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I came away from modern Indian hot spot Tonka restaurant a little baffled the other night. Service was fantastic, cocktails superior, the carrot halwa pictured was possibly the best I’ve had.

So what was the niggling factor? I’ve been once before, but never tried the staples such as butter chicken, lamb curry and pani puri.

Being Australian born, of Indian origin and from a hospitality family who live and breathe food (my dad was a chef among other things) I’m used to a certain level of heat and sourness.

In dining at Tonka, I expected my taste buds to sit up, rod straight and feverishly take notes on all the wonderfully inventive interpretations I was about to experience. ?‍? Alas, the pani puri was a colourless version of the real thing.

We agonized over how it could have been improved, perhaps some tamarind on side as a sweet respite for those unaccustomed to the requisite tanginess?

The butter chicken, lamb curry – amazing meat quality, slow cooked to perfection, yet all somewhat sterile in flavour.

Adding a bit of the accompanying yoghurt imparted a bit of the required sharpness but it was like trying to shove life into a relationship long since devoid of passion. ?‍♀️

They say, if you go into an ethnic restaurant and nobody from that ethnicity is dining there, that means it’s not authentic. It was filled with non-Indians. Yet it is clear there is a market for this brand of mild Indian food, which is gentler on the stomach ?

These days it would be short sighted of me to simply categorise one’s tastes on the basis of their ethnicity – knowing plenty of Indian-origin kids who hate spice (I used to be one of them) and
many non-Indians who chomp on chilli like breath mints. ?

I was left however asking the question that all ethnic restaurants must ask themselves – til what point do you Anglicise your identity so you’re easier to swallow?

At the current price point, I feel Tonka needs to retain at least some sub-continental heritage in the form of options – how intense you’d like the spice to be, to add butter/garlic to your naan.

If you’ve been raised on traditional Indian food, try elsewhere. But come back for drinks and dessert ??

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