One of my early, memorable meals in Canberra was at Jehangir in Swinger Hill (now sadly gone). As a refugee from Melbourne in the late 1990s it was terrific to find authentic food at decent prices, and a solid tradition of good Indian food has persisted in the Territory. But at the moment there seems to be a mini-explosion in great Indian food, with emphasis on both the fabulous diversity of one on the richest food nations on earth and the street food that is such a feature of Indian life.
Daana has been part of this change, starting life in a shipping container in the the short-lived Westside Acton Park on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. Run by chefs Sunita and Sanjay they have hit the ground running in their permanent home in Curtin.
The fully fledged restaurant specialises in beautifully cooked south Indian food with a flair and individuality that fully utilises the professional talents and family recipes of both chefs.
A Kerala fish curry ($24) is spectacular, perfectly cooked white fish in a sunny yellow curry sauce, tangy and rich with coconut milk, ginger and green chilli in perfect balance. Once the fish is done, the temptation is to lift the dish and drink the curry, but we order more bread to mop it up instead.
Nawabi chicken korma ($22) is similarly a beautifully done dish, the rich deep orange curry thickened with ground almond and the chicken itself perfectly tender, again much mopping is done to get more sauce up. Slightly hot, this dish, as are many others, is great for kids, and families are very welcome here.
It has taken all our resolve to bypass the starters - cauliflower fritters, fish grilled in a banana leaf, grilled Marsala king prawns - but we have come on a Saturday night. Something special happens at the end of each week at Daana - it is Thali night.
Thalis are the solution to a common frustration when visiting Indian restaurants - you cannot taste as much as you want to, unless you bring a huge tribe for dinner. Enter the Thali - the tapas of India cooking except that the full range comes all on a special plate for one. Little bowls and mounds of starters, curries, pickles, yoghurts breads and dessert are all beautifully arranged on the Thali platter. But this is different again, every week the Saturday night Thali comes from a different part of India, one of the great culinary nations. It is Delhi on our night, around the 70th stop in a Daana's great culinary tour of the huge continent, with hundreds more to come. One family, we are told, has come in virtually every Saturday night, researching the history and food before they come. This is a fabulous idea, showing off the enormous culinary riches and diversity, rarely appreciated outside India, a real treat for diners.
Our Thali has a range of curries, rich butter paneer (we have taken the vegetarian option) daal, a chickpea curry and lovely light potato and tomato curry. All are distinguished by freshness and zing, and all play a balancing role on the plate. Lovely dark bread underpins the meal, and outrageous orange spirals of honey sweet Jalebi finish it off. This classic dessert is done beautifully here, still warm, crisp and sticky on the outside collapsing into honey sweetness inside.
Because we have no self control we also take a serve of lovely small galub jamoon ($10) - the tender and aromatic milk balls in syrup that when done well are a warm, intensely sweet and lovely treat.
Services here is prompt, helpful and very engaged, if not It always absolutely perfect. Chefs Sunita and Sanjay are ever present and refills of any of the Thali items are frequently offered. The wine list is very concise, with a nod to the local and a range of wines that mostly work with the big flavours on show. BYO is allowed with corkage.
Daana is a comfortable place to spend an evening, with plenty of space between tables, and a warmth that comes from food generously provided by people who love what they are doing.
Daana is a great place to eat, and while some may miss the edgy shipping container beginnings, it is terrific to see such a passionate team going from strength to strength, and sharing such a huge range of their culinary history with us.
Address: 83 Theodore St, Curtin
Phone: 5105 1048
Owner: Sanjay and Sunita Kumar
Chef: Sanjay and Sunita Kumar
Hours: Dinner only Mon-Wed, lunch and dinner Thurs-Sat
Wheelchair access: Yes
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