Artistic additions ... Cape Comorin has a new look but retains its crowd-pleasing menu. Photo: Fiona Morris
The Orpheum cinema, with its bright neon lights and 1930s art deco origins, is the star attraction on Military Road in Cremorne. Across the road, on the first floor of an unremarkable-looking shopping arcade, a steady stream of diners chow down at a couple of popular, low-key eateries.
Our choice tonight is Cape Comorin. The name comes from mainland India's southernmost tip (the town is now known as Kanyakumari) but the menu spans the nation's different regions. The usual crowd-pleasers are here - butter chicken, lamb roganjosh et al - plus some southern-Indian specialties.
Seeing its freshly painted walls adorned with a portrait of sari-clad women, it would be easy to mistake Cape Comorin for the new kid on the block. In fact, it has been here for more than a decade but had a makeover in November. The floor is newly tiled, the chairs have been painted and scenes from India added along the wraparound glass windows. These windows are good for natural light, not so good for transporting us away from the uninspiring location, even with the artistic additions (though these do help). Diners look out on to the neighbouring restaurant, the back wall and staircase or to the buildings across the busy road.
The food makes up for the lacklustre views. Fresh and flavour packed, it's as popular for diners staying home as those eating out, judging by the steady stream of orders heading out the door.
The advantage of coming here in person is the warm hospitality and service. We feel welcome from the moment we arrive, thanks to the lovely staff, who answer our questions about the menu, ask whether we enjoy each dish, and offer to pack our leftovers to go.
On a Saturday night, couples sit alongside a family group who have ducked in for an early sitting. It's a good spot for a big group, too. The dishes are great to share, and there's the option of BYO wine.
Of the entrees, the sweet and spicy onion pakora is a highlight, crispy on the outside and moist inside. It's not overly hot, the heat subtle but lingering. A carved radish in the middle of the plate is a sweet decorative touch.
One of the southern-Indian specialties, the masala dosai is a large lentil pancake wrapped around a blend of potatoes and spices. The pancake is thick and firm and the filling quite mildly spiced. Nothing remarkable on its own, it becomes more memorable pepped up with the accompaniments: savoury coconut chutney, mustard-seed-flavoured tomato chutney and lentil-based sambar. We dip pappadums in them and keep the remnants on the table for further snacking.
Unsurprisingly, given the cuisine, vegetarians are well catered for. The palak paneer is one of the most delicious dishes we try, generous cubes of paneer in a dark-green spinach sauce flavoured with onion and spices. We scoop up the malai kofta's cashew- and almond-based sauce with our naan bread. The gravy is thick, nutty and sweet but the dense dumplings of cottage cheese and vegetables are rather dry.
The spinach lamb curry is another highlight. Tender chunks of meat are served in a spinach sauce with a noticeable, but unobtrusive, heat. We ordered mango lassis as a pre-emptive strike against spice but don't need them in the end. None of the dishes we try raises a sweat.
As we depart, takeaway containers in hand, the bright lights of the Orpheum tempt us into making a night of it, presumably a well-worn path for many of Cape Comorin's customers.
Indian cuisine with some southern specialties.
Onion pakora, spinach lamb, palak paneer.
Three stars (out of five).
- 02 9909 1150
- Cuisine - Indian
- Prices - Appetisers $7.90-$13.90, dosai $12.20-$16.90, mains $14.90-$20.50, dessert $6.90-$7.90
- Features - BYO, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sun, 5.30pm-10pm
- Author - Sarah McInerney