17 May 2019

The ‘Daana’ experience: Enjoy the best new restaurant in Canberra!

| Maryann Mussared

Daana’s Rajasthani-themed thali. Photo: Maryann Mussared.

It is heartwarming to hear stories of how people achieve success through hard work. It was a pleasure to meet chefs Sanjay Kumar and Sunita Kumar at Daana, their award winning Indian restaurant in Curtin. This was not my first visit and I wanted to congratulate them on their recent award: the best new restaurant in the recent 2017 ‘Savour’ Australian Restaurant and Catering Awards for Excellence. Sunita has been passionate about cooking from an early age and Sanjay trained as a chef and has experience in the five-star Taj hotel chain.

Many will remember Daana’s presence in the former ‘Westside Container Village’. Spurred by support from their customers, Sanjay and Sunitha jumped in feet first just over a year ago and moved to Curtin; not to the Curtin shopping centre, but to a well-sited building on Theodore Street. This pleasant building has had a number of former occupants, including ‘Belluci’s’, and before that as the original Information Centre for the infant Woden in the 1960s.

Daana on Theodore Street, Curtin. Photo: Maryann Mussared.

What makes winning the award extra special is that Daana was up against a very strong field of contenders: ‘Otis Dining Room’, ‘Pollen Cafe’, and ‘Agostinis’. Sanjay told me: “We are thrilled to receive industry recognition in our first year as a new restaurant. We are glad that our efforts have been recognized. Being part of this prestigious competition has been a wonderful learning experience and we are continuously improving our offering so our guests can have a wonderful Daana experience.”

Sanjay Kumar and Sunita Kumar, award-winning Daana chefs are a strong partnership. Photo: Maryann Mussared.

I am glad I visited on a Saturday evening. Every Saturday Daana offers a ‘thali’ set meal which is the perfect opportunity to try many dishes that are matched. Thali proved it’s not just a set meal, but a mini-banquet with an array of small dishes that were fragrant and exotic. The thali on offer changes every week and is generally based on a cuisine of a region of India.

Rajasthani thali. Photo: Maryann Mussared.

The menu is dynamic and a celebration of traditional Indian cuisines, especially South Indian food and popular street foods of India. Although traditional, they are presented in a contemporary style that showcases the urban Indian dining experience. Sunjay and Sunita feel that too often Indian cuisine in Australia is generally just a bit westernized, a path they have boldly chosen to depart from. Some diners may wonder why the menu doesn’t list the more well-known Butter Chicken, Vindaloo, Roganjosh and Mango curry. Well, what it does do is present a wonderful range of dishes I haven’t tasted before, many from their own family recipes. Sanjay and Sunitha are passionate about what they do, sourcing local and Australian produce and presenting homemade food with warm hospitality.

So, my Thali meal was a bit of a quick trip around Rajasthan: full of distinctive flavours and textures. The crunchy Kalmi Vada dumplings were served with three different types of chutney with an especially delicious lime chutney. The curry for the evening was rustic goat curry with coriander served with the meat still on the bone: goat meat is typical of Rajasthan as it is hot and dry and goats are easy to farm in this environment. It was accompanied by small dishes that allowed me to mix and match flavours, including a fresh tasting Khichidi (pearl millet with ghee), Aloo Bharta (spicy mashed potato), Dal Baati Churma (spicy split black lentil and channa dal). Accompanied by pappadoms and rice, I had to admit defeat and was unable to take up Sanjay’s genuine offer to refill any of my dishes.

I was actually keeping space for the grand finale to the meal: Moong Dal Halwa, laboriously prepared by Sanjay over 3 hours. This traditional Rajasthani delicacy is made from yellow lentils, sweetened with honey and was a completely melt-in-the-mouth experience.

Daana’s ambrosial Moong Dal Halwa dessert. Photo: Supplied.

Daana takes great pride in serving unique regional Indian cuisine. The menu offers plenty of vegetarian and gluten-free options, as well as a kids menu. Thali is served every Saturday lunchtime and evening. Other house specialties at Daana include biryani, the amazing and filling dosa, and much more. The restaurant is spacious and the background traditional Indian music is charming.

I’m looking forward to returning for another Thali occasion, simply because I learned so much about the vast range of Indian food that we don’t often get to experience. Sanjay and Sunita are welcoming to everyone, and Sanjay is particularly knowledgeable when he visits tables to discuss the menu. He immediately recognized me from a previous visit and I enjoyed talking to Sunita about her beautiful Indian textiles and family objects that have been made into an intriguing feature wall in this spacious and immaculate restaurant. During the course of the evening, I also met other guests who dine at Daana regularly. In fact, they confirmed this was the 53rd Thali evening they had had the pleasure to experience! I came away from my dining experience feeling as though I just had a lovingly prepared home-cooked meal with good friends.

Daana is a restaurant where you can enjoy the delicious and exotic flavours of regional Indian food and be fulfilled!

Daana offers a full range of Indian flavours with their Saturday lunchtime and evening ‘thali’ meals. Photo: Maryann Mussared.

Daana is located at 83 Theodore Street, Curtin. The restaurant is fully licensed, serves Kingisher Indian beer, as well as some delicious non-alcoholic drinks that complement the cuisine. BYO wine only. There is ample parking in front of the restaurant and on Theodore Street. Reservations are strongly advised!

The writer was a guest of Daana.

Original Article published on the RiotACT.

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