Thankfully these days Sydney’s understanding of, and taste for, Indian food extends beyond butter chicken and samosas. The latest Indian eatery broadening our palates by introducing us to the country’s varied fare is a Surry Hills diner dedicated to regional specialties, “lost recipes” and spice-infused cocktails.

It’s called Foreign Return and it’s the passion project of co-owners Javed Khan (Delhi ‘O’ Delhi), Gaurang Gahoi (ex-Four Seasons) and Kunal Patel. Running the kitchen is Siddharth Kalyanaraman, the Australian men’s cricket team’s official touring chef, who trained under Atul Kochhar, the first Indian-born chef to have a restaurant – Tamarind in London – awarded a Michelin star.

“Indian cuisine is so much more varied than many people think,” Gahoi tells Broadsheet. “Every dish at Foreign Return has its own story.”

The first “stories” diners will be introduced to are the chakhna (similar to bar snacks). They include a dish called 65: a basket of fried chicken, based on a recipe created in the 1960s at Hotel Buhari in Chennai, on the south-west coast. The hotel was also famous for bringing espresso and the jukebox to India. Another highlight of this portion of the menu is taro root tuk: fried taro root drizzled with spiced yoghurt and tamarind.

The crunchy theme continues in the starters with the fried prawn koliwada. “This dish is named after the koliwada – or fishermen’s districts – of Mumbai,” says Gahoi. And then there’s the vegetarian raj kachori, a street-food dish from Delhi that sees pink, round and crisp semolina shells filled with a punchy combination of chickpeas, edamame, yoghurt, mint chutney, pomegranate and tamarind.

The mains menu is split into three: tandoor and grill, lost recipes, and regional curries. Lost recipes are dishes that have been passed down generations of home cooks but don’t often appear on restaurant menus.

For a spin on dal not typically seen in Sydney, try the dal ma, which involves seasonal vegetables and raw papaya added to the classic lentil dish. Or feast the way that Rajasthani warriors once did on laal maans, a slow-cooked venison curry. On the regional curries section there is seafood moilee, a dish from Kerala that’s a cornucopia of barramundi, pipis and prawns in a rich coconut-turmeric sauce. And nandu kuzhambu, a blue swimmer crab curry from the Chettinad region.

“We also wanted to bring a twist to some dishes by adding Australian ingredients,” says Gahoi. Look out for Tasmanian mountain pepper, and bush-tomato chutney, which add zing to classic Indian flavours.

For the cocktail menu the trio collaborated with mixologist Nitin Tewari, who has worked behind the bar at some of India’s top hotels. He’s created a beverage to represent each the north, south, east and west. Take a trip to India’s north with the Khari Baoli Mojito (spiced rum, spiced syrup, soda, lime and mint), inspired by Asia’s largest spice market; or head to the tropical south with a spiced Colada (rum, coconut, pineapple, lime and curry leaves).

Foreign Return has a dedicated bar for those who just want a drink. But if you’re there for food you’ll be seated at a marble table on the ground or second floor. Both floors are decked out in royal blue and gold, creating a swanky but comfortable atmosphere – helped along by a vast mural of the Taj Mahal, suspended fishing nets and shelves lined with brightly coloured dabbas – lunch boxes – that can be filled with kosha mangsho (Bengali-style lamb), dilli ka butter chicken or kathirikkai kurma (eggplant curry with nuts and poppy seeds) for local workers to take away for lunch from Wednesday to Friday.

Since opening in January, Foreign Return has attracted a steady stream of locals, especially Indian expats.

“Many of our customers have been telling us that our restaurant is a lot like the ones they’d go to in Mumbai,” says Gahoi.

Foreign Return
527 Crown Street, Surry Hills
(02) 8399 5084

Mon & Tue 5.30pm–10.30pm
Wed to Sun 11.30am–3pm, 5.30pm–10.30pm