2 White Swan Road, Mount Roskill
Tel (09) 627 6400
4 1/2 Stars
FOR MANY YEARS, my Indian eating destination of choice could be found in Sandringham but I kept hearing about a great Indian restaurant hidden out in Mount Roskill’s White Swan Road. I was so contented with the joys of Jai Jalaram Khaman (reviewed here) that I never managed to get out to that neck of the woods till earlier this year. Talk about regrets! I wish I’d made the effort long before because Bikanervala is pretty much just as good as I’d heard.
Bikanervala is billed as being a traditional Indian sweet shop and family restaurant. The sweet selection is extensive and tasty (more on this in a later article) but the real attraction is the restaurant food. Although the menu is very comprehensive, covering Northern and Southern Indian cuisine along with pizzas and Chinese food, the real attraction at Bikanervala is the range of dosas.
For those who’ve never tried a dosa, or who think that a veg korma is the height of Indian cuisine, let me just say that you haven’t come close to gourmet Nirvana till you’ve had a really good dosa. For those totally out of the loop, a dosa is a pancake made using a fermented batter of rice flour and lentils. Dosas are often served with a tasty filling and a few side dishes, most commonly sambar (vegetable soup) and a couple of chutneys.
Bikanervala is a great place to get to grips with dosas. I’ve tried their masala dosa (filled with potato masala curry) a couple of times and found it to be really good, the humungous paper masala dosa is a thinner and crispier but much larger version of the standard masala dosa and it’s a table filling monster – don’t order three of them between four people as I once did with some friends because you won’t come close to finishing. [Or fitting them all on the table at the same time? – Ed] The piece de resistance at Bikanervala is the rava onion masala dosa, which is made with semolina instead of rice – it’s filled with the potato masala mix and covered in small chunks of fried onion. This delicacy makes it hard for me to eat anything else when I’m there.
I’ve tried quite a few of the other dishes on the menu and while they’re not flash, they’ve all been enjoyable, ranging from good standard Indian fare to excellent meals. Be sure to order rice or naan bread with the conventional (non-dosa) dishes because they don’t come with it.
Bikanervala’s mango lassis are a particularly scrumptious treat, mostly because they don’t come from a bottle in the kitchen, rather they’re blended in front of you at the Chaat (snack) counter using yogurt, syrup and fresh mango pulp. The rest of the snacks are also well worth trying but most people find a dosa to be quite a meal, so getting stuck into exotic but delicious items like the Bhel Puri is best done on a shared basis. An item that makes a great shared starter (or a side dish) is the Paneer Naan, which is a naan bread stuffed with cottage cheese and dripping in butter – absolutely yummy!
The food at Bikanervala makes this restaurant well worth a visit but it’s best to note that it’ll take at least one perplexing session to figure out what the heck is going on, unless you’re there with someone who’s been before.
Ordering is done at the counter, but sweets have to be bought at the other counter. Snacks, lassis and chai are collected at the Chaat counter and then when the food is ready, someone at the main counter will ring a bell and yell out a number, which should correlate with the number on your receipt. There’s a signboard over the counter that works most of the time, and it’s best to watch this with eagle eyes because the yelled out numbers are sometimes difficult to make out. [Just like an Indian train station, then! – Travel Ed]
Occasionally there’ll be a bit of extra confusion thrown in just to keep things real. For example, I recently ordered a butter paneer masala for a friend who really doesn’t like spicy food, so I asked for it to be very mild. What arrived was closer to hot than medium, let alone mild. She thought that I was out to get her but it was seriously tasty so another friend polished it off with some assistance from myself. The sweat poured but it was worth it.
Which is basically the moral of the story at Bikanervala. You may have to sweat on the first visit to work out the ordering and collection protocols but what you get will be well worth the effort. In any event, the staff are friendly and the puzzle is all part of the adventure. More to the point, it’ll all be second nature by the second visit and if you like Indian food, I’m pretty sure that there will be a second visit.
The prices are low, with most of the meals coming in at around $10, with the big Thalis going up to about $15. It’s a large restaurant with plenty of tables and there’s heaps of parking after hours – from 6PM, any open spot in the basement carpark is available for patrons. During the day, it’s usually possible to get a park on White Swan road, even if you have to walk for a minute or so. The biggest let down at Bikanervala is the toilet, which is located down a corridor and shared with the rest of the building. It’s usually not a pretty sight, and occasionally it’s scary and best avoided.
That said, it’s not worth worrying about. Just like Jai Jalarma Khaman, the food is why you’d visit this restaurant. I’ve been to Bikanervala at least a dozen times in the last four or five months and I’m heading back again soon.
(The restaurant (i.e.non-food) photos above were taken by the multi-talented Bruce Sherman of Scene Photography – watch out for more of his shots in our upcoming article on Indian sweets.)