1 2 Mitchell St Brunswick, VIC 3056
|Opening hours||Tue-Sat 5pm-late|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Bar|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||03 9383 2488|
Let's get one thing clear. You can't come to Bhang for bhang, a cannabis paste widely available in India and a longstanding remedy in ayurvedic medicine. You should still visit this fun bar and restaurant though.
It's tucked just off Sydney Road, is warm and friendly and offers spice-infused cocktails, tasty dishes from various regions of India and generous, capable service, either in the downstairs bar overlooked by colourful Bollywood posters, or upstairs in a more sedate dining space.
Owners Sway Quach and Dougal Colam opened Brunswick mainstay Tom Phat in 2004. That restaurant is inspired by street food experiences in South-East Asia but Colam grew up in the United Kingdom eating Indian ("It's the national food of England," he says) and when he thought about opening another business, Indian flavours sang loudest. An inspiring jaunt around the country on an Enfield motorbike sealed the deal and filled out the concept. Bhang came into being five years ago.
You'll want to start with chaat, street food snacks like samosa and pakora or – even better – the spinach chaat which sees green leaves battered in masala-spiced chickpea flour, fried until they're crisp and golden, and served with tamarind and mint chutneys. It's pretty glorious: what's not to like about a bowl of spicy, fragrant chips that is also a healthy serve of veg?
Bharli vangi is a Maharashtrian eggplant dish, featuring small, whole eggplants stuffed with a roasted peanut sauce and braised until they're luscious. The version here uses eggplant slices instead, layering them with a sweet, spiced peanut and coconut sauce, brightened with tamarind and a good sprinkle of chilli powder.
It's a generous dish, big on flavour and towering over the plate. It also signals the Bhang project: this is food that's based in tradition but it's happy to take some Melbourne hook turns too.
A tandoor oven is used for breads but a charcoal grill caresses many other dishes with a resonant glow.
Trout is given the fire treatment: it's rubbed with mustard oil, vibrant red Kashmiri chilli and cardamom then roasted at high heat. Served whole – and easy to fillet yourself at the table – it's a beautiful medley of smoky, spicy, tart and sweet and a stunning centrepiece for a group of diners.
It's easy to build a meal from vegetarian dishes but there are some delicious meats too.
Beef ribs are marinated in Indian Old Monk Rum and Coca-Cola (trust me, it's great), slowly braised and given a fierce charcoal lick to add intensity. Redolent of garlic and ginger, it's a kind of mash-up of Indian curry and American low-n-slow barbecue.
People often think beer with Indian food but you must try cocktail maestro Ricky Barbour's cheeky, spicy spirit infusions, either neat, or magicked into fun cocktails.
Chilli is melded with vodka to create a base for the fragrant Purple Haze and pear and cinnamon are infused into whisky to make the chai-spiced Whisky Sour. It's Bhang with a bang, you might say.