Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller and receive a free salt and pepper set - offer ends 26 March, 2017

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

Flour and Stone Recipes

Baker extraordinaire Nadine Ingram of Sydney's Flour and Stone cooks up a sweet storm for Easter, including the much loved bakery's greatest hit.

Savoury tarts

Will your next baking project be a flaky puff pastry with pumpkin, goat's curd and thyme, or a classic bacon and Stilton tart? As autumn settles in, we're ticking these off one by one.

New cruises 2017

Cue the Champagne.

1980s recipes

Australia saw some bold moves in the ’80s, and we’re not just talking hairstyles. Greater cultural references started peppering the menus of our restaurants, and home-grown ingredients won a new appreciation. The dining scene was coming of age and a new band of pioneers led the charge.

Apple desserts

Whether baked into a bubbling crumble, caramelised in a puff-pastry tart or served in an all-American pie, apples are a classic filling for fruity desserts. Here are the recipes we keep coming back to.

Roti canai

Here, we've made the dough in a food processor, but it's really quick and simple to do by hand as well. If the dough seems a little too wet just add a little more flour.

Melbournes finest meet Worlds Best

Leading chefs descend on Melbourne in April for The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. We asked local hospitality folk who they’d abduct for the day and where they’d take them to show off their city. There may be coffee, there may be culture, but in the end it’s cocktails.

Neil Perry pulls out of haute cuisine and closes Eleven Bridge

Sydney’s Eleven Bridge to close. For real this time. Sort of. Again.

Tonka, Melbourne restaurant review

The talented team from Coda is turning out serious Indian street food in a smart laneway dining room with a welcome mix of seriously good drinks and service to match, writes Michael Harden.

It starts with the pani puri - little fried pastries filled with spiced potatoes and mung beans, a dab of date and tamarind chutney and finished at the table with a little splash of "aromatic water" (with mint, chilli, cumin and dried mango powder, among other things). Snack satisfaction in a single bite.

But it's not just that they're surprisingly airy, with a thrum of background chilli heat that piques interest. Nor is it that they look the goods, carefully arranged on a rough-hewn plate around a little blue jug of the aromatic water. What really causes the ears to prick up is that this traditional Indian street food is being served in a dining room with a name chef in the kitchen and a couple of experienced, successful restaurateurs pulling the whole wine-décor-service thing together out the front. Is this the modern Indian restaurant we've all been waiting for? The answer, somewhat predictably, swings both ways, but mostly the ayes have it.

Knowing that the team behind Coda - chef Adam D'Sylva and Kate and Mykal Bartholomew - is piloting Tonka helps to bridge the cognitive gap between what the place looks like and what it is. Because, despite a design mission statement that speaks of the blues of Jodhpur and the pinks of Jaipur and a menu full of tandoor cooking, dhal and curries, Tonka has more in common with its sibling, Coda, than it does with its more traditional Indian cousins.

For starters, the sizeable clean-lined space with its cloud-like white mesh sculpture hovering over the main dining area, views through huge windows to the MCG, subtly painted and polished oak floors, bare timber tables, backlit banquettes and large bar area is leagues away from what Melburnians have come to expect from their Indian restaurants. Even the name (which comes not from the trucks or the beans but from Honky Tonks, the nightclub that used to call the laneway site home) comes from left field.

Then there's lauded Coda sommelier Travis Howe, breaking the Aussie-Indian tradition of non-existent or numbingly prosaic wine lists. At Tonka, the 13-page list gathers together an arsenal of excellent German riesling, French vouvray, Mornington Peninsula pinot noir and Tuscan sangiovese to take on the often feisty spices that define Indian food. There's serious cocktail chops behind the bar, too, where ex-Der Raum bartenders James Tait and Adam Roderick have put together a list of seasonal, themed cocktails like the Tonka Lassi (white rum, fresh mango, honey, yoghurt and crushed pistachio) and Darjeeling Fizz (tea, peach vermouth, gin, lemon and agave nectar).

The drinks work brilliantly with smaller items on the menu (fritter-like soft-shell crab pakoras served with pickled cucumber and yoghurt dipping sauce flavoured with preserved lemon, mint and green chilli; lamb cutlets coated with a Punjabi onion and tomato paste with cumin, coriander and chilli) and help make the timber-topped bar with its cute purple- and red-legged barstools a destination in itself. Try finding another Indian restaurant in town pulling that one off.

Then there's the presence of co-owner Kate Bartholomew, charming and unflappable, whose personable, efficient service style is enthusiastically emulated by her young and, given the distance they need to cover in this busy 120-seat restaurant, fit team of uniformed waitstaff. It's invigorating to be looked after by people who seem genuinely energised by the food and booze they're serving.

With D'Sylva responsible for the menu, there's plenty of Coda-style coming from the kitchen too. And just like at Coda where the carte incongruously lists French bistro classics next to South East Asian street food, there's some hedging of bets and leaping of continents at Tonka, too, some of the hedging more successful than others.

The tuna tartare, for instance, with its dice of sashimi-grade fish dressed with a light house-made ponzu sauce and tossed with spring onions and coriander, does not immediately shriek India, despite the presence of some very good rice pappadams with an excellent black pepper, chilli and garlic kick. But while it may be something of an awkward fit with the Indian mantra, the dish is a success, skilfully blending interesting textures and good flavours.

There's not so much fun to be had with the spanner crab and puffed rice salad. Tossed with a green chilli chutney, tomatoes and herbs, it looks and tastes like it blew in from Thailand. That's not such a bad thing, especially given D'Sylva's penchant for mixing influences and his past experience at places such as Longrain and Pearl, but this dish is lead-footed, tending towards the limp, particularly with the puffed rice that quickly takes on moisture, loses any hint of crunch and ends up like soggy rice bubbles.

