Geelong’s Curry Queen brings her knowledge of spices to Melbourne at the opulent Elchi. Mixing classics and modern twists in a smart Flinders Street location, Elchi is another notable Indian restaurant for the Melbourne CBD.
Location: 72 Flinders St, Melbourne, VIC 3000 Ph: 0468 349 905
Once home to George Calombaris’ flashy Press Club, 72 Flinders St now hosts modern Indian restaurant Elchi. And nearly a decade on, it’s still a stunner of a dining room.
Chef Manpreet Sekhon began her reign as the ‘Curry Queen’ with the popular Eastern Spice in Geelong. From there she moved into Melbourne with Masti in Fitzroy and now she’s added Elchi to her stable.
Elchi translates as ‘ambassador’ or ‘talented’ and it seems that with this restaurant the clearly talented Sekhon is making moves to raise her profile as an ambassador for modern Indian cuisine.
So does she succeed?
You really can’t talk about any establishment in this location and not talk gushingly about the decor.
A long, but deceptively small, dining room looks wider than it really is thanks to the clever use of mirrors. Horseshoe-shaped, oatmeal leather booths line both sides of the room. Plush and comfy, they are reminiscent of an American diner, all be it a very classy one. Interestingly, we are a party of 6 and all of us remark that more restaurants should adopt the curved charms of Elchi’s seating arrangements. Despite the size of our group, everyone can talk easily and sharing plates is easy, cocooned in our snug U.
However, the real star of the show is the ceiling.
The length of the room is hung with striking burnished copper drums, each housing an illuminated rod. Their accumulative effect is unique and quite beautiful.
Moreover, the warmed honeyed tones of the copper are echoed in by touches of gilt around the room. The other dominant colour is a calming, deep royal blue. Overall, the space feels luxurious, yet relaxed – a difficult balance to achieve.
BUT. I have to mention the choice of music. Whilst I don’t think an Indian eatery should necessarily play the sitar music that filled the curry houses of my English childhood, I’m fairly sure that Kenny G-style saxophone instrumentals don’t add much to the ambience of any venue. Especially one serving spiced dishes in such a refined environment. But maybe that’s just me.
Elchi claims to ‘reimagine the wonders of Indian fare’ and the menu reads well. There are enough familiar dishes to ease the fears of the less intrepid diner, but also sufficient interest for those who wish to try something new.
I’m excited by the idea of the opening Golgappa Shots. I’ve yet to meet a Golgappa (Pani Puri) I haven’t adored and the idea of crispy, light pastry shells filled with Spiced Tequila & Avocado ($6ea) or Vodka Paani & Pickled Beets ($6ea) is the kind of twist on an Indian classic that makes my heart sing.
Sadly, we don’t sample them as we decide to go for the set menu – Leave It Up To The Curry Queen ($75pp) – and the Shots aren’t included.
Instead, we started with the perennial favourite, Pappadums and Mint Chutney.
This was followed by Gunpowder Gobhi, Crispy Cauliflower & Spicy Lentil Dust. After the pleasant, but not exactly thrilling Pappadums, this dish was a fiery – Gunpowder forward – surprise. Both the cauliflower and broccoli still had bite and their own flavours, but the spicy lentil dust had real heat. The cooling raita on the side was needed to take the edge off the chilli burn. It was authentic and tasty, though a little too punchy for some of our party.
From there we sampled the Not Your Average Chicken Tikka with Tomato-Chilli Caramel. This was our dish of the meal.
Succulent, tender chunks of deeply marinaded chicken, smokey and charred on the outside and soft on the middle. Alongside the tomato-chilli caramel and a bold brush-stroke of mint chutney sat pearls of sweet mango which popped in the mouth. It was a triumph. When a menu speaks of modern twists on familiar flavours, this is the kind of dish I hope to see. Everything about it was familiar, but it was elevated to a new level of deliciousness.
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After that, we entered the Signature section of our meal.
At first, I wasn’t overly impressed by the Smoked Aubergine Bhurtha, Cumin & Fresh Chilli. Whilst the eggplant was expertly cooked and had a lingering smokiness, it seems slightly acrid to my palate.
However, when eaten with the Nawabi Chicken Curry, Cashews, Coconut, Almonds & Poppy Seeds, it really came alive. Any bitterness was soothed by the creamy curry sauce with its tender pieces of chicken and the 2 combined were truly harmonious. In fact, I felt the Nawabi Chicken Curry needed the Aubergine Bhurtha just as much as vice versa as it wasn’t the most scintillating of plates when tried alone. Though perfectly pleasant, it was a little bland for my tastes and needed the contrast with the Bhurtha to give it a kick.
Our final savoury element was a stone pot of Dal Makhani. Fragrant and murky it buzzed with spices – a scented hug in a bowl. As you may be able to tell, I have a soft spot for any kind of dal. The Makhani at Elchi was definitely good, but whether or not I’d pay $24 for it outside of the set menu, I’m not so sure.
We finished off with sticky, sweet Gulab Jamun & Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. The crumbly balls were light and oozed syrup whilst the lush ice cream was the perfect foil.
If you have a huge appetite and this doesn’t sound like sufficient food, don’t panic. Aside from these dishes we had plenty of Basmati Rice and Paratha, plus some of the freshest Roti I’ve eaten in a long time.
What’s more, the waiters offered us refills of the last 3 curries as part of the meal. You won’t leave Elchi hungry!
And finally, although we didn’t get to try the famed Crispy Whole Amritsari Fish, Tamarind, Roasted Rice & Lime (MP – $89 on the day we ate), we saw it delivered to a nearby table. And Salivated. A sculptural wonder of golden snapper – the flesh removed from the bones for ease of eating, then rubbed with spices, cooked and arranged back around the upright skeleton – it looked spectacular.
Certainly one to try next time!
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The wine list is fine and there is a decent range of spirits on offer.
In contrast, there’s some fun to be had trawling through the cocktails. Many feature Indian spicing and the eponymous Elchi is a delicious blend of Ruby Port, Rum, Grapefruit and Cardamom Bitter.
Another eatery redefining perceptions of Indian cuisine is Atta Restaurant. Read our review here.
Our wait staff were all charming and very attentive. They were also more than happy to explain dishes to us.
They were particularly quick to replace drinks, possibly because the food took quite a long time to come. We waited longer than you’d expect between courses – especially for our desserts. I suspect staff shortages were to blame as virtually every venue in Melbourne seems to be crying out for reliable workers these days.
Elchi is doing a lot of things right.
The menu features enough well-known dishes that it isn’t alienating and there are some nice tweaks to old favourites. The Chicken Tikka, for example, is one of the best chicken dishes in town.
But I still think things it’s not quite adventurous enough. Yep. I’m British born and spent much of my teens eating Biryanis, Baltis and Vindaloos and am more familiar with these flavours than many of the Aussie raised friends, but if you want to do modern Indian, embrace it fully.
Indian food is finally coming of age in Melbourne. From the fine dining glamour of Tonka and the exquisite immersive culinary experience of Enter Via Laundry, to the ‘unauthentic’ Australian Indian of Daughter In Law’s colourful curries, now is a great time for spice lovers. For Elchi to make its mark, I feel it needs to be just a little bit braver on the plate.
Having said that, very few restaurants can compete with Elchi when it come to dining room glamour. That ceiling really is something!