1278 Dominion Rd, Mt Roskill, Auckland
IT TURNS OUT that, entirely coincidentally, I returned to Sasuma to re-review it exactly one year after I first ate there, shortly after it opened. You can read my first raving-and-frothing-at-the-mouth review here, and I’m sorry to disappoint those who like a dose of strychnine with their sugar, but as you can see, Sasuma has maintained its excellent Doctor Feelgood ranking.
Now, a restaurant would normally only get a five-star review if it was perfect. Sasuma is not, but I’m making an exception. Please let me qualify that statement: Sasuma is placed on a fairly horrible patch of the Mt Roskill shops just before the big intersection, so it’s not exactly a scenic location, and it can be a little difficult getting a parking spot. There are other superficial problems. For one, it’s a small, boxy space and when the wind is blowing in, there’s nowhere to hide. Also, access to the toilet, bizarrely, is not through the kitchen but requires the patron to walk down the pavement and around the back, past the petrol station. The toilet itself could do with a scrub up, and it appears to be shared by a couple of restaurants. It’s not easily accessible, so there’s no way I could, for instance, take my 84-year-old mother to Sasuma, despite the glorious food.
Well, that’s my grumbling over and done with. Let’s get to that food! The food and service at Sasuma are what make it worthy of a five-star review. I raved about it a year ago, and awarded it a 4.5 star review. In the interim, they’ve not only fixed the hilarious typographical error on their signage, but they’ve upped their culinary art. They’ve also upped their prices, in some cases if not in others, although they’re still comfortably within the realm of a cheap eat. Their self-contained Punjabi meals have shot up in price, from $8.90 for a plate/punnet to $12.50. Before, their takeaway prices were almost on a par with that of Shubh in Sandringham or that Hobson St vendor I can never remember the name of, but the new Punjabi meal prices are similar to those of many cheaper Indian restaurants. The kathiyawadi gujarati thali has gone from $12.50 to $14 as well, but then, it does have such an array of extras that the price is hardly worth carping about.
Sasuma’s menu is looking more fulsome than before, and that’s primarily because of the chaat additions – tasty Indian snacks and small meals like pani puri, bhel, samosa chaat and bhel kachori. Yum – my tastebuds are exploding just thinking about them.
Two stomachs are only so big, however, so we opted for what the lovely co-owner said was their signature dish, cholle bhature, which apparently won them some kind of award recently. This dish is described as ‘whole white chickpeas cooked with spices, seasoned with onion, garlic and ginger and served with puffed white flour bread.’ For the princely sum of $9, this was a riot of flavour and texture that set the scene for the top-of-the-line thali, the rajwadi, at $18.
Where some Indian vegetarian restaurants make tasty economical thalis that seem a little on the slim side in terms of quantity, this Sasuma specialty filled both of our tummies to bursting point. So, what exactly do you get when you order a rajwadi thali? Well, there’s a khichdi, a kind of mushy rice mixed with lentils and spices that’s delicious on its own or mixed with other parts of the thali. There’s kadi, a kind of gram flour/yoghurt curry that’s delicious for vegetarians but toxic for vegans. There are three individual curries including one that’s almost like spaghetti with tomato sauce and herbs and spices (of course), the most amazingly tasty eggplant curry, and one other dry curry that was also amazing, but I can’t remember its name. On top of that, there’s pickle, poppadum, three rotis, a separate, melt-in-the-mouth dish called farsan, sugar/custard that you smear on the roti for extra punch (delicious, actually), and an Indian cookie. Oh, then there’s the glass of buttermilk.
Yes, it’s true, these are treacherous waters for vegans, and I really wish Indian vegetarian restaurants were more aware of veganism, and willing to signpost which of their food was vegan-friendly (good on Satya for that!) But for those of us who are part-time vegans, this was just about the best thali I have ever eaten, outside of a fully fledged Indian banquet.
The great thing about Sasuma is that you can tell each individual dish has had love and skill poured into it, and there’s nothing generic about anything you’ll eat here. At the end, the hostess was bemoaning the lack of chefs capable of cooking Sasuma’s particular variety of food, which could make it hard for the owners to get out of the kitchen long enough to make it work as a business (I had suggested they should open other branches, or franchise). Apparently, it’s going great guns, but it’s just so hard to find cooks with the requisite and very specific skills. Having enjoyed their food greatly, that’s not hard to understand. GARY STEEL