Sada Bahaar, 308 Ballarat Road, Braybrook.
When Sadia – that’s her on the left – arrived in Australia from Pakistani Punjab about four years ago, she quickly realised she was going to need a driver’s licence for her new life.
In the course of obtaining one, her driving instructor was Ravinder – that’s her on the right – who hails from Indian Punjab.
Out of that experience grew a friendship and now a restaurant.
And along the way, Sadia, too, has become a driving instructor.
Sada Bahaar (it means ever-green) is situated on a stretch of Ballarat Road that is never, ever going to win any beauty contests.
But it is showing signs of increasing foodiness, what with the presence of a long-time Sri Lankan place we have yet to cover, a much newer, cheap ‘n’ cheerful Sri Lankan place, as well as a burger joint. Also nearby, just around the corner really, is the wonderful West of Kin.
The origins in friendship of Sada Bahaar imbue this comfy eatery with a vibe that is almost unRestaurant – the same person who takes your order is also going to be among those knocking your food together in the kitchen.
We like that.
We like, too, the chance to explore some different and Pakistani dishes from the usual Indian stuff we devour on a weekly (at least) basis.
To that end, our very good buddy Nat Stockley has already made inquiries along those lines even before Bennie and I rock up.
We enjoy a very tasty meal that blends Indian and Pakistani tucker in fine home-cooked style.
Dahi bhalay ($7.50) are deep-fried urad dal dumplings served with spiced yogurt, chick peas and onion bits.
They are also very nice – the blandness of the dumplings (they have, for all of us, a touch of the felafel about them) offset by the tangy toppings.
Haleem is not so much a Pakistani dish but more a staple – made of grains, pulses, meat – across the Muslim world that is often associated with Ramadam.
This chicken version ($10) is very soup-like, the chook so finely minced that it all becomes one with the ingredients.
With its cool fried-onion topping, it reminds me of our favourite Iraqi soup.
From the tight barbecue section of the menu we get lamb seekh kebab ($10) – two long, skinless snags of minced lamb that is quite crumbly but nevertheless delicious.
All too often, the chick peas we get in Indian restaurants seem to be getting a bit tired on it.
By contrast, the Sada Bahaar Lahori cholay ($10) smacks of freshly cooked – but with the gravy and intact pulses nicely integrated.
And as you can see by the many flecks of chilli, this is quite highly spiced food – as are most of our dishes.
Sada Bahaar special kahari ($14) is the triumph of the night and our meal.
A rich (and, yes, rather oily) chook curry, it has high-impact flavours that are boosted to another, higher level by the dish being festooned with many ginger strands and discs of fresh, green chilli.
The chicken pieces are quite bony, and some of our party get more meat than others, but this is a beauty.
We get one each of the regular and garlic naans ($1 each, both pictured above) – they’re OK but unusual in that they’re more like flat bread than most naan we eat.
I prefer the chapati ($1, not pictured) we also order.
On earlier, reconnaissance visit by myself, I enjoyed the very affordable ($9.95) chicken biryani – it’s a rather dry version, but the flavours are all there, the raita joined in this case by a plate of salad veg instead of the more usual gravy.
Sadia tells us that much praise for her cooking was often attended by suggestions she should start a restaurant.
We’re glad she’s spreading some of that love around.
Especially given the low prices and welcoming, low-key ambience.
Thanks to Nat Stockley for help with the pics.