Taplin Pl Carlton North, VIC 3054
|Opening hours||lunch Sun; dinner Thu-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Licensed, Degustation|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
The name remains the same, but the entry is no longer via Helly Raichura's laundry. Although the new location of Enter Via Laundry does have a storefront facing Nicholson Street, diners are instructed to come through the back gate down a quiet Carlton North laneway. The sense of mystery, of creeping into a secret space, persists.
If you're not familiar with the story of EVL, here's a brief primer: In 2018, Raichura began an in-home restaurant of sorts, cooking meals that explored regional Indian cuisine for 10 people at a time in her Box Hill residence.
She appeared on MasterChef in 2020, and during lockdown she offered in-home banquets that focused on a different region of India each week. In 2021, the operation moved for a time to the Dandenong ranges, before COVID-19 once again forced a rejigging.
Throughout these iterations, Raichura was clear about the aim of her cooking: to change the way people thought about Indian food, to revel in its complexity and history. In many ways she has been reclaiming the narrative around Indian food, and asking diners to think about the ways in which migration, colonisation and globalisation have shaped our tastes and assumptions.
The narrative she presents challenges those assumptions, and offers us a new way of looking at this complex and diverse cuisine.
Now Raichura has landed in Carlton North, in a space – and with a business plan – that is the closest she's come yet to a traditional restaurant. Bookings are available four days a week.
While about half of the customers still sit at a communal table – a dinner-party-like situation that has been an important component of the EVL experience – there are also a handful of tables in the front room that can be booked for a more private experience. And while this building and neighbourhood feel very residential, this is a proper restaurant space with a small but professional kitchen.
Raichura and her staff extend the type of welcome you might expect from someone inviting you into their home, and the meal begins with an explanation of the meal to come.
This season, the food is from the west Bengali region, with Australian influences.
The first dish speaks elegantly to the ideas at play here: gabli chat is made with finely diced avocado dusted in Davidson plum and topped with finger lime, a beguiling take on a traditional Indian snack. Raichura turns the idea of authenticity on its head, her food following the ways in which cuisine can be deeply of two places at once – and wonderfully so.
Next up is luchi, a deep-fried, stretchy and deeply savoury bread turned green from pureed spinach.
Then comes prawns wrapped in nasturtium leaves and grilled until singed. Somehow, the essence of nasturtium's strange high tang changes once it's licked by fire, creating a delightful bitey flavour.
The main part of the meal is a Bengali bohg, or feast, served thali-style on a wide metal plate. Rice is accompanied by various vegetable dishes ladled out by waiters – as in a traditional thali restaurant.
Again, local bounty is featured prominently. I was lucky to dine during pine mushroom season, served here with mountain pepper and ghee. But perhaps my favourite dish on the plate was the dhal, spiced with desert lime, cumin and red chilli. Its deep comforting warmth proves just how magical the humble lentil can be in the right hands.
Because Raichura is focusing on Bengal, this is a seafood-heavy menu, and there are dishes of cod, kingfish and marron that follow the feast.
Rounding out the savoury portion of the meal is a lamb cutlet cooked in paperbark, spiked with Davidson plum and mint. The Australian ingredients work seamlessly within the the context of these dishes, sometimes mimicking more traditional components of the dish and sometimes adding a new layer of complexity, but never distracting from the pleasure at play.
Throughout, Raichura explains the origins of the dishes, the reasons she's chosen certain Australian ingredients, and the history of how this food culture has changed throughout history. It's a fascinating way to dine, but she is quick to add: "Apart from all this history, it's also just delicious."
The question of value here is a difficult one. At $210 per person before drinks, this is one of the more expensive degustations around – not as pricey as the $300+ of Attica or Brae or Vue de Monde, but more than many other options considered some of the best in the city.
Whether you consider the offering at EVL worth the price of admission will hinge almost entirely on what you value in a dining experience. (You certainly will not leave hungry.)
Are you looking for luxury, prestige, pure pampering and pleasure? If so, this may not be the place for you. But if you value intimacy, storytelling, experiences that enrich your understanding of the world, and a sense of hospitality that goes beyond the regular machinations of what we expect from restaurants, then EVL may seem like a very good way to spend your time and your money. It is enriching in a way that other restaurants often are not.
Many cuisines have been dumbed down or alternatively exoticised to appeal to Western diners, who have barely begun to understand – let alone respect – the evolving nature of some of the world's most complex cuisines.
Reclamation cooking – the act of taking the ideas forced on to a culture's foodways and reclaiming the narrative, not in order to impose some idea of extreme authenticity but to express the wildly diverse and creative ways in which taste and identity can be expressed through cooking – is undoubtedly the most important thing happening in the food world today.
That reclamation is going to look different in Australia than it does elsewhere, and the potential for this country, with all its incredible diversity, to emerge with a food culture that is wholly unique is worthy of our rapt attention.
What Raichura is doing at EVL is one of the most fascinating, thoughtful, and, yes, delicious expressions of this type of cooking. I can't wait to eat there again.
Vibe: Intimate, elegant, home-like atmosphere
Go-to dish: Patra poda (prawns in burnt nasturtium leaf)
Cost: $210 a head
Drinks: Very short list of interesting cocktails, a wine list that could use some expansion
Besha Rodell is The Age's new chief restaurant reviewer