6:00pm - 10:00pm
18 Punch Lane Melbourne 3000

Peer into this unassuming storefront along High Street and you’re likely to see regulars hugging staff and belt buckles being let out a notch [ as diners teeter between satisfaction and gluttony.] The Curry Cafe feels like the bustling living room of owner Michael Vass.

This sense of familiarity might be in part due to the fact that the building has been in the family for 40-odd years. Vass’ mother ran a hair salon there in the 70’s and 80’s, before it became the Curry Cafe in the mid-nineties, with Vass taking the reins in 2013. The team here has a knack for knowing what to update and what shouldn’t be touched: tables from the 90’s remain, but you won’t find any WordArt on the menu. Music sets the tone for a good time, almost exclusively techno here.

More traditional though, is their approach to food. Most Indian restaurants use the same ready-made mixes from the big importers, but Vass considers this the equivalent of drinking coffee that was roasted and ground in another country before being put on a shipping container for 3-4 months. Here, spices are sourced whole and green – not yet roasted. Once a week staff roast green spices in a kadhai (a large heavy-based pan) before grinding them in an industrial spice grinder they imported from India.

Given this respect for the fundamentals, the star of the menu is – unsurprisingly – the curry. Bring friends and get the creamy Lamb Pasanda, a Saag curry with Paneer (a cheese made from strained milk curds), and the more adventurous Martaban, a spicy, slightly sour curry in which meat is cooked for 48 hours in pickling spice. Veg-based curries are also no afterthought, the eggplant is a staff favourite.

There are also BBQ options all cooked in a tandoor, a cylindrical clay charcoal oven common in India. Use your fingers with the sticky lamb ribs, or go for the marinated portobello mushrooms.

Decision fatigue is kept at bay with a simple drinks list. Wine is either a house red or white, or something interesting from the specials board – perhaps a glass of vetted, curry-friendly Pét-Nat. Beer is all on tap, ranging from a boozy Hop Nation red ale to session-friendly ‘Lovedeep’ house lager. The Lovedeep lager’s namesake was a kitchen hand known for being reliable and loved by all, which proves to be an apt description of the beer, and the restaurant that serves it.

Updated: June 19th, 2019

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