Address: 60 Federal St, Auckland Phone: (09) 377 0033 We spent: $416 for six Rating: 17 — Great
According to a tiny little yellow book called The Curry Secret, the Indian word "chaat" literally translates as "to lick".
This makes so much sense. At 1947 Eatery, on the recommendation of a vegetarian friend, we ordered the street samosa chaat ($8). One spoonful — for this is a deconstructed mash-up of mint, tamarind and other fragrant mysteries and cutlery is definitely required — and we immediately ordered another. I might have licked the plate, but, you know, manners.
The food here is great and while the bar service was a little slow, there is much to recommend. They take bookings. The tables are actually big enough to accommodate shared dishes. The fit-out is sophisticated (dark wood, dim lighting) and when you sit down, they bring you a little tin of peanuts in the shell. Interactive food is, in my opinion, a superb ice-breaker. This is a date-night restaurant that is also good for groups.
We were six. Loud and hungry and quite keen for a drink because peanuts will hold a woman's attention only for so long. When the $18 margarita (finally) arrived it was declared delicious — but was downed in about half the time it took to make.
Without really meaning to, I'd ordered a lot of food. "Small plates" are a mathematical nightmare. How many pieces? Do we need one of those, or three of those? We definitely, advised the vegetarian, needed the curry chips ($9). Imagine butter chicken minus the meat and plus melted cheese. Indian poutine?
The menu runs from snacks and small dishes, to tandoor and "from the pot" offerings, plus biryani and chef's specials. There are an overwhelming nine types of bread ($4-$6). I asked for a selection and that was a mistake. Better, perhaps, to try just a couple at a time. Most memorable for their not-your-usual-takeout taste — the peshwari naan, with a sweet dried fruit filling; and rumali roti, thinner and more pliable than usual.
A million years ago, when I lived in the South Island and Indian restaurants were still a novelty, a kind chef took me into the kitchen to witness a tandoor oven up close. I've been fascinated by these brutishly hot blast-furnaces ever since. They do things to lamb chops that barely seem seemly. 1947's (five for $22) are sublime. Tangy, minty, charred. We abandoned cutlery and gnawed the bones to their burnt tips.
The tandoor chicken was a little too yoghurty (and not scorched enough) for me, but the bite-sized chilli chicken, deep-fried and doused in a sweet, spicy, sticky sauce was pretty much perfect with an on-tap Kingfisher beer ($10).
And so to the main event. 1947's catch-cry is "tradition needed a makeover". You can still get a butter chicken, but why would you? The dry goat curry ($22) was bone-suckingly good, and rich with dark, cinnamony-aromatics. A little less visceral, and considerably richer, was the lamb shank nihaari, a $32 chef's special that originates from Pakistan. The gravy was velvet, and the meat texturally quite different than I expected — more waxen than pull-apart. Paneer Lagaan ($24) was very light balls of cottage cheese in a mild sauce that, I think, had been thickened with cashews. Tasty, but chilli aficionados will want more heat.
Potatoes are 1947's vegetable of choice. We had them three ways, with the nawabi aloo (normally a rich spud and tomato curry) cleverly served as small, potato-wrapped bite-sized pieces (three for $16). If you're after a lighter vege option, don't miss the kachumber salad. Refreshing and moreish, alternately sweet and tart; and a very generous serve for just $7.
There is a charming backstory to this restaurant involving the discovery of a handwritten book of recipes from a traveller who toured India during the days of the British Raj. This notebook was, allegedly, uncovered from the rubble of Federal St's 2016 construction boom by three friends who knew they had stumbled "on a hidden gem".
A few months back, a Herald reporter checked this story out. It is, sadly, just a story — though the phrase "hidden gem" could be very justifiably applied to 1947.