sell and he called on his former manager, Raj Singh to “come and have a look at the new place”. Raj rallied his best friend Dharminder Singh (aka DJ) who was manager of Jessi Singh’s Babu Ji in St Kilda and the pair bought the business in February 2020. Then, of course, the pandemic hit. This hasn’t stopped Raj and DJ, both hospitality professionals who have worked around the world in international hotels from New Delhi, Hurghada (Red Sea, Egypt) and Bahrain, to bring a new perspective and commitment to the refreshed Gaylord. The room is a vibrant rush of rich pinks and gold, with comfortable banquette seating and traditional Parchinkari artwork.
The menu embraces all of India and its diversity. Raj and DJ insist on traditional recipes. “If we don’t know a dish well from a particular region, we find someone from that region who can teach us. Sometimes it’s the mother, grandmother or aunty of someone who works with us, or the relative of a friend,” says DJ, “but it must be an authentic recipe, we don’t take shortcuts.” Raj and DJ would love their guests to travel through India and highlight the rich mix of flavours and techniques from the enormous Indian culinary landscape.
DJ talks us through his pick of the dishes and drinks at the new location.
How about a drink? The Dirty Shikanji is a new addition to our cocktail list and is just right as we move into the cooler months. Shikanji is traditionally a lemon-based drink from the northern part of India, and we’ve created our own version with whisky, roasted cumin, lime, mint leaves, black salt and a splash of home-made lemonade. We also have the Gaylord Bloody Mary, for which we use red guava juice instead of tomato, and it’s mixed with Tabasco sauce, black salt and Kashmiri chilli powder with black salt around the rim, too. The guava gives it a gentle sweetness and the chilli and salt add a kick and some earthiness.
Which of the dishes on the new menu best captures the vibe at Gaylord right now? The dungar chicken sums us up in so many ways. “Dungar” refers to a cooking process that’s found in Hyderabad and Lucknow, which sees charcoal, ghee and spices such as fenugreek to add a smokiness to the main component of the dish, in this case, it’s chicken. It’s complex and delicious and we add a little bit of theatre, serving it smoking under a glass cloche. In terms of curry, we know everyone loves butter chicken (and we have it on the menu) but we think the goat nihari strongly reflects how we cook at home. We love these big-flavoured, slow-cooked dishes, and cook the goat on the bone – serving it on the bone is very important for flavour and texture. The nihari includes a mix of whole aromatic spices, cardamom, fennel, cloves, nutmeg and dry ginger among them.
What if I’m here for a good time not a long time? Take a seat and enjoy a serving of kurkuri bhindi, okra fried crunchy in chickpea flour and served with lemon aioli. We also have a selection of naan breads, which we make without egg. Try a cheese or garlic naan and mix the snacks up with some pani puri filled with potatoes and chickpeas.
What to drink with these snacks? A Kingfisher beer, naturally.
Got anything light and fresh? The cauliflower 65 is our nod to the classic chicken 65 – the famous fried chicken appetiser loved throughout India. We offer a vegetarian version, made with spicy cauliflower fritters. Then there’s the papdi chaat, a traditional street snack of the fried flour crisps called papdi, are served with chaat, a mix of boiled chickpeas, spicy potatoes, tamarind, mint and yoghurt topped with fresh pomegranate seeds.
I like tasty food but I don’t eat animals. We’ve got plenty for you. The baigan bhartha, a dish popular in the mountainous northern regions of India, is very tasty and suitable for vegetarians and vegans both. The eggplant is burned over a char-grill, and we put a clove of garlic inside it so the flavour infuses while it’s charring. The flesh is then chopped with a masala mix of onion, ginger, garlic and tomato and finished with fresh coriander and ginger. All our vegetarian dishes are also vegan, but if you’re a vegetarian who would like cream in your dahl, tell us and we’ll add it.
Let’s go big. Let’s go crazy. What have you got for me? It may sound simple but if you’re looking for lots of food, flavour and fun, our set menu is hard to pass up. Choose three entrees, three curries, rice, naan, raita and desserts from the menu for $65 a person. Relax, take your time and enjoy the spice.
And to close? It must be the paan kulfi. It’s an Indian ice-cream that we make by churning butter and cream. We serve it with rose petal jam and chunks of betel leaves. Betel leaves are used across India as a mouth freshener after food so it’s the perfect way to round out an Indian meal.
Gaylord Indian Restaurant, 33 Spencer St, Docklands, gaylords.com.au
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