Tuesday, May 08, 2007

May 5, 2007: Bala Da Dhaba

Regular readers (both of you!) might have spotted a recent comment from Dmargster, having a friendly dig at our attachment to the inner north and naming their favourite local (Ripponlea) Indian restaurant in the process. With swift service that would hands-down beat our local, we paid a visit to Ripponlea a mere four days later! On our free and easy Saturday night, we mapped out an excursion to the south side for dinner at Bala Da Dhaba, followed by a movie at the Classic Theatre.

I'm the kind of girl who would prefer that 'my local' is my lazy-glutton-night Indian or Thai restaurant around the corner rather than any watering hole. Thus, I was quite chuffed that Dmargster shared this kind of affection for Bala Da Dhaba and it had just the unpretentious atmosphere I'd want from my local. Picture a dated brick building with disposable paper tablecloths over the real ones, vinyl padded chairs and scattered Indian paraphernalia on the walls. The most striking feature is a small windowed room where two of the kitchen staff prepare and cook naan and meat at the tandoori oven. Michael and I were seated up against the window into their oven-space and I attempted to take a couple of sly photos. Unfortunately I failed to turn off the flash, yielding a bright reflection off the glass and the attention of the guys at the oven. I shyly took one or two more flashless pics (all blurry - sorry!) and tucked my camera away, my cheeks burning as hot as the bricks that were shielding our legs from the oven. It was still pretty fun to see the huge skewers of orange meat descend into the black depths, and the fast, skillful rolling and cooking of the dough balls into charred, fluffy bread.

There are about a dozen vegetarian dishes on the menu, and it's also worth noting that Bala Da Dhaba has a page of specials (somewhat unusual for an Indian restaurant, I think). This is where Michael chose his Paneer Akbari from ($12.90, pictured above) . I decided to test the restaurant's baseline with one of my favourite dishes, the Malai Kofta ($9.40). Of course we also had to test the labours of our neighbours and we requested a garlic naan too ($3).


It was fortunate that we had the oven to entertain us for a bit, because the service was pretty slapdash. Menus were proffered only after I made eye contact with the head waiter, and our bottle of water and complimentary pappadums arrived after our orders were taken and the drinks arrived. But the mains were served very quickly after that, taking only about 10 minutes. Michael's Paneer Akbari was huge, though not quite as huge as it looks - it was served in a dish ~3 cm deep and kept warm by concealed tealight candles. He thoroughly enjoyed the sweet, tomato-y gravy and quite frankly, ate a lot more than he should have. (I think I can say that because he groaned all the way to the cinema!) The kofta balls were submerged in a similarly sweet and delicious gravy, the kofta were on the tough side of tender but more importantly were studded with cashew pieces. Finally, take a look at that naan - have you ever seen a naan smothered in so much garlic ghee? It was quite the treat - really, our entire meal was an exercise in exotic junk food, but it was a satisfying one. You'll have to look elsewhere for a measured review of their cheese-less dishes!

Bala Da Dhaba is probably not the kind of restaurant to repeatedly cross town for, but it has the comforting, scattered atmosphere and smiling staff I'd want at my local. I'd be pretty pleased with myself on the day that my regular custom resulted in a nod of recognition at the door.

Address: 56-58 Glen Eira Rd, Ripponlea
Ph: 9523 8683
Licensed and BYO
Price: veg mains $8.90-$12.90, rice and bread extra

17 comments:

  1. It all looks fantastic, and I love love LOVE Indian food.
    Speaking of Indian food around Fitzroy area...(hehe - yes I know it's a rut, BUT) Guru Da Dhaba on Johnston Street is allegedly the first Dhaba, or an Indian street cafe, in Victoria. I personally haven't tried it, but I most definitely intend to. I wonder if you've heard of or tried it?

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  2. I han't heard of it, but Michael says he's walked past Guru Da Dhaba before. The most popular/well known place for Indian in Fitzroy seems to be the Fitz Curry Cafe, which we've visited a couple of times (posts here and here). We'll have to pay Guru Da Dhaba a visit too!

