Tucked away past AC/DC Lane’s kaleidoscopic walls and the ruby, neon glow of rock bar stalwart Cherry, this modern, luxe Indian fusion eatery demonstrates chef Adam D’Sylva’s knack for finding wonderfully obscure locations. Years ago the space was occupied by hard-to-find, cult nightclub Honkytonks—replete with DJs spinning vinyl in the bathrooms—but the deceptively spacious room, stretching past a gleaming open kitchen towards the railway tracks of Flinders Street, is actually the perfect setting for dining. The sister restaurant to D’Sylva’s hugely successful Asian fusion restaurant Coda, Tonka opened with Coda co-owners Mykal and Kate Bartholomew in April this year to great applause. This is Melbourne’s first serious stab at modern Indian, and pays homage to D’Sylva’s Indian and Italian heritage.
Charcoal-hued banquettes and polished floorboards are married with subtle hints of India’s Jodhpur and Jaipur: licks of sky blue, fuchsia, and fire engine red paint on stools and chairs, and vases of bright saffron, cloves, and other spices deck the shelves. The best tables are perched by the restaurant’s sweeping windows, overlooking the Yarra River’s chocolate waters and the domed roof of the heritage-listed Flinders Street Station, with a peek of the Arts Centre’s spiral tower. The pièce de résistance is surely the whimsical ceiling feature designed by local artist Naomi Troski—swathes of cloud-like, dreamy fabric furled around the roof. Award-winning sommelier Travis Howe has deftly crafted a mighty fine list, with a leaning towards light, zesty Italian wines to match the fiery curries and aromatic, bold spices synonymous with Indian cuisine. The idea is to share, selecting several smaller plates, a few larger ones, and some sides. The pani puri is a stand-out—this Indian street snack is reimagined into a delicate morsel filled with spiced potato, dates, and tamarind, wrapped in flaky pastry and served with a vessel of bright green water infused with mint, salt, and dried mango, which you splash onto the dumpling—the flavors explode in the mouth. Just as good is the Crystal Bay prawn and chicken salad, which, with its coconut milk marinated chicken, evokes hints of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. The prawns are juicy, the chicken melts in your mouth and the green cactus beans, chili, fried shallots, and peanuts round out the texture. The soft-shell crab pakoras come with ginger and coriander, a light, airy batter, and a rich creamy aioli. Larger dishes follow suit—the tandoori chicken is a simple, modern interpretation of the dish, with a charred, caramel crust, succulent meat, and intense gravy. The lamb neck and Goan seafood curries are sans the ghee and rich cream many associate with Indian curries.
20 Duckboard Place; 61-3/9650 3155; Tonka; sharing dishes from US$4-38