We visited the relatively new Bhang after Will recommended it and Tash suggested we all get together for dinner. Michael grabbed a booking just a day in advance and it was packed out when we arrived - it's clearly rapidly attracted fans, even though it's tucked off Sydney Rd in the north of Brunswick. It might be that early flush for a hip new opening, or the reputation of the owners (who also run Tom Phat), ... or it might just be that good.
Vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options are abundant and well-marked, and with five of us on board we were able to try many of them. The staff kindly adapted our small plate orders to ensure they were portioned just right to go around. Pani puri ($10) are always a blast, but surprisingly upstaged here by the spinach and paneer samosas ($12). This was without doubt my favourite samosa experience of my life! The paneer filling was so soft and rich and savoury, reminding me almost of scrambled eggs, and the pastry was buttery, crumbly and toasty-browned.
The mains didn't quite reach the same heights, but they were consistently very good too. The char-grilled eggplants (bharwan vanghi, $15; top left) arrived first and, once we gracelessly cut them with a spoon, disappeared fast. Will and Michael loved the pumpkin olan best ($16; top right), more for the black-eyed bean curry underneath. The gobhi korma ($16; centre) presented its cauliflower whole and so the spices didn't quite soak through, but I adored dredging garlic naan ($4, not pictured) through its ombre sauce. The mast biryani ($18; bottom left) was steamed with a pastry top, and not nearly as spicy as Will swore it was on his first visit. My favourite might have been the tangy tamarind-dressed salad of paneer, green mango and baby spinach (kache aam ka paneer, $11; bottom right).
Others sampled a range of fancy and unusual cocktails. I was a smidge disapointed that they were all out of dates for the date and almond lassi, but the more conventional mango version ($5) was very pretty. Unfortunately for all its colour it was bland, not even matching the plainer, tangier ones I've drunk elsewhere.
I managed to keep our ordering in check and everyone had room for dessert! The others all opted for the spiced poached pear ($12), which was too firm to handle neatly with a spoon, but made for a beautiful plate with a scoop of masala chai icecream, a ball of coconut halwa, and festive sprinklings of nuts, syrup and colour. I was well pleased with my gulab jamun ($9), a little larger and lighter than they're traditionally prepared, with a matching scoop of chai ice cream and pretty garnishes.
We thoroughly enjoyed our first Bhang meal - it was a little loud and a little flawed, but its best dishes were tremendous and even its lesser dishes were very good. The samosas alone would pull me back for more.
Bhang has received a mixed review from Barley Restaurant Reviews, and positive reviews from Lips Temptations (freebie), FEED BLOG SPOT (freebie), and A Chronicle of Gastronomy (freebie).
1/2A Mitchell St, Brunswick
Accessibility: The entry is wide and flat, but we reckon it's pretty tough from there: the interior is crowded with furniture and dimly lit; most of the dining tables are located upstairs. We received full table service and didn't visit the toilets.