5 Fort Lane
(09) 379 9702
Tuesday & Saturday
5.30pm - late
Wednesday - Friday
12pm - late
The reputation of chef Sid Sahrawat precedes him, which is why I felt a kind of hushed expectation when I walked through the glass sliding door and down the stairs into Cassia. It’s a long, low and sleek space, with a huge open kitchen from which Sid watches like a kind of benevolent culinary deity. A fine dining chef at heart, Sid Sahrawat is a disciple of flavour and texture, and at Cassia he brings his considerable skill and vision to bear on a menu that comes straight from the heart, a contemporary take on Indian spices and flavours that have inspired him throughout his life.
It’s a sharing menu, although each dish could easily work as a single portion if that’s more your style. The “sip” menu is where an evening at Cassia should begin, with Indian-inspired versions of cocktail classics like a Northern Bengal Sour or a Cardamom Old Fashioned. It was lovely to a few craft beers on offer and a lengthy and interesting wine list as well.
The menu is a nice, neat size – moving from entrees to mains in descending order, our smiling waiter suggested six as an ideal number for two people. There is a fennel brioche with caramelised chicken, kuchumber (a simply dressed vege salad that’s commonly served as a side in India), fried almonds, and yoghurt. These looked like glorious mini burgers, but there was something about the presence of Sid Sahrawat that made me eat them with a knife and fork, which in hindsight was a silly idea. He may be a fine dining chef, but Cassia is casual in the kind of way that saw me happily mopping up leftover sauce with warm garlic naan by the end of my meal.
Those brioche were glossy and light, filled with the satisfying crunch of chicken and bite of fresh veges, and I could have eaten three, but the roast potatoes and cauliflower that came next were what really won me over. Crispy and fluffy and flavourful, served with burrata, cauliflower cream, spinach and cashews. I love it when a chef elevates a common ingredient to a level that’s approaching sublime. Similarly, of our two mains it was the eggplant that I couldn’t stop exclaiming over, fried with mushrooms, onion seeds, cow’s curd, fresh chilli and mint – topped with tiny, crisp pieces of kale.
I’ve often wondered what would happen if a talented chef gave Indian cuisine the fine dining treatment, and I was so happy to find the result was better than I could have imagined. This is undoubtedly elegant food, but it’s served with a grace and lack of pretention that’s both relaxing and refreshing. Cassia is a beautiful spot downtown, perfect for big groups, families, and long evenings with good friends.