If you drop by Collingwood’s Tomboy for a coffee on a Friday or Saturday morning and return after dark, you might do a double take. A piece of red fabric has been strewn over the luminescent, overhanging MILK BAR sign, a DJ is spinning old soul tunes on vinyl by the door and long communal tables, packed with people, have replaced the small lunch set-up along the wall. And something smells incredible. For six weeks, Kerala Foods has taken over Tomboy with a pop-up Indian curry house where the booze pours freely into jars (it is northside) and beautifully spiced food is made to share with friends. A collaboration between Kerala Foods's Mischa Tropp and Emily Wright of Palomino, the concise menu features six curries, a couple of snacks, a dessert and a list of beers (Coopers), wines (Cake) and cocktail jugs that all boast Australian-made spirits.
While you’re deciding on your curries, you can go ahead and order a couple serves of the bhajis to start – deep-fried cauliflower and eggplant pieces in a spiced chickpea batter that must be liberally slathered in the fiery kasoundi being passed up and down the tables.
Although Tropp’s dishes are influenced by his mother, who grew up in Kerala in southern India, he is driven by experimentation and the desire to learn more about Indian cuisine. “I think there are a lot of different vegetables and things that aren’t being used in Indian cuisine that a lot of people haven’t tried. Things like bitter gourd, okra, amaranth; there’s lots of things to play with, but in Australia not many people are aware of it. And even I am only aware of a little bit of it. There’s a lot more to discover,” Tropp says.
After the karahis have been scraped clean and the wine bottles emptied, you can finish up with a couple of scoops of the saffron, rosemary and coconut ice cream – an acquired taste to be sure, but one that is easily acquired after a couple of spoonfuls.
After the onslaught of Mexican and Vietnamese hawker food flooding the dining scene over the past couple of years, it’s refreshing and exciting to see Indian food – a reliable go-to for suburban takeaway – enter an experimental and fashionable sphere, something we haven’t seen much of since Tonka opened in March earlier this year.
It looks like the pop-up is a kind of experiment for Tropp, who is currently working on his aspiration of setting up at night markets and music festivals and maybe even opening his own permanent dosa bar sometime in the future. Considering how the first weekend has gone at Tomboy, we’ll be looking forward to seeing the dosas take on the tacos.
Tomboy Hosts Kerala every Friday and Saturday from 6:30pm to 1am until October 12. No bookings, cash only. Takeaway available.