West is best if you’re on the hunt for great Indian
There are two kinds of people in Melbourne, those who have heard of Aangan, and those who have not. For the uninitiated, Aangan is the 15-year-old, well-oiled machine serving multiregional Indian cuisine to the local community and anyone determined enough to travel for their near-flawless food. Footscray may be known as one of Melbourne’s main Vietnamese hubs, but if you keep heading west, you’ll find yourself in Little India.
There’s a little bit of an intelligence test getting into Aangan, the restaurant is glass-fronted with doorways blocked off by inside seating. The trick is to keep walking until you hit a narrow corridor to the side of the building that eventually leads to an entrance, a hectic takeaway area, and if you keep walking, a huge, tented courtyard packed with even more diners. It may be overwhelming on your first visit because Aangan is the kind of venue where they’re full from the minute they open until the minute they close, but the staff are so used to the controlled chaos that they never miss a beat. Needless to say, unless you like waiting for a table, you’d be smart to book ahead otherwise you’ll be left in food-purgatory, staring at large tables of Indian families sharing tandoori platters, curries, naans and biryanis; couples on first dates dipping into butter chicken; or groups of friends tucking into chaat.
The menu spans India, and even a little beyond with chaat and biryani from the north, dosa, idli and sambhar from the south, plus a range of fried noodles and rice, reflective of the neighbouring influences from further east. Aangan’s dosa comes plain or filled with paneer, onion or ghee masala. All come with a coconut chutney, tomato chutney and a bowl of sambhar (a thin, lentil and vegetable stew flavoured with mustard seeds, dried chilli and curry leaves) used to accompany the table-sized scroll of tangy, fermented ground rice and lentils cooked to a paper-thin, tuille-like crisp.
Any chaat is a must order (there is a platter available if you can’t decide), with crushed up pea and potato samosas, balls of fried lentils or potato patties smothered in cooling swirls of yogurt, sweet tamarind and mint sauce and topped with refreshing chunks of raw, red onion, tomato, coriander and soft-cooked chickpeas. It’s a welcome change from the regular fried entrees mandatorily built into any Indian menu.
Curries here possess a liveliness, no matter how heavy it may read. Take for example the malai kofta, deep-fried cheese and pumpkin dumplings sitting in a creamy cashew sauce. In the hands of someone reckless, this dish could result in a gut-busting mess, but at Angaan, the mild curry receives an acidic, energetic lift from a smattering of raw chillies and fragrant, tempered spices. A dry curry of a spicy and zingy fish masala, flaking apart at the touch while being uncharacteristically non-greasy, offers a great counterpoint.
Against regular restaurant logic of shorter menus equating to all-around, excellent food, Aangan manages an 11-page tome where everything is cooked with precision and glancing over at your neighbour’s table could inspire anyone to have food envy. There’s also a resounding opinion that across Melbourne, good Indian food is hard to find, so if you’re in that camp, head west and let Aangan change your mind.