701 Darling St Rozelle, NSW 2039
|Opening hours||Lunch Sun-Fri, dinner nightly|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Vegetarian friendly, BYO|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8084 8921|
The website says it all. "Nithik's kitchen is geared and set up to offer rich aroma and flavourful spicy Indian delight. Our vision is to provide you quality blend of authentic Indian recipes with fresh Australian produce and to offer unbounded exquisite, overwhelming services. Our restaurant covers delicious and multifarious homemade dishes of popular regions ranging from Chettinad cuisine, Tanjore Marathi cuisine, Awadhi cuisine from Lucknow, Royal Nawab kitchen from Hyderabad and much more."
How to resist? Especially following a tip-off from the spice king himself - Ian "Herbie" Hemphill, of Herbie's Spices, and his wife, Liz. And so to Nithik's Kitchen - modest-looking premises on Darling Street, opened just a few months back by young chef Vikram Arumugam and his wife Preeti Elamaran.
The menu is a delight - if not always familiar. There are the kormas and butter chickens, dhals and mango chutneys we know and (mostly) love. But threaded through are dishes from the chef's native south (the fabulous temple city of Madurai and the unique, peppery cooking of Chettinad). Hence some glorious dish names such as meen manga charu (barramundi with a green mango, coconut and chilli gravy) or tai pongal kara kolumbu - "a melange", to quote the description, "of nine country vegetables simmered in spicy, sweet and tangy gravy complemented with palpongal".
Arumugam's grand vision for his own place was harboured over 10 years in other people's restaurants, most notably at one-hatter Aki's in Woolloomooloo. (Like Aki's, Nithik's Kitchen is named after the chef's young son.) Now he wants to put his own touch to dishes from back home and indulge a penchant for inventiveness. So a traditional south Indian snack, kuzhi paniyaram - puffed-up packages of crisped rice flour, stuffed with lentils - is served in a cute little row on a tomato chilli relish and curry leaf "gunpowder".
Dessert is a riff on an orange theme - from a milky wedding dish, paysam, served with mango and jackfruit pieces, to sweet carrot halva and a half orange, upturned, filled with citrusy, perfumey kulfi (Indian ice-cream).
In between there are southern-spiced dishes such as lamb chukka - peppery, buttery-rich bites of meat that sparkle with aniseed, chilli and fresh curry leaves; and dosai - crisp, tangy pancakes. Oh, and the chicken makhani (butter chicken) is great. Service is a little awkward and the fit-out is not fancy. Perhaps Arumugam is hedging his bets - keeping his takeaway crowd happy (locals drop in frequently).
Serious spice nerds, meanwhile, are offered "an odyssey of food and care".
Do … ask about ''tree of taste'' - a series of ''six rasas'' (tastes). Intriguing.
Don't … BYO. Have a Kingfisher beer.
Dishes … kuzhi paniyaram - those little lentil-stuffed snacks; lamb chukka; and the trio of desserts.
Vibe … a fantastical corner of India. In Rozelle.