Elchi Review Melbourne Review 2022
72 Flinders Street
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|Opening hours||Lunch and dinner from Wednesday to Sunday|
|Characteristics||Licensed, Takes Reservations, Vegetarian Friendly, Gluten-Free Options|
|Prices||Moderate (dishes $20 to $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Call||03 9654 6717|
Five years ago, chef Manpreet Sekhon sat in a glamorous Flinders Street restaurant dreaming an impossible dream. “I wish I could have a restaurant in a place like this,” she told her husband. “The atmosphere, the setting, it’s magnificent.
The place was Press Club, the George Calombaris Lounge where leather horseshoe banquettes sat under bright gilded colonnades and the Australian-Hellenic menu included a tahini-chocolate dessert accompanied by mini marshmallows hung from a tiny Hills Hoist.
At the time, Sekhon had already opened her Geelong restaurant, Eastern Spice, and customers from Melbourne who traveled an hour for her rogan josh and coconut scallop curry still begged for the “queen of curry”, as she became known, to open a place in the city.
She obliged them in the spring of 2020, bravely tossing Masti in Fitzroy as the tumbleweeds blew down Brunswick Street, and quickly enticing the inner north with subcontinental cocktails and vegan dishes like chickpea vindaloo and spicy sautéed okra. .
However, she never gave up on the Flinders Street dream. The Press Club closed in 2019, briefly reborn as Elektra, then closed when its owning company went into administration a month before the lockdown.
Full of pride and joy, and looking into the possibilities of a softer rental market, Sekhon reopened the luxury room as Elchi in early March.
The comfortable and glam layout is still excellent, somewhere between club room and limo. A big part of Sekhon’s project is to show that a dining room with this swish is a very fitting canvas for contemporary Indian cuisine.
She’s right. In Melbourne, our dominant style of Indian restaurant is mid-range with long, page-turning menus built around versatile curry bases.
But in India, and particularly in the northern state of Punjab, where Sekhon hails from, carefully spiced meat and vegetable dishes trace their heritage to Mughal palaces as well as village food stalls. It’s also completely normal to eat dhal and naan in the kind of gleaming five-star hotels where Sekhon trained and spent her early career.
Elchi’s one-page menu is an eclectic collection of street foods, grills, regional classics and restaurant staples, all with the Sekhon twist.
Golgappa is a popular street snack, often referred to as pani puri. A bite-sized crispy pastry shell is usually filled with potatoes and green chili, then a tamarind vinaigrette is poured in and the whole thing is quickly put in your mouth before it falls apart. Elchi serves classic, cheeky versions with tequila or vodka for dressing.
Bhel puri is another ubiquitous snack, usually consisting of puffed rice, onions, and potatoes mixed with chutneys. Elchi makes a salad of buckwheat grains, corn, pomegranate arils and peanuts. Tamarind and mint chutneys are spread on the plate. It’s a street food that tries a little too hard to stuff itself; the original is livelier and brighter.
Fish Amritsari is a famous dish of landlocked Punjab, prepared in the classic way with freshwater fish rubbed with spices and fried. Sekhon uses whole snapper in a signature main course that aims for the wow factor. The fried skeleton is curved on the plate, the fillets in golden breadcrumbs nestle in the ribcage and the juicy wings are tucked in the back. It’s a finger-licking procession with sweet notes of chilli and lemon and the pungent whip of ajwain spice.
The deft installation with spices that has earned Manpreet Sekhon her nickname of queen of curry is on display in dishes like paneer lababdar, with homemade fresh cheese in a tangy tomato sauce, and glazed three-pulse dhal for a rich finish with ghee.
Jalebi is a flour donut soaked in syrup, but Elchi makes it with a breaded apple sprinkled with cinnamon and pistachio. Although the Granny Smith Rings seem a little lonely on the plate, the delicate and well-judged flavors indicate an exciting fusion of Indian heritage and local produce.
I enjoyed Elchi. I love the idea of re-colonizing a space like the Press Club and showcasing the brilliance of Indian cuisine. But there’s already a strong push in Melbourne to redefine subcontinental dining. Nearby, Tonka, Jessi Singh’s daughter-in-law and the new Bar Bombay Yacht Club, Helly Raichura’s Enter Via Laundry, Fitzroy’s ISH and the exciting pop-ups of local chefs Harry Mangat and Mischa Tropp push Indian cuisine down thrilling alleyways with sharpness and finesse.
Elchi is on point, but the presentation isn’t sharp enough or the dish ideas purposeful enough to rank it among the best. I look forward to seeing the execution of this promising restaurant align with its happy and worthy ambitions.
Atmosphere: Contemporary Indian cuisine in a glamorous, clubby dining room
Essential dish: Fish Amritsari ($80, for 2-4 people)
Drinks : The wine is good but the Indian spiced cocktails are the real draw
Cost: Small: $4.50 to $18; large: $24 to $32; dessert: $6-$20
This review was originally published in Have a nice week end magazine
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