Growing up, chef Brendan King was a fussy eater, which made the Anglo-Indian side of his family worry. Other than cereal and toast, there was only one thing he loved to eat.
“My mum would go visit my grandpa and nana during the day,” King tells Broadsheet. “Being ethnic grandparents, they’d always send food home, including the only thing I would dig into: tandoori wings. I’d always have five or six wrapped up in foil in the car on the way home.”
Those lovingly made blackened tandoori wings are still such a favourite for King, they’re featured on the menu at Derrel’s, Public Hospitality’s latest venue. The late-night Indian eatery in Camperdown is named for King’s maternal grandfather and shares a kitchen with neighbouring pub The Lady Hampshire – another Public venue where King is also head chef.
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The venue’s tagline – “Nana never cooked” – reflects King’s childhood, a time when grandpa Derrel was known for making exceptional curries, specifically his signature pork vindaloo. Although King tried to faithfully re-create his grandpa’s tangy, ghee-rich version, he says that curries imbue the essence of their maker, so it’s impossible to perfectly replicate another person’s recipe. Instead, Derrel’s vindaloo embraces the differences.
“I think there are a lot of expectations about what a curry should taste like, for example, that vindaloo or butter chicken should be ‘by the book’. But every curry tastes different depending on the chef. It’s an expression of a personal knowledge of flavours.”
One part takeaway shop, one part casual eatery, Derrel’s has an à la carte offering plus curries served from bain-maries. Vindaloo is always on offer, plus a Nepalese curry special (thanks to one of the venue’s Nepalese chefs) and butter chicken. The butter chicken’s tangy-sweet, rich gravy joins the tandoori half-chicken plate as a dipping sauce for hot chips (along with cucumber salad and mint yoghurt) and as a sauce on the hot chip butty. Some dishes are modern interpretations of classics, like the smashed samosa chaat, a flavourful snacky plate courtesy of chana masala, mint yoghurt and tamarind chutney.
Many chefs with diverse backgrounds spend their careers cooking cuisines from other countries before looking to their own heritage and cooking the food they grew up eating. King had a different journey.
“My grandparents were Anglo-Indian. With names like Derrel and Irene you wouldn’t assume an Indian background, and that’s always been a big thing for me. I don’t look Indian at all – the only way I could prove it was to show people a photo of my grandparents. But being Indian had a big influence on my life and what I grew up eating.”
Since he began his career, the young chef has always wanted to open an Indian restaurant, but it was cooking at Marrickville’s Baba’s Place, where the owners celebrate their own diverse backgrounds, that inspired him to open Derrel’s. Baba’s Place Creative – a new hospitality-focused creative agency extension of the venue – has delivered a homey, kitschy space that’s ripe with detail: marigold garlands hang over the kitchen pass, wood panelling and tiles decorate the walls, menus are printed on vintage Women’s Weekly magazines and food is served on pink plastic divided plates.
Cooking has helped King embrace his own identity and heritage. “There’s a lot of racism in Australia,” he says. “I think south Asians and Indians get a bad rap with people making jokes that aren’t really funny. I don’t always speak up, but as I’ve grown older I’ve leaned into my heritage. I used to say I’m Irish-Indian, but now I say I’m Indian-Irish.”
89 Parramatta Road, Camperdown
(02) 9072 4831
Wed & Thu 5pm–midnight
Fri & Sat 5pm–2am