For Dad’s birthday I decided to take my family out to a new restaurant called Tonka. Being of a Sri-Lankan background I was so excited to hear about a new restaurant that was specialising in Sri Lankan flavours. Tonka comes to you by the team behind the fantastic restaurant – Mykal and Kate Batholomew together with Adam D’Sylva. The location is in one of the iconic laneways of Melbourne and is where Honky Tonks used to reside. The team has transformed this space into an elegant and modern space (and the name even pays tribute to the former venue).
The venue itself is split into three separate areas – there is a bar – allows people to sit on high tables where you can order a drink from the extensive drink menu and have bar snacks., followed by the formal restaurant area (where you can make bookings) and then a more casual restaurant style bar area, with large windows which over look Flinders St – where restaurateurs don’t need to make a booking to enjoy the full menu. Despite these three different areas, they are all seamless and you really don’t feel the difference in any of the areas.
As you walk into the restaurant you are greeted by friendly staff that are very happy to assist you. We had a booking in the formal restaurant which was located in the middle section. We walked past the open kitchen which was lined with colourful jars of spices and other condiments. There is a real wow factor that you get as you step in the doors of Tonka. There are distressed walls and the definite wow factor is the art installation by Naomi Troski – which his featured on the ceiling – white twists of mesh that remind you of clouds in a dramatic sense.
The menu is inspired by the unique range and variety of flavours from southern India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The executive chef is Adam D’Sylva and the Head Chef is Michael Smith together with Mumbai born sous chef Ved Navghare. The menu is accentuated by two tandoor ovens which definitely add and enhance the brilliant flavours of each dish – such as tandoori meats, fish and naan.
I arrived before the rest of my fam, so I ordered the Tonka take on the traditional Lassi drink (there are two options the alcoholic version which has Rum as well as a non-alcoholic version) – I opted for the non-alcoholic version which consisted of mango, rose and the addition of pistachio nuts. The lassi was one of the better lassi’s that I have tasted – a great starter drink!
Once the rest of the fam arrived we settled on our order – we ordered two entrée’s, two mains, a side, naans and rice.
The first entrée we had was the Pani Puri – crispy parcel filled with spiced potato and lentils, date and tamarind chutney served with mango infused aromatic water. For some reason the idea in my head of what a Pani Puri was, was different to what arrived at our table. These Pani Puri were cute (yes, I know it’s a weird way to describe food, but seriously that’s what they were). Our waiter presented this dish to us and then poured some of the aromatic water and said that was to enhance the flavours and not to leave it to get too soggy before you ate it. These were delicious and the only downside was that the dish was so small. The potato and lentils were perfectly flavoured and the data and tamarind chutney added the sourness. The aromatic water on its had a pleasant sourness taste to it as well. The next entrée we ordered was the Spanner Crab Salad with puffed rice, green mango, peanuts, coriander and green chilli. This was another stand out dish that all the fam enjoyed! It had a bit of a hint of what a Thai dish would represent and all the flavours were infused together really well. My only criticism was that the puffed rice to me didn’t have as much crunch as I would have liked it to have.
For mains we ordered the Goan Fish Curry and Hiramasa Kingish from the Tandoor. The Goan Fish Curry when it came out was this richly coloured curry that came not only with fish, but had additional seafood as well – King Prawns and Mussels, as well veggies (beans). This was a great surprise as we weren’t expecting this. The Kingfish from the tandoor was hands-down my favourite dish. The kingfish was perfectly cooked and had the smoky tandoori flavours with the right salt levels and spice added to it. It was served with another asian influenced salad that added to making the balance of flavours complete. This is a definite must try dish when you come to Tonka. We also had the Fried Cauliflower, Garam Masala Salt, Fenugreek and Yoghurt Dressing as a side – yet another winner of a dish. The mix of cauliflower, garam masala and fenugreek had a strong taste to it, yet it wasn’t overpowering and the addition of the yoghurt lightened these flavours.
When you get your mains, you are also given the Tonka version of a Raita (Yoghurt Sauce) where they have added pomegranate pieces. I loved this idea as one of my favourite yoghurts is pomegranate yoghurt =) You also get a chilli sauce if you need more spice added to your dish. I wasn’t a huge fan of this second sauce.
Next up was dessert – we orderd the Saffron baked meringue, strawberry, pistachio and rose water and orderd Tonka’s Gulab Jamun with saffron syrup and silver leaf. I must say that I wasn’t too impressed with either of these desserts. I have eaten Gulab Jamun’s better and say your local Indian takeaway restaurant and at $6 per ball, I expected much more. I didn’t like the texture or the flavour of the Gulab Jamun. The other dessert we ordered was the Saffron Baked Meringue and I was expecting the meringue to be crunchier on the outside than it was. The flavours however were quite nice – the mixture of the strawberry, pistachio ice cream and rose water together with the tang and sourness of the pomegranate seeds.
Tonka is a great addition to the Melbourne laneway culture, and the team have created a warm, welcoming and cosy area that overlooks some of the great tourist spots. The food is flavoursome and hold true to the authentic flavours together with a modern twist. The use of the tandoor ovens definitely needs to be tried out by one and all. If you are a fan of Coda (or even if you haven’t tried out Coda) you will definitely find a new favourite in this place.
Rating : 3.5 Pandas
Menu – A la Carte menu – can be viewed at http://www.tonkarestaurant.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Food-Menu-10-4-13.pdf
Atmosphere / Ambience: Has a wow factor, and is a great place to catch up for a drink with friends or have a celebration dinner. The lighting and decor makes the place feel warm, cosy and comfortable.
Standout Dish: Hiramasa Kingfish from the Tandoor
Service: Friendly, Attentive and Helpful.
Online Booking: No, but you can call up the restaurant to make a booking in their formal sit down area, or you can just walk-in
Restaurant Details and Location:
20 Duckboard Place, Melbourne
Tel No: 9650 3155
Open for Lunch Monday to Friday
Open for Dinner Monday to Saturday