21 NOV - 2023
In the words of Six60, I did in fact, get to re-explore my roots with Cassia’s banging new Sunday lunch menu.
I’ve been a long time fan of Cassia. I would even go as far to say that Cassia is somewhat of an institution in the Auckland dining scene. You’ll also know I’m a long time fan of Sid and Chand Sahrawat’s work (I think Kol is one of my favourite restaurants in general. If you haven’t read my review of Kol, you’ll need to catch up).
I used to frequent the Fort Street location as I work on Shortland Street. Although the relocation to SkyCity is a bit more of a hike, the new location in the SkyCity precinct is beautifully designed and very spacious. I’ve visited the new location twice since it’s opened, and when I caught wind of a new offering, I naturally had to try it (marking my third visit to Cassia in SkyCity!).
The new “Back To Roots” menu is a special Sunday lunch time offering, which is a set menu for the price of $85 per person. The best part about this menu, and the part that shocked me, is that the mains in the offering are actually bottomless. Yup… you read that correctly. You can keep going…. (although I physically do not know why you would need or want to as I was rolling out of there).
I was so intrigued about why this offering came to life, that I had to ask Sid and Chand what the inspiration behind this offering was, and why they decided to offer bottomless mains.
Sid stated that “Cassia has always prided itself in serving modern Indian cuisine and defining what that means in a New Zealand context. We use traditional flavours but use modern techniques to showcase NZ produce in our menu. However over the last 9 years we have been asked countless times by guests to do some traditional Indian dishes like butter chicken and Dal. With the current cost of living crisis, we thought our guests would like a real value for money offer and we wanted Cassia to be accessible, especially to families. We thought we would introduce a more traditional menu and bring families together over a more traditional feast. Feasting is such a part of our culture and Sunday bottomless mains seems to just fit right in. Kids are also half price so we hope families take advantage of this great offer.”
"Feasting is such a part of our culture and Sunday bottomless mains seems to just fit right in"
In general, in relation to their fusion cooking styles, Sid noted that “when we owned Sidart, we often cooked Indian food at home. Chand used to make the curry and I used to cook the proteins like quail or confit duck. We often wondered why restaurants did not serve this. Why couldn't you have a great steak or lamb chops that made the most of NZ beef and lamb but married it with traditional flavours that were familiar? We also wondered why other Indian restaurants had TVs playing Bollywood songs or cricket and had sarees draped as decor. Indian restaurants in India have a real ambience and contemporary feel that was missing in NZ. We also looked to the UK where we believe modern Indian as a cuisine was evolving with restaurants like Kricket and Dishoom, we wanted to showcase a concept like that here and show that Indian food was more than a $12 takeaway in a plastic container.”
I couldn’t agree more with Sid’s “why”, and think that this offering delivers on exactly that - a balance of modern cuisine mixed with traditional foods but in a contemporary environment.
To start, you’re served with a very innovative set of entrees.
The first dish was the Dahi puri with pomegranate, chickpeas and mint. This was so good because a traditional dahi puri has a yoghurt filling but this was somewhat thicker and tangier. The sauce was delicious with a fresh burst of flavour from the pomegranate and mint.
Next was the Tandoori chicken taco for the meat eaters and I had the paneer taco. I enjoyed that this was a small bite sized naan taco, with the paneer inside giving a spicy, smokey and cheesy taste. This quite literally inspired me to recreate this at home (although my version didn’t quite deliver on the smoky tandoor side so clearly I’ll just need to go to Cassia for my fix of this!)
To follow, came the Goat cheese and corn fritter, with ghost chilli. You know that I love cheese, and this was top tier. I also love chillies, but what I loved was that the fritter had an underlying spice that was aptly balanced by the goat's cheese, which was so warm that with every bite it just oozed out. I’m salivating just thinking about it.
The next entree was unanimously everyone’s favourite entree on the offering. It was the vada pao in a slider. Vada pao is a traditional Indian street food that’s pretty much a deep fried potato patty. This was served with your delicious chaat flavouring (I’m talking coriander, slightly spiced savoury sauces, tamarind). It was so delicious and again I would absolutely love to eat a large main sized version of this!
The mains (bottomless mains….) were butter chicken, and dal makhani. Now these are a lot more traditional, because I grew up having dhal at least every week. Served with garlic naan and basmati rice, both of these curries felt homely and like the Indian comfort food I was used to. Dhal is personally one of my favourite curries because it’s rich but well balanced with traditional Indian spices like garam and turmeric etc.,. and a hint of spice. Butter chicken is a more buttery and less spicy curry as everyone is well aware. My partner demolished the butter chicken, and we thought that the mains were such good value given you could have ordered more, but we could all barely finish one.
To finish, we were served with a glorious dessert that was mango based inside, but had chocolate on the outside and was garnished with coconut flakes.
I was so impressed by the entrees and the creativity and fusion that they exemplified. In my view, the entrees seemed very innovative. It seemed like the entrees worked with things that I traditionally knew (vada pao, tandoori chicken, dahi puri) but elevated in a different way e.g., presented it in a slider, a taco. Conversely, the mains were more staple dishes and felt nostalgic to me. It felt like comfort food, and the extremely generous portions felt like you were transported in a home-like environment. I was dying to know whether this was an intentional decision because from my perspective, it really brought a balance to the offering and took you from the elevated fusion that you perceive from Cassia, to a more authentic home-cooked offering for the mains, and again reverting to a more modern take for dessert.
Sid confirmed that this was 100% intentional. “Who doesn't like the depot slider? We decided to use the same slider because it's so good, but the vada pao is a traditional recipe from Maharashtra in India. The tandoori chicken taco is our take on a traditional Kathi kebab roll. When we were creating the back to roots menu it just made sense to reference back to the more traditional recipes but give them a Cassia twist. We did not want to play with the mains as much as they are a real promise to the customers on what they already know a good traditional butter chicken and a rich dal makhani cooked overnight.”
I think that the intention behind this menu brings such a unique value proposition. It shows that they have really considered what they’re offering to their customers, and the nod to the price point wanting to be a response to the current cost of living crisis is considered and well-received from my perspective. Heading in to the festive season (and for us Indians, this also recently being Diwali), it’s natural to want to come together and celebrate as family or as friends, so having an $85 set menu that provides you with a dining option that’s elaborate and fancy, yet also extremely good value is incredible.
After devouring such a delectable meal, I had to ask Sid and Chand what their favourite dishes on the menu were.
Sid stated, “I love the lamb chops, they have become a signature dish at Cassia. The current rendition of the lamb seekh kebab curry with spinach, chilli, mushroom and watercress is probably my favourite.”
Chand stated that she “can't go past the goats cheese and corn fritter with ghost chilli, I usually can't eat food that is too spicy but the chilli in this snack is just perfect. The other favourite for me has to be the Confit Duck leg, makhani sauce, pickled onion, lychee and kumara. It is the essence of Cassia for me and takes me back to Sid and me cooking in our kitchen all those years back hatching the concept for Cassia. I also love how it defines everything for me; Sid's European training making a confit duck leg cooked overnight in duck fat, the traditional Makhani sauce and the Kumara that adds sweetness but also represents our Kiwi identity.”.
I couldn’t rave about the new “Back to Roots” menu more, it was well curated and provides such a perfect option for your next Sunday catch up. With innovation yet authenticity at the heart of Cassia’s core, I can see why it’s been such a foundational restaurant in the Auckland dining scene for almost a decade. I can say without hesitation that I will be rushing back with the rest of the Kumars.