Kid Curry started as a solution to a problem.
In March last year brothers Cameron and Jordie Votan sat in their Happy Boy restaurant after working its first pandemic takeaway and delivery service, and realised they’d need to change how they operated.
“We’d just done this monumental shift,” Cameron says. “It was too much. I really respect people who do takeaway businesses, because you get orders between 5.45pm and 7.30pm and that’s about it. And if you’re not limited by how many seats you have, people can just order and order and order.
“Everything at Happy Boy is cooked a la minute [to order]. It’s really time consuming and tricky to do such large volumes. We were sitting there, and we knew this could go on for months. It was a lot of work for not much gain.”
Enter chef Tom Swapp. Swapp had been knocking about different Brisbane restaurants but was best known for heading up the kitchen at celebrated Thai restaurant Spirit House in Yandina. The Votans and Swapp formulated a simple menu: six or seven of their favourite curries drawn from across India and Southeast Asia, accompanied by sides such as roti, pappadams and curry puffs. They’d name the online restaurant Kid Curry, a natural fit with Happy Boy and Snack Man, Happy Boy’s neighbouring wine bar and small-plate restaurant.
“All the prep was in the front end, making it much easier to handle,” Cameron says. “And it was a nice thing to help keep our Greenglass staff busy [Greenglass was closed during the early weeks of the pandemic]. At that stage we didn’t really intend for it to grow into its own business.”
But by the end of 2020, streetwear store Project was set to move out of a small tenancy on the Ann Street side of Snack Man. The Votans saw an opportunity to turn East Street, once just an outpost for the relocated Happy Boy, into a proper mini food precinct.
Kid Curry the restaurant finally opened in September, six months later than planned. What was a quick pivot born out of the Covid-19 incubator is now an intimate 45-seat Nielsen Jenkins-designed restaurant defined by a crisp top-to-toe spotted gum fit-out, moody lighting and a low-benched open kitchen. It’s a distinct and arguably slightly grown-up evolution from Happy Boy and Snack Man.
Those six or seven curries have expanded into a broad menu that incorporates raw and small plates, and a long selection of mains split across seafood and “non-veg” dishes – all the better to take in as many styles of cuisine as possible from India in the northwest all the way down to Indonesia in the southeast.
You might start with kinilaw, a Filipino-style ceviche with coconut milk, chilli and exotic herbs; Indonesian ayam goreng fried chicken sandwiches served with sambal and house pickle; and Punjab-inspired flame-grilled seekh kebab lamb skewers with pickled onions and mint chutney.
For mains, there are takes on Indian rogan josh and butter chicken, Indonesian ayam bakar chicken, and Thai beef-cheek green curry. But you can also order pla yang, a Thai-style butterflied grilled fish dish with nam prik pao chilli jam, or Indian sembharachi kodi prawns flash fried with green chilli, ginger and onion.
You might wonder how this all holds together on a single menu, but Kid Curry reflects Happy Boy and Snack Man’s approach to Chinese cuisine, where different dishes from across the country are brought together to create that sense of food anthropology and discovery – something that interests the Votans and Swapp.
“Butter chicken is a great example,” Cameron says. “It’s a dish that has a really rich and interesting story, but it’s been shelved in most people’s minds as something that’s just on the neighbourhood takeaway menu. Tom’s version has added these inflections that say, really, the original dish is about butter and tomato paste and spices, not cream and sugar. Looking at the original intent and soul of the dish is what we’re working on.”
As always, wine is a big focus for the Votans. Kid Curry packs a super tight 25-bottle list that favours crisp small producer (and often Italian) drops that are powerful enough to stand up to the flavours of the curries but also acidic enough to cleanse the palate after such rich flavours. Think cortese, arneis and nebbiolo from Piemonte, or grillo and frappato from Sicily. And if you want to go large, you can always arrange for something from Snack Man’s enormous cellar next door.
And that’s really how Kid Curry is meant to work – hand-in-hand with its sister venues that share the shade of East Street’s fairy-lit trees. It marks a development in dining along this strip but also Brisbane dining and drinking in general, which over the past six or seven years has begun to organise itself into tighter precincts.
“With Snack Man in the middle of the two restaurants, there is that really nice flow,” Cameron says. “I spent all my 20s in Melbourne, where you might go out to Collingwood and see where things took you. Moving back to Brisbane after that, there was less spontaneity at that time.
“I love this idea that people now roll down from work, have a wine at Snack Man and then try to get a table either at Happy Boy or Kid Curry. And if they can’t get something here, they can easily move on to James Street or The Calile.
“We thought if Happy Boy could work in Spring Hill it could work on its own down here,” Cameron continues. “But then a lot of great neighbours moved into the area – Same Same, Honto, Mosconi, Gerard’s had a resurgence. It’s been fantastic to see and that’s been a massive reason for our success.”
5/826 Ann Street, Fortitude Valley (on East Street, under the fairy-lit trees)
0413 246 890
Wed to Sun 5.45pm–8.30pm