There's more to Indian food than curry and rice, says Mani Waraich. The restaurateur, who owns St Kilda's Babu Ji and Hawthorn's Piquancy, has opened a third Indian-inspired eatery on a quiet, beachside shopping strip in Black Rock.
As at the first two, Waraich's aim with Elichi (pronounced eh-lychee) is to transform people's perception of the cuisine.
Traditional Indian dishes like butter chicken, pork vindaloo and lamb madras are on the menu, but that's not where Indian food starts or ends, says Waraich. "I want people to try things other than butter chicken."
He's introduced dishes such as Kashmiri naan rubbed with a black garlic butter and stuffed with dried fruit, and roasted jerusalem artichoke chaat topped with fried curry leaf, garlic labna and herb oil.
Gobi kofta is a fig and cauliflower dumpling simmered in tomato, cardamom and almond milk; and there's jicama and a yoghurt emulsion served with tandoori chicken.
"It makes me so happy when people ask, 'What is this cuisine?' I'm very proud to be serving Indian, but I like that it's not what people expect."
Waraich also wants to dispel the perception of Indian as a heavy cuisine. Elichi means cardamom in Punjabi, and it's a spice often used as a digestive aid or mouth freshener. That's the feeling he wants people to leave his restaurant with.
Like at Elichi's sibling restaurants, around 40 beers are kept in a self-serve fridge, and there's a short, sharp list of wines.
Anyone who's visited Babu Ji and Piquancy will recognise the portrait of a turban-clad, mustachioed man that decorates the former two.
But the fitout of his third restaurant takes a slightly more contemporary approach with polished concrete floors, lots of black leather, and an open fireplace.
Open daily 5.30pm-10pm.
6-8 Bluff Road, Black Rock, 03 9589 3241, elichirestaurant.com.au