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There's a chance you haven't heard of Helly Raichura, but that window is closing. In 2018, the former data analyst started Enter Via Laundry, an at-home dining experience that showcased Indian regional cuisine.
In the beginning, 10 people would come to dine at her home in Box Hill South (entering, as you may guess, via the laundry).
Word spread and then exploded when she appeared on MasterChef in 2020. COVID-19 saw her reach grow as she started cooking at-home banquets celebrating a different region of India each week.
Cut to 2021, and the passion project is a bona fide calling, with Raichura delivering her banquets against secret idyllic backdrops two weekends a month.
For Raichura, it all started with khandavi. Her favourite dish from childhood, the silky "crepes" are made with a chickpea flour batter. In EVL's early days she never thought she would serve them to guests – they seemed "too homely". But the reception she received from serving them warm and folded in coconut cream, almost like thick pappardelle pasta, with a tangy bush tomato oil and garlic flowers, was so resounding it set her course. She would give India's traditional dishes a stage on which to shine.
Three years into that trip, Raichura's menu is now a seasonal, storied journey based on fastidious research that not only looks at food from Gujarat to Karnataka but across different periods in India's history as well.
It's a hell of a ride, starting with your drive through Monbulk's pretty hills to bucolic grounds where three tables of 10 strangers meld over dinner or lunch.
Up to 17 Individually plated dishes are stunning to behold and so much work that Raichura only offers the sittings a couple of times a month.
Two bites in, the devil in the detail is clear. Radishes are pickled weekly in a mix of roasted spices (fenugreek, mustard, coriander, nigella and more) and a liquor that penetrates deeply for an intensely floral, spicy hum. A potato coin has also been pickled and topped with a tiny cured dessert lime.
Next comes boondi, a street snack where tiny crunchy balls of deep-fried chickpea batter are mixed with a salsa of pear and the fragrant bite of shiso leaf and lemon myrtle. It's a crunchy trail mix with whip-lash freshness that neatly introduces Raichura's philosophy that food is constantly evolving, which for her means harnessing local ingredients.
So it is that you move to that khandvi, lit up with bush tomato oil and also a native basil that has commonality with curry leaf. Then it's across to West Bengal for a juicy tranche of kingfish that has been braised incredibly gently in a sunny turmeric, mustard and coconut sauce, brought back into line by more desert lime and the salty crunch of sea succulents.
When the Gujurat dish of pork arrives, all savoury richness bathed in a black sesame sauce on farsi puri, a golden fried disc like a tostada under a crunchy beetroot veil, there is a moment of panic realising you're only halfway through the show. But Raichura's food is defined by the crisp elegance of well-blended spice mixes and sharp accents that makes these dishes weapons of mass sensory eruption rather than blunt instruments.
Filling the gaps, former Lume front of house Ilanit Bard (who has started the Thick Accents Project, celebrating migrant women in hospitality) is bringing the pro touch to pouring the locally sourced wines. You can pace the ride by walking out to the grass. There's a surprise intermission performance I won't ruin.
The food and the beautiful setting are one thing. But Raichura is tackling curly questions about migration and the effects of invasion in an eloquent, fascinating and delicious way. The showstopping main shifts the narrative from India's regions to its history, specifically the hedonistically rich cooking style of the Mughlai period of occupation.
The lazeezan is a paella-sized pan of premium lamb cuts and kofta cooked with saffron-stained basmati, whole spices, rose petals and edible silver. The spicing is lighter, explains Raichura, because they were not trying to cover cheap meat.
You close with a flurry of fresh fruits, languid pools of poached plums and apricot with fermented cream, almonds and native strawberry gum.
Betel leaves cupping a blend of spices are a digestion aid and palate cleanser.
There is India's take on the pourover coffee. Raichura joins the tables with her wine. You leave with a bag of her own tea blend and peppers from her garden. And so much more than that.
Cost: $186 a head, food only.
Drinks: Chai-style cocktails and negronis, Seedlip and tonic for non-drinkers, and a handful of local wines.
Pro Tip: Dinner is magical, but a long lunch where you can see the grounds is special.