364 Lonsdale St, Melbourne. Phone: 9606 0109
Having been a city worker for a decade plus, I inevitably became familiar with just about every nook, cranny, alleyway and greasy spoon in the CBD.
Those days are becoming a fading memory, so much so that a visit to the CBD has become a rarity, with the consequence that I am always surprised by the changes that have occurred since my previous train trip.
But this week, having an early morning business meeting in South Melbourne, I found myself standing on the corner Lonsdale and Elizabeth streets pondering lunch. One of the best things to ponder!
Stylish bento at while sitting at Kuni’s sushi bar? Nope, too far away and I was already a little foot sore. Coconut House up the road towards Victoria Market? Nope, not in the mood.
In the end, I settled on the closest option, an old friend from my city days, just up the hill towards Spencer St.
And it gave me a prime opportunity to test my theory that bain marie food – which goes with the territory of my price range – is best had just as it placed out. (Discussion of pros and cons of bain marie food can be found in the review and comments of Footscray’s Indi Hots at Footscray Food Blog) In this case, it was an early lunch at 11.30am.
Zam Zam is one of many dozens of cheap and cheerful Indian eateries that have proliferated in the CBD in the past decade or so, catering to lunch hour workers and students at any hour. I love them. When I first moved to Melbourne in the mid-’80s, Indian food almost always meant a la carte dining in a more formal setting, with the inevitable whack on the wallet. Places like Zam Zam trade on high turnover and low prices. If your timing is right, you can almost always find something good at just about all of them.
The downside is, of course, sometimes they can turn on some appalling slop! Buyer beware and all that …
My Zam Zam lunch was very good – and, yes, I reckon I did benefit from getting in so early.
The beef curry had a nice, dark and rich gravy, and its onion strands a really nice touch of crunch. The dal was beautifully yellow and studded with chopped coriander. A jumble of beans, carrot and – Oh, yes! – cauliflower provided more crunch, even if the only thing Indian about it was a smattering of turmeric. Colourful and OK rice, a plate of wonderously crunchy and grease-free papadams and a soft drink rounded out the package, which clocked in at $11.90 on the cash register.
Pretty good value and all very tasty, if mildly spiced.
Most meals are served on stainless steel thali plates. We’ve got a bunch of them at home, and we just love them for the Indian food that is one of our domestic mainstays. But they do have one drawback – they don’t hold the food’s heat at all, meaning bain marie tucker – often not particularly hot in the first place – is inevitably cold by the end of one’s repast.
But that, too, goes with the territory.
Read another view of Zam Zam and some amusing comments at We Do Chew Our Food.