Zach and Calvin Dexter had to open their new West End restaurant, Kulcha’d, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. Before that, though, they had to get back into the country.
“We almost got stuck in India,” Zach says. “We went over to study more recipes on March 8. We were supposed to be there for two and a half weeks, but the state of Punjab literally started shutting down around us and we weren’t going to be allowed to leave.
“I panic-bought two flights home … We landed 15 minutes before the quarantine requirements came into effect.”
Talking to Zach, though, you get the impression he’d do it all again. Ever since the Dexter brothers introduced Kulcha’d as a food stall at last summer’s Woodford Folk Festival, they’ve been determined to make their Amritsar-style kulcha flatbreads as authentic as possible.
Kulcha remains relatively unknown in Australia compared to more common Indian flatbreads such as naan and roti. It’s made with maida flour instead of regular wheat flour, and is only mildly leavened. The Amritsari variation adds fillings such as potatoes, onions, cauliflower or other vegetables. Once baked (in a tandoor oven, traditionally), the bread has a crispier outer shell than doughy naan but is soft and flaky on the inside. There’s a handful of Indian restaurants across Brisbane that already serve kulcha (see Delights of Punjab, Masala Library and Punjabi Rasoi), but none that put it at the centre of the menu.
Zach first fell in love with kulcha early in 2019 while on a business trip to the northern Indian cities of Chandigarh and nearby IT hub Mohali. When he returned later that year with his mum Mandy Dexter (who, along with her wife Rebecca Sion, is now a partner in the restaurant), she suggested the idea of a food stall at Woodford. What followed was a crash course in kulcha, with Zach and Calvin (a trained chef) spending the tail end of 2019 back in Mohali under the tutelage of cafe owner Pradeep “Paddy” Sharma and a team of local chefs, learning how to roll and bake the flatbreads.
The kulcha was so popular at Woodford that the Dexters’ attention soon turned to a permanent restaurant on Boundary Street in West End, and an opening date was set for mid-April. But then Covid-19 happened, and the rush home from India was followed by news that they’d lost financial support from their bank.
“We were locked into the lease and a $60,000 bond, so that was a pretty good motivator to keep going,” Zach says, laughing. “There’s a local shopfitter, Mikey Rideki – he’s helped us out with equipment and costs and his skills are second to none.”
The Dexters have approached the fit-out in stages, self-funding it as they work from the front of the venue to back. Finally, in late May, they managed to open Kulcha’d in its initial form as a stripped-down cafe.
Taking pride of place on the vegan-leaning menu is, of course, a short selection of fresh-baked kulchas. There’s a traditional kulcha filled with tandoor-baked potato, onion and spices; a spiced cauliflower and potato version; and a mushroom number stuffed with liberal amounts of paneer. For sides, there’s a chickpea curry, and a dip that blends fresh red onions, mint, mango and chilli.
Elsewhere, the Dexters are serving kati rolls (a street-food-style wrap that can be filled with chicken, paneer or egg) and masala fries topped with coriander and vegan mayo. For the morning trade there’s a breakfast kulcha, and a riff on an Indian-style omelette where pan-toasted sourdough is accompanied by spicy egg, fresh coriander, grilled mushroom, onion and tomatoes.
For drinks, Bellissimo is supplying the beans for espresso, with Hrvst St cold-pressed juices, Somersault slow-brewed sodas and Probiotic Kitchen kombucha also available.
As for the current 20-person dining restrictions, the Dexters are treating them as training wheels after the kulchas proved an immediate hit on West End’s buzzy high street.
“We’ve had a lot of Indian-Australians and Indian [students] coming through,” Zach says. “Someone might come in and order one bread [to try it out] and then order one or two more. They’re really happy to know that we’re … trying to keep it true to something they really love.”
120 Boundary Street, West End
(07) 3255 3822
Wed to Sun 10am–3pm, 5pm–10pm