20 Duckboard Place
Melbourne, VIC 3000
$49 for butter chicken? Apparently so. Yet as improbable as it sounds, not only has Tonka survived the last decade, but judging by the buzz of the dining room, has also thrived. But maybe that’s because even after 10 years, Tonka is doing something that’s still rarely done around town – they’ve taken Indian food, and given it the fine-dining treatment. And it works surprisingly well. The food is classy yet still retains its fiery roots, with enough innovation to ensure that it truly stands out. The service is also a major upgrade from your local greasy spoon, and the billowing, cumulus-esque fixtures hovering near the ceiling ensures the décor is second to none. One upgrade I could live without though is the $10 basmati rice. If you could BYO carbs, then this place would be perfect.
Rating: 14.5/20 – indian fine dining done right.
Vibes: tandoori trout.
Not vibes: $10 basmati rice. and no, there’s nothing special about it – I asked.
The Smoked Buffalo Mozzarella ($29) could’ve easily been a mandatory fusion dish falls flat situation, but it was actually excellent. The creamy buffalo mozzarella shines against the sultry, concentrated sweetness of tomato and coconut chutney, and the accompanying naan is hot from the oven, stretchy yet crisp, and appropriately drizzled with lashings of butter.
The Kingfish Tartare ($32) was a similarly well-executed culinary crossbreed, the buttery fish enlivened with the warm, turmeric-heavy spice mix. And the dollops of kewpie mayo? Works in any and every cuisine.
Most people come to Tonka for the butter chicken or lamb rogan josh, but the unanimous favourite among the staff seems to be the Tandoori Ocean Trout ($47). Slowly heated in the clay oven, the ocean trout takes on a translucent, just-cooked pinkness reminiscent of sous vide. In contrast to the delicate centre, the outer is coated in an aggressive, turmeric-heavy rub, and mercilessly charred until the spices sing. It is very rich though, and you’ll be glad of the little herb and cos salad dressed cleverly with the zesty funk of nuoc mam.
It does seem wrong to leave without trying the Butter Chicken (24.5, half serve) though. And it is a very excellent butter chicken, the smooth, slightly sweet gravy hiding tender chunks of chicken, smoky from the tandoor. Is it the best I’ve ever had though? I gotta say, the crown still stays with Faheem Fast Food in Sydney, and for a fraction of the price too.