Babu Ji, St Kilda

MelbourneEating Out

Babu Ji, St Kilda

Duo's latest endeavour hits the high notes with distinctive style and incendiary flavour...

Listen up: forget everything you think you know about Indian restaurants. Pink embossed wallpaper – fire up your mental wall-steamers. Those weird lenticular pictures of waterfalls, wall-mounted 1980s tellies blasting out Bollywood classics, shag-pile carpets, high-backed seats upholstered in velour… ERASE your thoughts. Like a militant pair of revolutionaries staging a coup over an antiquated establishment, husband and wife Jessi and Jennifer Singh are breaching the fortress – a bureaucracy intent on naming restaurants things like Bengal Village and Spice of India fleeing their last stronghold. The Indian restaurant is dead, long live the Indian restaurant.

Jessi Singh is a man proud of his heritage, embarrassed by its international culinary legacy – he talks passionately and proudly about his and Jennifer’s success with Fitzroy North’s Horn Please, as we settle ourselves into their recently-opened southern outpost: Babu Ji, St Kilda. The place is full to the rafters and dishes are flying out of the kitchen, but Singh is calm – the perfect host, you can sense the confidence he has in both his new restaurant’s output and aesthetic. Following suit from Horn Please, Babu Ji is clean, stylish, evoking the classic Bombay cafés but daubed with a wash of contemporary. Modern, respectful of heritage, but tinged with a sense of fun – there’s a smattering of humour in the now-signature photographs, and the liberation of helping yourself to beers (bottles are totted up at the end of the night) is palpable.

The food? Singh rescues Indian cuisine from the sauce-soaked doldrums where you found it after that marathon Bank Holiday session. Here Indian cuisine is stripped back to its bare essentials: flavour. And lots of it. The depth of spicing in a tandoori-charred Spiced fresh Rainbow Trout is a scientific study in tastebud tickling – delicate and powerful in equal measures, the trout is perfectly cooked, its skin crispy, its flavour capable of knocking a grown man off his feet. Staggering. Gol Gappa, aka Panipuri, is an Indian street food packing another veritable taste sensation – it’s like going ten rounds with a fragrant Mike Tyson, knocking you around with herbs and spices and a precision balance of flavours. Tandoori chicken is charred but incredibly moist, small pots of curry (we try Lamb Raan and Coconut Fish Curry) offer sensibly-sized portions of now familiar incendiary seasoning. Never overpowering, never overstepping the mark, Singh’s nitroglycerine-grade depth in flavouring is the stuff that’ll have punters licking their plates bone dry. Another stellar success, the Singhs are riding high…


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