You only need one reason to book a table at Cassia, and that reason is Sid Sahrawat. Cuisine NZ’s Chef of the Year 2016 and the man behind one of New Zealand’s most lauded restaurants (and a personal favourite of mine), SIDART, is lending his magic touch to Indian cuisine and the results are even better than we expected. Actually, of course we should have expected it would be this good.
Winner of Metro Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year 2016, it’s clear that Cassia is wowing diners across the board – and we can’t wait to taste what all the fuss is about.
Cassia defines itself as ‘Modern Indian’, a category that’s booming in Dubai right now. We’re really interested to see how Sid’s fine dining background and Kiwi surrounds influence what’s on the plate. Set in an underground, industrial-style space on Fort Lane, the two-hatted Cassia has done a great job of warming up what was a once a draughty bunker occupied by Mandarin Dumpling. A packed house and buzzing atmosphere highlight just what a transformation the location has had in terms of vibe. A fantastic open kitchen, moody bar and vibrant private dining area provide plenty of great dining spaces no matter the occasion (though, we insist, please don’t wait for a special occasion to dine here – but it’s a great choice should you have something to toast).
What we ordered…
Pani puri, tomato, smoked yoghurt, tamarind 3.00/ea
We start things off with the requisite Pani puri – a popular Indian street food snack that is a favourite device for modern Indian chefs to showcase their take on the classic bite. Cassia’s version changes throughout the year were told, and ours featured tomato water. Altogether, the flavour profile reminded me of smoky bacon – likely from the smoked yoghurt addition. A good start to our evening, and there are two other smaller starters on the menu too, but being a fan of ‘snacks’ and small bites, we’d love to see a wider range on offer as they add a lot of fun to the dining experience. More snacks and more playfulness are top of my list of things we’d like to see more of in New Zealand restaurants.
Roasted carrot, spiced kasundi, macadamia, charcoal 17.00
Venison tartare, black garlic, pickled vegetables, cured egg 20.00
Wakanui beef, Goan flavours, beetroot tapioca, cavolo nero 22.00
Our starters arrive, and we can immediately see Chef Sahrawat’s signature all over the plates – and even in the plates themselves. We’re surprised and delighted to see that SIDART’s sky-high plating standards have carried across to its sister restaurant. Now, it’s no secret that we’re not fans of coloured plates (especially red), however, the colourful custom ceramics used at Sidart and Cassia combine with the artful choices of colours and ingredients atop so well. Sid’s eye for plating is rather spectacular and gives his dishes an instantly recognisable signature, something that is rare on the culinary scene. His dishes photograph from above like no other restaurant we have come across – the dishes always round and the food layered with fantastic precision – it really makes for photos that are as mouthwatering as they are eye pleasing.
The Venison tartare was the dish that we were looking forward to the most, and it doesn’t disappoint. It’s a symphony of colours and textures on the plate, all combining to create amazing mouthfeel. One of the most creative tartare interpretations we’ve had the pleasure of eating. We just wish we didn’t have to share it!
The Roasted carrot is so tender, sweet and utterly delicious, and the Wakanui Beef full of textural contrasts and amazing flavour. Already, we’re getting a sense of Chef Sarhawat’s take on Indian flavours – spicy, and sweet. We have to say, we really like the flavour profiles and while each dish has its individual expression, they all carry this sweetly spicy thread throughout that makes for a palate-pleasing journey. The dishes harmonise well when changing between dishes, making them great for sharing.
Given that the food at Cassia is on the spicy side of things, you’re going to want a wine that complements and stands up to that spice. There’s a fantastic wine list on offer with wonderful NZ and international choices, so you really can’t go wrong given such an excellently curated selection. Our pick is the Elephant Hill Viognier– available by the glass or bottle, it’s the perfectly smooth and slightly sweet foil to the vibrant cuisine on offer.
Beef short rib, Kerala sauce, curry leaves, coconut 32.00
Free range pork, vindaloo, apple, ginger 34.00
Seasonal vegetable curry, Delhi spices 28.00
Heading into heftier territory, we sampled both meat and vegetarian options from the mains section, both holding their own in spectacular fashion. We don’t think we could pick a favourite if we tried as all were so strong. Perhaps the most memorable of our picks would be the Beef short rib, despite maybe not being the prettiest of the bunch. Pry apart the incredibly tender meat and an almost corned beef colour is revealed, accompanied by flavour and texture that we absolutely loved – corned beef is a long time of fave of mine and always takes me back to my Grandma’s cooking. Serious comfort food here, and a seriously generous portion of beef too.
The tender Free range pork again had a surprise in store in the form of some insanely good crackling – we were not expecting that at all, but it was certainly welcome! We feel like it’s been a while since we’ve seen good old fashioned crackling (it’s so often deep fried chicharron style these days which to us doesn’t quite match up to the original) and it delivered amazing crunch and flavour. The fusion element of this dish – vindaloo paired with perennial pork BFFs, apple and ginger, is a new and novel combo that works. The Vege curry was simple, hearty and a was commented on by all diners at the table – clearly a crowd pleaser and a nice contrast to the other two meat-heavy dishes. Oh, and of course there’s garlic naan and rice to order alongside, which is just a must when feasting on Indian flavours – modern or not.
Lychee sorbet, berries, black sesame, cardamon cream 17.00
Ok, we’ll admit it – Indian dessert is scary territory for us. We’ve gotten my head around most Asian desserts, but sweets from the sub-continent…we’re just not there yet. If you love these flavours, we’re sure you’ll love what’s on offer at Cassia, no doubt – but though we definitely enjoyed some elements of the dish, when we taste cardamom, we just get floral and soapy flavours that send our tastebuds running a mile. It’s our spice nemesis.
Save for the dessert flavours not really being our cup of tea, there was honestly nothing we could fault with the food. It was all gorgeous on the plate, delicious on the palate and we think we’ll just have to book in a return visit next time we’re in NZ. It’s dining at the finer end of the scale with an unmistakably kiwi touch – we think Chef Sarhawat and Cassia Head Chef Lesley Chandra have really nailed it. It’s popular (of course), so don’t forget to book ahead for both Cassia and Sid’s flagship restaurant, SIDART, to avoid disappointment. Does it deserve to be awarded Metro’s Restaurant of the Year 2016? A resounding hell yeah.