Afghani Chicken, Lamb Kebab, Butter Chicken, Royal Goat and Other Curries at Citrus Indian Restaurant, Leeming

Sunday night dinner was at a local Indian place I’d been wanting to try for a while: Citrus Indian Restaurant.

Complimentary papadums, $2, arrived. They came warm with a mild, onion chutney. 

It wasn’t a busy night. Out of the kitchen came food for the two tables before us and a few UberEats orders.

An hour later, the entrées, two sizzling plates, arrived in smoking hot style. 

The Afghani chicken, ‘chicken fillets marinated in mild spices of saffron, lemon juice, garlic, smoke roasted in a tandoor’, $16, was a highlight. Tender chicken thigh had been beautifully grilled, keeping the moisture. It came with a cool mint yoghurt dipping sauce. Fragrant with lemon and the smokiness of the tandoor, it was a dish that excited then left you wanting more. And by more I mean like a big bucket of it. The Afghani chicken I crown winner of the night.

The lamb Seekh kebab ‘succulent lean lamb mince with cumin, fresh coriander, ginger, garlic spices on a skewer grilled on charcoals’, $16 was like a skinless, lamb sausage. Tasty, but ordinary.

Twenty minutes later came the main courses: two vegetarian curries, two meat curries, and one seafood curry.

Aloo mutter, ‘a refreshing potato and pea curry cooked with tomato and onion sauce’ $14, was a thinner curry, not mushy at all, and the vegetables cooked so they retained their shape. The strongest notes were of tomato. The tomato is the flavour I’d mutter about, favourably so, if asked.

Palak paneer, ‘paneer cooked with spinach, ginger, tomato and spices’ $16 was cheese done in a very visibly spinachy curry. The paneer were bocconcini-like in taste, but cubed, soft and light. Highly pleasant and frankly perfect rubbed in the green curry. It was a pity the portion of paneer was as paltry as it was. That is to say that because of the pure and piquent flavours exemplified by this dish, it was my pick for the particularly pleasing dish of the day. 

Butter chicken, I had to order: it’s the litmus test of a good Indian restaurant. The butter chicken ‘tender pieces of tandoori chicken tikka engulfed in an aromatic tomato cream sauce’, $18, was a thicker orange curry that was nice but presented like a Pataks base with a few spices. The curry was exceedingly mild, it was as if toned down to be acceptable to some wildly mistaken idea of the Western palate. What I can only imagine was a misguided attempt to make Indian flavours more palatable, presented as overzealous innocuity​ on a plate. 

As we travelled further down Citrus lane, it seemed unexciting and bland was a running theme. Where were the popping flavours of spices, fried and aromatic? Where was the chilli, or hints of chilli? The strong, knockout kick of aromatic spices? Did I mention the spices? Where was the part where I’d be in tears at how good the food was—or if I cared to admit because I’d not been able to handle the heat? There was a lot right but also a lot missing.

Royal Goat Curry ‘goat meat on the bone cooked with tomato, onion and aromatic spices’, $20 was a royal display of how to cook meat so it is tender but doesn’t fall of the bone. As alluded to just prior, the meat was in fact of an appropriate level of tenderness and, for what it’s worth, the meat did not fall off the bone. As a dish, it was again very tomato-y and again lacking in aromatics. It was suffering from the same unfounded repression as the butter chicken. Why were they subduing the spices? This was a goat curry, but it was unfortunately far from a G.O.A.T (that’s greatest of all time) curry.

Prawn malabar, ‘prawns cooked with fresh curry leaves and mustard seeds in a mild flavoured creamy sauce’ $24 was another adequate dish that  lacked the X Factor. Creamy coconut coated just-cooked prawns in a joyous combo of seafood and curry. It was another dish that could have stood on its own. Along with a bowl of steaming hot rice, this would have been a great dinner. The dish was good enough: had it been an act on the X Factor, it would made it through to the next round.

Steamed basmati rice and plain naan accompanied us on the Indian food safari. Both were like the sightseers who’d found no reason to leave the safari van: they stayed nice and comfortable and safe, but probably didn’t make the best use of the trip. The rice and naan were served almost at room temperature, and the room, because the sliding door kept sliding open and close, was not warm.

The Chai tea I ordered didn’t arrive. Upon settling the bill, I mentioned this to the cashier—who had also been our waiter for the night and who was also the manager of the place. He said ‘sorry about that’ then asked if I’d like it taken off the bill. ‘Yes, can you take that off the bill’ was my dumbfounded reply. It was very concerning that he had to ask. Service throughout the night had been okay—acceptable, not unfriendly but not friendly either; Citrus needs to get staff with customer-service know-how.

Overall, Citrus does good food. It is well worth a visit. One thing I neglected to mention is that the venue is wonderfully spick and span: I imagine that Citrus would be up there with the best clean local restaurants if there was such a list. The set tables speak of attention to detail, and care for cleanliness and presentation. In terms of quality, Citrus brings it: there’s no doubt that the food is delicious. My only major gripe is I wish they would showcase Indian flavours a bit more. I wish they didn’t ‘go light’ on spices that are a cornerstone of Indian cuisine. Citrus needs to hero the richness of aromatic sauces, fragrance underscored by heat that warms the entire palate, and the uniqueness of the Indian cuisine. It also needs some bubbly front of house staff. If that happens, this place will go from good to awesome.

Taste verdict More drama in the dishes needed. Delicious food that needs to start heroing Indian cuisine.

⭐⭐⭐

Compared to the last Indian place we went, I have to say Kauphy trumps Citrus. The Kauphy does not have as aesthetically polished a restaurant as Citrus, but what it lacks, it makes up for in flavour. They also have bubbly front of house staff at Kauphy, if that’s the swinging vote.

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enchirist

I muse about food and about other things. Mainly food.

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