Indian gem stands out as beacon of taste

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A REAL GEM: Sapphire entices passers-by with its exotic aromas. Pictures: Marina Neil Raj has had Indian cuisine cornered, so to speak, in Newcastle for a long, long time. Well, down on the corner of Glebe Road and June Street, Merewether, Sapphire Indian Restaurant definitely has Indian cuisine, um … cornered.
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Find a park somewhere on the streetand enter through the large glass sliding door into a roomy well-lit room humming with the sound of ravenous, in-the-know Novocastrians with an appetite for samosa. The walls are painted in earthy tones and are illuminated by bright down-lights, and droplet shaped chandeliers hung high above white tablecloth covered tables and high-backed, soft (p)leather chairs.

An appetising atmosphere of tangled spice aromas set us grasping for the menu to see what edible treasures await us.

Vegetarians and people with a preference for proper protein are both well catered for in the entree section of the menu. There’s kaju kebab, which is a seasoned pureed potato coated with crushed cashew nuts, and mushroom duplex, which has nothing to do with affordable housing founded on fungi, and everything to do with mushrooms stuffed with potatoes, mint and cottage cheese that’s been battered with spices.

The same goes for the main menu. Here you’ll find seafood dishes, like deep fried black tiger prawns coated in a light and spiced batter, otherwise known as zingha vada, or, daal makhni (v); black lentils with kidney beans cooked slowly overnight for maximum flavour, as well as many variations of chicken, goat, lamb, and beef dishes, plus sides, including a refreshing raita (yoghurt, cumin seeds and black salt), naan breads and roti, and, of course, rice, such as basmati, saffron, and the incredibly aromatic and flavoursome coconut rice, which, in all honesty, has enough compelling flavours to be eaten on its own.

Evidently, it’s hard to decide what to order. Nevertheless, we do our best and start with the mysterious-sounding Chicken 65 and Kaju Kebab for entree, followed by beef biryani and the goat curry for main.

Sapphire is licensed and features a good selection of wines, beer, ciders, spirits, soft drinks, and lassi, including mango, rose, sweet, and salt flavours. It’s BYO too, and we take advantage of this by bringing a bottle of pinot noir from Hawke’s Bay, in New Zealand, which turns out to be perfect for washing down the deep flavours of tonight’s meal.

FULL TABLE: Kaju kebab, goat curry, beef biryani and raita yoghurt

First out is the kaju kebabs. They’re a pleasant surprise in terms of their taste and texture: mildly spicy, herbaceous and sweet, especially when dipped in the accompanying smoky, plum and chilli sauce. Purveyors of ‘hot-wings’ in Newcastle take note; Sapphire’s ‘Chicken 65’ consists of deep fried chunks of exotic spiced chicken, ginger and shallots that is more flavoursome and way more spicy than any hot-wing you’ll eat in this town, presently. I’ve already got my order in for Origin.

However, one note to the chef: save some money and ditch the decorative snow pea shoots. The sliced cucumber’s enough to refresh the palate between bite-sized morsels of both dishes.

As soon as all the mains were on the table we knew we’d over-ordered. Not to worry, because you can take leftovers home, just the same as if you’d ordered take away.

HOUSE-MADE: The pistachio ice cream comes highly recommended.

The beef biryani is a colourful earthy-orange dome of rice that encases chunks of beef seasoned with plenty of complex spices – cardamom, nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, ginger, to name more than a few.

The goat curry is the favourite of the two mains. Soft bits of deliciously gelatinous goat cling gently to slow-cooked bone that swims in a small balti bowl filled with a rich, earthy and spicy sauce, perfect for dipping crispy bits of roti in later.

We end our evening by sharing a small bowl of house-made pistachio ice cream, initially recommend by our waiter, and now highly recommend by me.

It’s a refreshing way to end a fun and flavoursome meal that’s full of warm, comforting food ideal for the impending winter.

QUICK BITEWhat: Sapphire Indian RestaurantWhere: 367-369 Glebe Rd, MerewetherDrinks: Lassi, Soft Drinks, Beer/Cider, Wine, Spirits, Cocktails, (BYO also)Hours: Dinner: 7 Days 5pm-10pm / Lunch: Sun 12pm-3pmVegetarian: YesBottom Line: $85 for two incl. drinksWheelchair Access: YesDo Try: Chicken 65, pistachio ice cream

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