“Unapologetically Indian” is how Nick and Kirk Mathews Bowden describe the dishes at their new contemporary Indian diner, Raja, which is right next door to the couple’s popular Tel Aviv-inspired bar and restaurant, Ezra, in Potts Point. Behind those dishes is young gun head chef Ahana Dutt, a former sous chef at Lennox Hastie’s Firedoor, and she’s not sticking to any specific Indian region, but showcasing dishes from all over her home country – adding her own personal, and very joyous, spin on it.
“Memories and place are very important aspects in how I cook,” Dutt tells Broadsheet. “That is something we are trying to do at Raja, we are re-creating memories from Nick and Kirk’s travels [around India], and I am re-creating memories from my childhood [in Kolkata], and we hope that then translates to how our guests will make memories in the restaurant.”
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Highlights include spatchcock makhani (butter chicken); ambot tik, a spicy, sour curry from Goa, here made with whole fish that will change depending on availability; and for dessert, a spin on popular Bangladeshi treat chanar jilipi (jalebi), reimagined as a light and airy ricotta doughnut served with a pistachio sabayon (zabaglione) and finished with salt.
But the real scene-stealer is the buttery, garlicky mud crab served with green chutney and roti for mopping up excess sauce. (Wearing one of the restaurant’s very chic adult bibs is a necessity.) It’s the team’s version of a meal Nick and Kirk shared at Mumbai restaurant Trishna.
“That was a real moment, it was a punctuation mark in my life, and to now be able to share that moment with Ahana, and have Ahana’s version on the menu, is so exciting to me,” Nick tells Broadsheet.
Dutt recently returned from a trip to Kolkata, and inspiration from her mum’s cooking has fed into the Raja menu, as have the skills she gained at Firedoor.
“I’ve come to realise that the way I cook now is very much ‘Firedoor’; I always try to do justice to the produce,” she says. “When you’re using really good ingredients you want to showcase it, I think at the essence, when you take away the fire, that is what Firedoor is – and that is what [chef-owner] Lennox [Hastie] is really passionate about.”
To drink, PS40’s Michael Chiem has designed a neat list of cocktails combining Indian concepts with native Australian ingredients, including a play on gola, a beloved Indian street treat that’s similar to a snow cone. The cocktail version is made with shaved ice and desert lime. The 150-strong wine list leans local, with 70 per cent from female producers.
“Unapologetically Indian” is an appropriate term to describe the space, too. It’s been used as a restaurant since the ’60s, so Raja automatically inherited a warm, welcoming atmosphere. This has been amplified by the impressive fit-out by New York-based design director Rosie Rainbow from Goodrich. It’s inspired by India’s “organised chaos”. There’s plenty of colour and patterns – think soft pink tiles and plush tiger-print cushions – as well as nods to more traditional elements, with detailed fireplaces and beautifully carved wooden doorframes. Hand-painted artworks adorn the walls, some pieces depicting the Jaipur royal family and others showing historic Hindi events. All were bought from a single stall near the Palace of the Winds in Jaipur. But the most exciting room is still yet to open to punters.
“It’s like a little nook, which you wouldn’t even know was there unless you were shown,” says Kirk. “It’s got a curved wall that’s Jaipur pink, with velvet seats and a chandelier. It seats about eight people, and it’s just beautiful.”
And if you’ve ever dined at Ezra, you’ll be familiar with the team’s great taste in music. Don’t expect anything less from the playlist at Raja. It’s a mix of fun western tracks and Indian songs curated by a friend of Dutt’s, Shimantini Gupta, a music scout based in Mumbai.
1 Kellett Street, Potts Point
Tue to Thu 5.30pm–11.30pm
Fri & Sat midday–3pm, 5.30pm–11.45pm
Sun midday–3pm, 5.30pm–10pm