During that rainy spell that hit Canberra last week, my partner and I decided to take the opportunity to turn up the heat - no, not what you think - by seeking out some curries from a local favourite we've always wanted to try. At a standalone building in Curtin, Daana has been winning awards and charming locals since it first opened in 2016.
Walking into Daana is a little like walking into a family friend's home. A series of heirlooms and family photos line a bookshelf and the warm, inviting smells of spices envelop you. The far wall is lined with colourful sarees showcasing India's rich textile heritage, and ceramic plates hang from the wall above the kitchen.
You won't find the usual butter chicken or rogan josh on the menu here. The dishes aren't all listed in English either, rather in Indian colloqualisms - "kempu", "dopiaza", "ambode". Even with my Indian heritage I don't recognise all of them due to some regional specialities, and I quite love that. There are helpful descriptions in English under the names though, making navigating the menu very manageable.
The wine list is a good length too - there's clearly been some thought into selecting wines that pair well with spicy food. There's a focus on clean, citrus forward whites and lighter reds. If that's not for you, there is also beer, cider and cocktails - or for teetotallers, a good selection of mocktails, hot and cold drinks.
My usual trick of Google and Instagram stalking dishes doesn't help with my food decision paralysis here. It's very much the agony of choice - everything looks delicious and it's hard narrowing it down. Normally, I'd just go the banquet option ($42 for two course and $47 for three course) and be surprised, but there's a few things I really wanted to try on the menu.
Fortunately, chef Sanjay is on the floor tonight - I know because his chef's jacket tells me. He's friendly and helpful, making recommendations on what accompaniments, food quantities and helping us with our general food indecision, which is compounded by the fact that everything on the menu sounds delicious.
The "Chakri" Samosa ($20 for six pieces) is one of Sanjay's recommendations. Its intriguing description as "Daana's house-specialty makes an inspired comeback as a roll-up samosa" makes it hard to imagine, and a tempting order. Think a traditional triangular samosa but rolled up - sort of like a scroll (or murukku if you're looking for a more traditional comparison) - crisp dough alternating with layers of spiced potato. Served with a date-tamarind and spicy coriander chutney, it's spicy, crunchy, very moreish and an inspired take on the humble samosa.
A sucker for street eats in almost any form, I can't resist the "country shop chicken-Aval roast" ($20 for six pieces) either. Spiced, pot roasted pieces of chicken are served with a garnish of diced onion, green capsicum and crispy rice flakes. A mustardy, roast eggplant dip adds a welcome zing, lending an almost wasabi-like kick to dish.
On Chef's Sanjay's recommendation, we resist the temptation of lemon and ghee rice and stick to steamed basmati rice to go with our curries instead.
The Karaikudi eggplant curry ($24) is a winner. Whole baby eggplant is cooked with pearl onions, tamarind and mustard seeds. Fragrant and rustic, it's rich, tomato-ey and tremendously comforting. Strangely enough, it's listed as "spicy" on the menu, but it doesn't seem particularly spicy - perhaps that's down to personal taste.
The Goan prawn curry ($27) is excellent too. Milder in style, the prawn and coconut flavours really shine through. There's a nice balance from vinegar and a gentle hum of chilli lingering in the background.
I had high hopes for the Hyderabadi veggies and paneer dopiaza ($25) but this curry just doesn't quite deliver for me. It's on the oily side, for a start. And while I ordered it because it's the only curry containing paneer on the menu, there's a lot of onion and potato in there, and only a couple of pieces of paneer to be found.
Luckily, dessert is a sweet finish. I opt for the traditional-sounding "Nariyal Jamoon Kesari Basundi" ($14). I'm imagining a gulab-jamun-esque dessert, but it's more like a caramelised sticky date pudding. Warm and fluffy on the inside, it's delightfully fragrant with just the right amount of sugar. Slow-cooked saffron milk adds contrast and creaminess, while pistachios add texture and crunch.
Daana's tagline "original food" seems a little strange at first, but after eating here it makes sense. Daana offers food cooked in as it should be in a family home - with no shortcuts, prepared with love and respect for the ingredients.
I can see why Daana is a local favourite. The food is comforting, well-executed and with some interesting twists beyond your regular neighbourhood Indian restaurant. Service is friendly and warm, and it all comes together to create that comfortable feeling of just popping into a friend's place for dinner.
Address: 83 Theodore St, Curtin
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 5.30-9.30pm; Saturday, noon-2pm.
Owners and chefs: Sunita and Sanjay Kumar
Vegetarian: Plenty of good options
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise: Not an issue