These non-Indian dishes, successful or not, may have been added to the list to broaden its appeal, to reassure those whose experience of Indian food has been aggressive spices and hugely rich ghee fests. But the best plan here is to stick with the Indian dishes, because that's where the best fun is, particularly when you can witness how the plating and execution stymies preconceived ideas about the rich heaviness of Indian food. 

This comes to the fore most obviously with some of the curries here which, though certainly robustly flavoured and spiced, demonstrate great balance and finesse. There's an attractive lightness to the excellent Goan fish curry, a deeply coloured number chock-full of mussels, prawns and barramundi, flavoured with Kashmiri chilli (red, mild) and fenugreek seeds, with some nicely sour moments entering the mix via kokum fruit. There's plenty going on here, but the fresh vibrancy of the dish is the strongest lasting impression.

Avani's lamb neck curry (Avani is sous-chef Ved Navghare's mum) is similarly impressively light on its feet despite the deep rich colour and the presence of freshly grated coconut and serious black cardamom-dominated flavours.

Tonka has a couple of tandoor ovens - modern stainless steel versions of the traditional cookers - that are responsible for some of the menu's great moments, including some impressive naan. One dish that should, if there's any fairness in the world, gain something of a cult following alongside the various sliders, waffles, dumplings and betel leaves around town is the Kakori lamb kebab. Lamb mince spiced with cardamom, white pepper and crushed cashews is skewered and cooked in the tandoor, emerging with its signature smoky depth of flavour. The kebabs are served with lettuce cups to wrap around the meat and dip into mint-flavoured yoghurt. The little coriander, mint, chilli and burghul salad on the side, a little like an Indian tabbouleh, is great spooned into the lettuce cup with the meat.

Similarly good is the tandoori chicken that's coated in a marinade of garlic, ginger, yoghurt and spices before being thrust into the oven's super-hot clay interior. It's a good chook, free-range and corn-fed, and it stands up well to the roasting process, hitting the table juicy, smoky and spicy in all the right places. 

D'Sylva has assembled an impressive kitchen team that includes head chef Michael Smith (ex-Jorg and Jacques Reymond) and tandoori chef Sundar Singh. But it's surely no small part of the equation that D'Sylva's father is Indian, so heritage is at play here as much as his experience cooking Asian and European food in this country and overseas.

This array of influences is apparent throughout the menu, particularly in the simple but effective presentation. It's also visible in Tonka's sweet stuff, like the pretty-in-pastel saffron-baked meringue that comes with longans, strawberries and glistening pomegranate seeds, flavoured with rosewater and teamed with pistachio ice-cream. The gulab jamun are also worth a look, Tonka's version of the traditional cheesy sweet made with ricotta flavoured with star anise, cinnamon and saffron that's rolled into bite-sized balls and then fried. They're very addictive, syrupy but not too sweet, with a little square of silver leaf sitting on top that finishes the night with a bit of bling.

Team Bartholomew-D'Sylva know how to run a successful restaurant and they've repeated many of Coda's moves - laneway location, cool, pared-back design, friendly service, tightly focused wine list - to great effect at Tonka. The best bit about their new joint, though, is that they've applied all that well-honed, crowd-pleasing stuff to a cuisine that's never been treated like that in this town. It's exciting and, with any luck, the start of a whole new Indian wave.


Tonka
20 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, (03) 9650 3155, tonkarestaurant.com.au.
Licensed.
Cards AE MC V EFT.
Open Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; dinner Mon-Sat 6pm-10.30pm; bar Mon-Sat 5pm-11pm.
Prices Entrées $4-$25; mains $14-$38; desserts $5-$16.
Vegetarian Three entrées, three mains.
Noise Noticeable but manageable.
Wheelchair access Yes.
Plus Indian food for right now.
Minus The slight befuddlement of Adam D'Sylva's border-crossing menu.

Tonka
20 Duckboard Pl, Melbourne, (03) 9650 3155, tonkarestaurant.com.au.
Licensed.
Cards AE MC V EFT.
Open Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; dinner Mon-Sat 6pm-10.30pm; bar Mon-Sat 5pm-11pm.
Prices Entrées $4-$25; mains $14-$38; desserts $5-$16.
Vegetarian Three entrées, three mains.
Noise Noticeable but manageable.
Wheelchair access Yes.
Plus Indian food for right now.
Minus The slight befuddlement of Adam D'Sylva's border-crossing menu.

GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

The dishes that define Melbourne dining in 2016

For our 50th anniversary issue in 2016, we scoured Australia...

Melbourne’s Rosa’s Kitchen has closed

A kitchen fire has forced Rosa Mitchell’s Punch Lane restaur...

David’s

David's hums with renewed energy since its transformation t...

Ladro Greville

Overdue a Roman holiday? With its well-groomed, Aperol-swig...

San Telmo

The number of all-male tables at San Telmo is an instant gi...

Akachochin

Unlike the tumbleweed territory of Docklands, there's a sun...

Cafe Di Stasio

Cafe Di Stasio represents the ideal of dining as a particul...

Cicciolina

Timelessness. It's not, perhaps, a quality one automaticall...

Cookie

The elegantly dishevelled Curtin House is a multifaceted ve...

Bacash

From sourcing to saucing, Michael Bacash marries an intuiti...

Bar Lourinha

Turning 10 has added spring to Bar Lourinha's step. Not tha...

Bellota

Expect to be seduced by Bellota. This Europhile wine bar's ...

Bistro Gitan

Gitan means gypsy but there's nothing itinerant about the m...

Dandelion

Once upon a time Elwood locals would have to hike across to...

Dainty Sichuan

The Dainty Sichuan fleet continues to expand, but the South...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

×