When we think of Indian Cuisine on the Gold Coast, the picture in our minds is predictable: Copper clad bowls filled with curry, accompanied by naan bread and rice. If we’re fortunate, those curries are rich and succulent with spices, served obligingly in an ambient venue. Beyond this, the vision fades.
Rick Stein’s spectacular journey through the Indian sub-continent is a revelation. It portrays another India that we haven’t experienced; a cuisine that’s diverse, reflecting climate and topography…. It’s an India we’d love to meet.
Indian Empire breaks the mould. A family affair, it’s run by owner and Executive Chef Subhash Sharma and his two sons Pankit and Sachit. Hailing from new Delhi, Pankit brought his family to Australia in 1997, working in various restaurants in Sydney before running an Indian restaurant franchise on the Gold Coast. Subhash’s sons completed Accounting and Business degrees, yet their love of Indian food saw them joining their father in the restaurant business, opening Indian Empire in 2010.
They quickly gained success, winning Best Indian restaurant on the Gold Coast, Queensland and Australia in 2015 at the R&CA Savour Australia Awards, followed up by further wins in 2016 (Queensland and National) and 2017 (Queensland).
When we find an Indian restaurant that stands out from the rest; one that follows a different vision, we stand up and take notice.
At first glance at the menu, Indian Empire seems to have ‘the usual suspects’, a mix of entrées and Indian curries that we might expect. Banquets are well priced, ranging from $25.95 to $40, the menu broad enough to cater for vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diners. So, what makes Indian Empire different?
The recent renovation of the venue has brought a fresh approach to Indian cuisine and a new confidence. Rattan chairs and white clothed tables add sophistication, while the food and drinks menus, service and entertainment give diners a new, more modern experience of Indian culture and cuisine.
Dining at dinnertime under the gaze of a giant Krishna and his girlfriend Radha painted on the wall, there’s no mistaking the delight in their eyes. A good flute player, Krishna is as much an entertainer and lover as a god in Indian culture, Pankit tells us. He fits right in with a celebration of food in this cosy but elegant venue. On weekend nights, traditional Indian music, or a belly dancer who weaves her way between the tables, adds to the ambience.
Although fully licensed with a fair range of beer and a surprising wine list, the restaurant also allows BYO wine at no charge. We choose a Moore’s Creek cabernet sauvignon from Tyrell’s, a full-bodied red, rich with dark plum and cherries with a soft velvety finish. It stands up well against rich curries.
Inspired by India’s many tapas and cocktail bars, Indian Empire has a range of cocktails on offer which sound enticing for summer: Watermelon and Mint Caipiroska, Mango Daiquiri, Calcutta Heat Martini or Bombay Royale Tea, all very keenly priced. Indian-inspired, they’d be reason enough to have a party!
But it’s the entrée platter that really piques our interest. Served on a high platter in a modern presentation of wire baskets, bowls and little cups, a range of dishes are presented as Indian tapas – onion bhaji, mixed vegetable samosas and pakoras are served with a mint sauce. Judging by its raita, we’re excited about the rest of the meal to follow, a sumptuous feast of rich creamy curries, each one different to the last: Chicken Tikka, Beef Korma, Chicken Madras; plates loaded with delicious meat finished with exotic spices, nuts, fresh coconut shavings, with a whole baby carrot, a stem of broccolini and flowers as decoration.
“I eat with my eyes first,” says Pankit, as passionate to explain his food philosophy as he is about his food. “There are lots more foodies around doing something out of the box, even cafés, so we wanted to present Indian flavours in a different way to find a new audience.”
As he speaks, our dessert arrives: Pistachio ice cream and Mango kulfi with almonds, pistachio and cashews beautifully arranged on an oblong plate.
“We’re so blessed to be in this complex with Oasis Thai and Can Tho already established here,” Pankit continues.
There can be no better example than Can Tho of a national cuisine (Vietnamese) given new life in a modern context. It strikes me that Indian Empire’s transformation achieves the same thing for Indian food. Without watering down its rich flavours, we can experience the food of the sub-continent in a new way.
“It doesn’t feel like we’re working,” Pankit tells us, and it shows. In the service and food we enjoy a celebration of culture and flavour brought about by experience, passion and the willingness of this family to take a risk. It’s well worth a visit.
3/455 Oxley Drive, Runaway Bay, Ph: 07 5529 0305 Open: Mon – Sun 5pm – 9.30pm
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast dined as guests of Indian Empire.