31-33 Tunstall Square
Doncaster East VIC 3109
+61 3 9842 9375
My mother had been a sheltered housewife until only very recently. Before she started working full time, she stayed at home during the day and did what housewives did and only hung around fellow Chinese-Indonesian housewives. Because of that, she had a very limited view of the world which translated to a very closed-minded attitude when it came to food. While she loved cooking and eating Indonesian and Chinese food, with the odd Italian and Vietnamese thrown in every so often, she was not keen on other cuisines. Growing up, I never dined at Thai restaurants because according to her, Thai food was ‘just like Indonesian food’ (pfft). We never dined in one of Doncaster’s many Greek restaurants because she didn’t like lamb. And as for Indian? Forget it.
But now that she’s been working full-time for a year or so and now that she’s made friends with people beyond her small social circle, she’s been exposed to a lot of wonderful new things. Her boss, for example, is German and often gives her German sausages to take home. This has resulted in us eating German-style sausage soups courtesy of the slow-cooker on cold winter days. Her boss is also a fan of Indian food so when they last had a team dinner, he ended up choosing local Indian restaurant Haveli as the destination. My mum was not particularly keen on the restaurant but 1) everyone else was and 2) the boss was paying so she really had no say in the matter.
Well, well, well! She got back from the dinner, ecstatic. She never knew just how GOOD Indian food was and she insisted that we MUST go to Haveli at some point. The opportunity came when her sister (my aunty), Emi, and her niece (Emi’s daughter and my cousin), Jess came to visit from Jakarta last month. It was their last night in Melbourne and they were keen for some local fare. As far as I know, their knowledge of Indian food pretty much extends to that Indian place at Doncaster Shoppingtown’s food court, which they really like. Hence, mum knew that they (and I) would enjoy Haveli, which opened in 1981 and was apparently the first Indian restaurant in Melbourne’s east.
Sunday nights at Haveli aren’t a full house but they are nevertheless reasonably busy. We did not make a booking beforehand so they ended up scrambling around to make room for five. We were, however, seated pretty quickly in the fairly dark dining room with shades of red dominating the carpets and tables. A waiter came around with a jug of water and pappadums to nibble on while we looked through the menu. We found that host and manager Vijay Lamba was not only extremely helpful in assisting us with portion sizes but engaged us during the meal with jokes (though dad didn’t take well to Vijay jokingly telling him that no Blackberries were allowed during dinner).
We started off with some vegetable samosas (two for $7.50). Our waiter didn’t believe that two samosas between five people sufficed, and convince us to order five. Thankfully, we didn’t listen to his advice for they were pretty large. We were expecting small flat triangles, so we were pleasantly surprised to see that the samosas were large pyramids stuffed with potato cubes, green peas and spices.
They were delicious and so filling that, in fact, two would have definitely sufficed if I had lunch here. I would even go so far to say that they were the best samosas I’ve ever had.
We then shared a tandoori platter. For $26, we received 10 pieces of sundry tandoori items. From tandoori chicken to chicken tikka and from tandoori lamb chops to chicken seekh kebabs, we got decent selection. My favourite was tandoori lamb chop which was tender and flavoursome.
For some reason, Haveli calls their butter chicken the ‘chicken butter cream’ and according to the menu, this dish is their signature. At $18, it’s not the cheapest butter chicken in Melbourne but it’s pretty damn good. The chicken thighs, having been marinated in tandoori spices, were mixed in with a creamy tomato and cashew nut sauce that had lovely hints of spice. Once the chicken had run out, Jess and I happily spooned the leftover sauce onto our saffron rice ($5) to enjoy spoonfuls of, well, rice butter cream.
I ordered the lamb korma ($18) because Classic Curry Restaurant make a good one and I thought I’d be getting something that tasted remotely similar. Unfortunately, we got something remarkably different. The lamb was so tough that I couldn’t help but think that had received mutton instead (mutton dressed as lamb? not cool). The sauce, while creamy, was too sweet for my liking. And while it was nutty enough, it didn’t have enough of the promised onions to give it a little bit of piquancy.
For some reason, I don’t have a picture of the vegetable curry ($13.50) we ordered but never mind. It was essentially a bowl of mixed vegetables cooked in an onion and yoghurt and gravy. I also believe that lots of coconut cream was used because the entire thing tasted like this Indonesian coconut vegetable curry that everyone in my family is very familiar with (I just wish I can imagine the exact name of it).
And of course, we shared several servings of garlic naan ($4 each) to mop up the creamy sauces. Each naan piece was wonderfully soft and chewy, with a slight crunch on the outside. I also liked that the garlic wasn’t overpowering too.
If we had room in our stomachs for dessert, we would have ordered some kulfi (Indian milk and pistachio ice cream flavoured with saffron, green cardamom and rose syrup). Instead, half of us had some mango lassi to wash everything down with. The lassi was smooth and creamy and the fact that it wasn’t overly sweetened made it a winner in my eyes.
At the cashier, we noticed a pretty platter filled with a wonderful mixture of spices. Vijay explained that it’s for diners to chew on after their meal to refresh their breath. We were encouraged to take a pinch of spices to try some and what do you know, this stuff was actually more effective than a packet of Extra – and it’s probably better for you too.
Haveli might be slightly more expensive than your average Melbourne Indian restaurant but given the number of locals, both Indian and otherwise, dining in on a Sunday evening, the extra dollars are worth it. While it’s not the best Indian I’ve ever had, I’m glad that there is a restaurant within comfortable driving distance that I can go to if I’m feeling like a nice serving of butter chicken, oh, sorry, chicken butter cream.’