In India it is thought that a meal should delight the palate while nourishing the body and harmonising the soul. Arjuna, set above the beautiful Jamieson valley in the Blue Mountains embraces this notion and offers dishes that relish in a subtle blending of favourable flavours.
Greeted with comforting smiles and delicious smells wafting from the kitchen, it is easy to understand why this two storied restaurant is always busy.
The menu offers a great spread of Indian dishes, some that are familiar and others that you have never heard of.
For starters; the fried Idily ($6), three small golden fried rice cakes served with a mint and green chilli yoghurt. The cakes are perfectly golden and crunchy on the outside. While they may look subtle and plain in flavour, they definitely are not. With a unique texture similar to fine cooked couscous made from the ground cooked rice and gently flavoured with ginger these cakes are a delight. The ginger adds an essential freshness to the nuttiness of the rice and lentils.
The dipping sauce alone is deliciously spicy and tart yogurt based sauce with a finish of cooling mint, I found it a pity to cover the subtle flavours of the rice cakes with this intense sauce.
The Dhal Vada ($6), three perfectly crisp fritters filled with a sweet sautéed split peas, mild spices and studded with coriander leaves, black sesame seeds, chilli and onion. These fritters detail what I love about Indian cuisine. The gentle balance of flavours and texture. Split peas cooked gently with onion and spices matched with freshness of aromatic coriander.
Unfortunately this entree was also served with the mint and green chilli sauce, which once again I thought over powered the subtleties of flavour already present.
For mains we asked our waitress what she recommended. She instantly knew without hesitation and chose the Green bean Footagh ($12.90) -a dish that I would have skipped over without a second thought.Footagh is a term used for any Indian vegetable dish made with coconut and curry leaves. A freshly cooked green bean dish, that for me is unlike any Indian vegetable dish I have had before. Instead of drowning in richly flavoured sauces, or having simmered for hours, this dish is cooked to order with fresh green beans sautéed with green chilli, mustard seeds, a little fresh tomato and grated coconut. It is light and delectable and so unique compared with some other Indian dishes (I ordered it again on my second visit - it was that great).
For a dish with familiarity enjoy the Lamb Saag ($15.50). The lamb is perfectly tender and while the sauce is tasty with blended spices, spinach and coconut, I would have liked to have had some more lamb to mop it up with.
Dhal Maharani ($8), is not your average yellow split dhal. Instead it is cooked with kidney beans and black lentils in a rich creamy sauce of garlic and mild spices. The kidney beans are a nice touch adding texture and flavour.
Hydrerabadi Kheema ($15.50), a spicy dish of mince meat with peas has the awaited heat that you expect with Indian food. Although it is spicy, the dish isn't overwhelmed with heat alone. Tasty beef mince is covered in a rich tangy tomato based sauce, (that is pleasingly not oily like some curries can be) while peas and cumin seeds add a needed freshness.
The Naan (from $3.50) are the biggest I have seen, light and fluffy with the perfect amount of char from the tandoor.
I admit that I am not usually a dessert fan when it comes to Indian cuisine, however after such a meal I felt impelled to try them at Arjuna, where I knew that they would be at their best.
Gulab Jumun, is a traditional Indian sweet of fried 'donut like' dumplings soaked in a sweet syrup. The syrup is sickly sweet (the portion of three small dumplings is more than enough to share), however the dumplings (served warm) are not and match perfectly together especially with the spicy depth of cardamon pods and the light floral notes of rose water.
Kulfi is also a common Indian ice cream dessert. Made with ground almonds, cardamon and pistachios, unlike western ice cream this version is not churned and is enjoyed as a frozen solid dessert. While it tastes beautifully nutty and sweet especially with the added cardamon, I couldn't get past the texture. The ground nuts cut through the creaminess leaving a gritty taste in the mouth.
The Mango Lassi is creamy, light and refreshing exactly what you expect. I even suggest you even get one to take away for breakfast the next day.
Arjuna has been running for more than 13 years and after eating there I can see why. I came in summer and enjoyed a spectacular sunset while eating but I think it would also be the best place to go during winter to warm up with a spicy curry.
The menu is impressive and lengthy with a variety of dishes from the typical to the unusual. The names might be confusing but the staff are more than happy to explain the preparation of each dish as well as how to pronounce them.
The care presented in the food, presentation and atmosphere show a love and deep understanding of tradition.
16 Valley Rd Katoomba
open Thursday-Monday from 6pm
Where is your favourite Indian Restaurant?