Here’s another one of those places with a grand claim to fame. Some would agree. Some would not. My first experience at Newtown’s Kammadhenu was a few years ago, when they first opened on this manic Inner West eating strip. I remember they were desperately quiet at first, and as the weeks passed and people started to talk and many a review was written … these guys set the world Newtown on fire with their $10 curry’s and authentic steroid-sized dosai. We were hooked. Cheap, damn tasty and filling.
A couple of years down the track Newtown gets its second Kammadhenu, just down from the station and opposite the Greek church. Nice one. A bit closer to my house. If you were to make comparisons : the lastest venue is more like a matured lady, likes a bit of make-up and a nice outfit and prefers her lights dimmed. The first venue is a young 20-something inner west pub chic with cheap jeans, nicotine-stained fingers and no lipstick. Yes, I know there’s a third venue in Neutral Bay and I haven’t quite got there yet but I’m sure she wears a bit of lip gloss and a nice cardigan.
I’m reviewing the Newtown venues collectively here. Not only is the menu Sri Lankan, but also South Indian as well as Malaysian. Have I tried the Malaysian food? No. I go to other places for that. What people come here for is the dosai – a crisp and slightly sour savoury pancake rolled and filled with spiced potato or meat. They’re visually impressive and the lamb masala (9) filling is my favourite. The dosai from both venues is just as good as the other and depending on when you visit … sometimes they are very spicy and sometimes they are just mild. The one at the top of King Street serves it with four condiments and the other just serves two: a bit of lentil curry and a coconut yoghurt chutney. Delicious.
I was introduced to string hoppers (6) back in the early 90’s when I briefly worked with a Sri Lankan lady so it’s nice to see they do them here. It’s basically rice flour dough made into fine noodles, cooked and shaped into patties then cooled and used to soak up curry juices. At Kammadhenu they come with a runny coconut and turmeric gravy as well as a beautiful spiced coconut sambol. So delicious.
The curries at both places can be a bit hit and miss due to inconsistency. Sometimes they’re spicy, sometimes they’re not. Recently we visited the central Newtown venue and had the lamb pepper masala (14.9) which was absolutely delicious yet my aloo gobi (11.9) – potato and cauliflower curry – was bland slop. You’ve got to try the egg hopper (3) – a thin crispy pastry shell filled with a cooked runny egg. Perfect to scoop up curry gravy with. And the dhal rice (4) is a simple and healthy conglomerate of just that – yellow dhal and rice.
Many, many times I’ve had the goat curry (12) over the last few years and it seems to be different every time I have it. Back when curries used to cost just $10 (now they’ve gone up a couple of bucks) the goat was literally boney chunks of tender meat in a thick rich spicy gravy. These days it seems to have more visible herbs, spices and onion in it. Delicious nonetheless.
For the dozens of times weve been to these places I’ve only once had a sweet ending. Gulab jamun (3) – one of my favourite Indian desserts of warm milk balls in sweet cardamom-rich syrup. Nice enough but not as good as the ones you get locally at Curry on King or Delhi ‘O’ Delhi.
If I were to choose between the two I would probably go for the the more atmospheric venue at 171 King Street. It gets quite rowdy and is more suited to larger groups (and is prone to kitchen melt-downs and delayed food arrival), yet the one down the road is intimate, a bit romantic and more civilised.