Pandu’s, 351 Barkly St, Footscray. Phone: 0468 378 789
It seems there are very few Indian restaurants in Melbourne – or, at least, in the wider western realms in which we roam – that do not offer at least a few Indo-Chinese dishes on their menus these days.
Pandu’s, however, is one of a very few that offers nothing but.
Before venturing out to dine at the new Pandu’s in Footscray, I fossick around online trying to find out more about this intriguing food style – without much success.
So before Bennie and I order our meal, I ask Pandu himself.
Having presumed Indo-Chinese tucker is the spawn of metropolitan India and/or the worldwide Indian diaspora, I am somewhat surprised to hear him attribute it largely to states close to the border with China such as Assam.
He tells me there is no use in his kitchen of traditional Indian spices such as cumin or coriander. There is a heavy use of ginger and garlic, and sauces such as soy and Sichuan.
There’s a zingy aspect to it all that I have attributed to vinegar and/or lemon juice. These are used, I am told, but not so heavily as I have imagined.
(If anyone can offer more by way of the life and times of Indo-Chinese food, we’d love to hear from you!)
We’d enjoyed a couple of cool meals at the previous Pandu’s premises in Buckley St, so are very much looking forward to checking the new place out.
The fit-out of the rather large eatery is rather unusual.
On the one hand, the seats are plush in a way that cheap eats us are quite unaccustomed to.
As opposed to a recent comment on our Pandu’s preview post, we found them perfectly comfy and fine for dining.
The dark-stained tables, on the other hand, appear to be have been constructed out of glorified plywood.
The overall effect is one of ritzy cheap eats – and we like that a lot.
If that means this specialised restaurant delivers Indo-Chinese food cheaper than do your average Indian places who have some Indo-Chinese on their menus, then we’re all for it.
And it does. Indeed, the prices seem to have hardly risen at all in the transition.
Pandu knows perfectly well who we are and what we’re about, so we score a couple of complimentary offerings, though I have no doubt these or our actual menu choices are no different from what other customers receive.
Just saying …
A complementary salad is just some simple spinach leaves and shredded vegetables. A spiced eggplant sludge and yogurt combine to make a dressing for what is a nice appetiser.
The choice of vegetable-chicken sweet corn soup ($4.95) is down to Bennie, but I’m interested to see what the kitchen does with this Chinese staple.
The answer is … not a lot different.
It’s less viscous than we’d receive in a Chinese place, and there are a few more vegetable varieties, but nevertheless it’s a nice, plain starter given what we know is to come.
Chicken 65 ($8.95) is another Bennie choice on account of his fondness for the version at Hyderabad Inn up the road. He’s an expert!
This is OK but could be hotter and the chicken lacks flavour.
The seasoning and accompanying jumble of curry leaves, onion, capsicum and chilli is ace, however, and is the same flavour explosion we’d loved about vegetable 65 and mushoom 65 on previous visits.
Mixed noodles ($11.95)? They’re Bennie’s choice, too. Why isn’t he writing this instead of slothing it on the sofa watching Cartoon Network? One of life’s mysteries …
A big bowl of squiggly egg noodles is packed with finely chopped vegetables and pieces of chicken, omelette and prawn.
This is a mild but pleasing dish, with each of us seasoning to our specific requirements from the small bowls of tomato and soy sauces and chilli oil and chilli vinegar provided.
This seems like an Indo-Chinese version of the revered Nepalese chowmin.
Cauliflower Manchurian ($8.95) is the hit of the night – although I’d in no way suggest this is due to the fact it’s not a Bennie selection.
In contrast to the dryish chicken 65, the large and battered cauliflower chunks are coated with a dark, sticky and sweet sauce. The vegetable pieces are pleasantly firm and – best of all – the cauliflower flavour comes through despite the high level of seasoning.
Another flavour bomb!
We’ve stuck mostly to water during our meal, but have also enjoyed complementary long, tall glasses of housemade cashew milk, which the restaurant sells for $3.95.
This is divine – lusciously creamy, sweet and perfumed with cardamom.
It’s less drink and more like dessert – think pannacotta or creme brulee!
We’ve enjoyed our debut repast at the new Pandu’s – the mix of plain (sweet corn soup, noodles) with rampant seasoning (cauliflower, chicken) has been spot on.
Pandu’s Indian-style barbecue is scheduled for action the day after our visit, so awaits our next visit, at which time we’ll seek to explore some of the fish and prawn options.
‘Ritzy cheap eats’ – absolutely! The evening we went there were lots of dressed-up young couples. Pandu’s dishes taste quite fun, but are not particularly wholesome (which is no bad thing for the odd night out). For example, the ‘Szechwan vegetables’ aren’t recognisable as vegetables – they’re ground, turned into balls, deep-fried, and served with a sticky sauce.
Yes, health food it ain’t. High-octane flavour, though!