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  3. Hi guys. I was quite chuffed to see that you took my advice so promptly! I actually walked past the restaurant one evening last week and wondered to myself: "If Cindy and Michael were sitting at a table by the window, would I recognise them?" (Answer: probably.) I'm glad you enjoyed yourselves. Next time you're in the mood for a slap-up dinner - i.e. when you feel like blowing your budget big-time - you can chart the same path whence you came and dine at Attica (located across the road from Bala Da Dhaba)or Arabesque (located near Elsternwick Station). Send me an email before you come though so I can drop by and say hello. Did you enjoy your Classic experience too? From what little I know about you, I'm guessing you saw either Curse of the Flying Dagger or Spiderman 3. :) - Daniel

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  4. Nice, but too far away. The Sydney Road precinct is starting to boast ever more subcontinental food outlets - and, importantly, groceries - so everyone can make their own.

    PS: that ghee is delicious. Shame it's not healthy.

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  5. Kitchen Hand, although we've visited the Indian grocery on Sydney Rd, we haven't done the restaurants justice - in particular, I haven't sampled a single one of Bismi's dozens of roti types!

    Daniel, it was a pleasure to follow up on your recommendation. I'm sure you'll forgive us if it takes a bit longer to try your suggested "budget blow-out" meals! (Will let you know if/when they're on the horizon.) And you hit the movie spot just right - we saw Spiderman 3. (Compelling despite a bad script: just like the dozen teenagers we eavesdropped on before the lights dimmed.)

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  6. Both the paneer and the kofta sound great. Shame it was so far to travel.

    Used to live across the road from a now defunct tandoori place as a student in Sydney. Those smells were wonderful.

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  7. It's a journey for a Carlton kid, but I can't begrudge the south-siders a few nice eateries!

    Lucy, I think the aromas of an Indian restaurant across the street would drive me crazy! I hope you could afford to eat something more appetising than 2-minute noodles at the time. :D

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  8. I am unfortunately with kitchen hand in finding it the wrong side of the river for me but sounds interesting to keep in mind when I do venture to the south east.

    I understand the frustration when the camera doesn't see what you see, but at least you got some lovely red photos of the food!

    I have been to guru da dhaba and it is a buzzing spot that friends of my swear by. The food is nice but it is not my favourite indian (that would have to be Nilas at the moment)

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  9. Looks like we'll have to try Guru Da Dhaba! I haven't heard of Nilas before, Johanna - could you tell us where it is?

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  10. there are a few Nilas about - one in the city in degraves st, one in coburg near corner of sydney rd and munro st and I think there is one in Brunswick - I only found them recently after a friend recommended them but the masala dosai and the dahl was great

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  11. Awesome - thanks Johanna! Even more Indian to add to my wishlist. :-)

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  12. You should try the Classic Curry on Elizabeth Street - VERY basic place so we usually get takeaway but the veggie kofta is great and the place is amazingly cheap. Lovely people too.

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  13. Thanks for the recommendation! Although we haven't reviewed it, I've actually tried the Classic Curry a couple of times on previous conference visits to Melbourne. I had the same experience of cheap food and friendly staff - quite tasty and amazing value for money! There may still be a hotel room in Parkville with a couple of kofta sauce stains on the carpet...

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  14. Small world. Trying to remember the name of a restaurant I went to in Melbourne two years ago, I Googled "Dhaba Melbourne" and found it. I remember the guys at the oven... But I also see that you have enjoyed all the (5) available types of international cooking in Sweden's middle-of-nowhere. When I took a class at Grimsö a couple of years ago they had two ladies cooking Asian style moose casseroles in the mess. It was absolutely delicious, and I think their cooking made me gain a couple of kilos. Where they still there?

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  15. Hi Tobbe! What a funny not-quite-crossing of paths. :D I think at least one of the cooks you're refering to was still there, although I didn't eat a lot of the mess catering - as a vegetarian without any ability to speak Swedish, I relied on a lot of self-catered tomato and cheese sandwiches and knäckebröd with vegemite. ;-)

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  16. Hmm, yeah that's true. I'm not sure the vegetarians were as happy as us meat eaters with the catering in the mess...

    You have good blog! Makes me want to go back and do some serious eating around Melbourne.

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  17. Glad you've enjoyed your visit(s) to our blog, Tobbe. :-) We are lucky to have access to such diverse food here in Melbourne! (Though I remember fondly the excellent dairy foods and dark chocolate in supermarkets in Sweden...)

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