The most innovative and delicious Indian restaurant this side of the Indian Ocean has recently opened in Surry Hills and brings innovation, story-telling and flavour in spades. It’s so delicious, you’re going to want to get there fast.
The scent of frying curry leaves wafts throughout the two-storey restaurant, tantalizing your taste buds until they dance with enthusiasm. In a beautiful and thoughtfully designed space the tables are filled with families, a few with young children, groups of friends and couples too. This is a place where everyone is welcome, bringing the hospitality, colour and flavour of India into the heart of Sydney.
Every element of the restaurant has been carefully chosen by the three founders Javed Khan, Gaurang Gahoi, and Kunal Patel. From each of the elements within the mural spanning the length of the downstairs wall, to the handmade bespoke signature cocktail glasses, to the carefully selected decorations that bring a unique personality to the venue.
We start with cocktails. Indian restaurants around town are not known for their cocktails or wine collection for that matter, but Foreign Return is about to change all that. With five bespoke cocktails, unique to the restaurant and 52 wine varieties, your curry in a hurry is no more. Instead, relax by the bar and try the Marigold Sour ($21) – made up of a marigold infused gin, lime, marigold syrup, sugar, eggwhite and ice to bring a flavour mix inspired by Asia’s largest flower market Mullik Ghat in Kolkata. It’s 132 years old with 4000 + vendors close to the Howrah train station, which is used to transport flowers across the country. A mural reflecting this story is on the wall (told you there was a story behind every piece in the place?)
The second cocktail was the Jamun Club ($21), made from jamun (a fruit) , gin, lime, sugar, egg white. This one is inspired by the jamun trees inside the gardens of Taj Mahal.
Drinks should be accompanied with the extensive range of Chakna’s, Indian slang for food you eat with drinks (what a perfect word for one of the simplest joys on earth). It’s important to note that almost all spice mixes are made on premise. There are some that they team source from Indian suppliers but most of the mixes are made on site to spec, such is the level of detail in creating a thoughtful and dynamic Indian experience.
We tried the Taro Root Tuk ($7), crisp-fried taro root, crisp parsley, spiced yoghurt and tamarind – is a sweet and spicy mix that you may need three of.
We also enjoyed the Masala Papad ($6), a fried papad, topped with cherry tomatoes, red onions, avocado, chillies, goat’s curd and micro coriander. The spice mix is a combination of ideas from the owners and, also, their wives. Hence you end up with a fresh, contemporary take on Indian food that brings together the best flavours of the country and the food memories of the team.
We enjoyed the larger Foreign Return Plates Gunpowder Mini Uttappam (v) ($16) – a fermented rice and lentil mini pancake with chilli spice blend and homemade tomato chutney. Imagine a savoury pancake packed with vegetables and deep infused flavour.
The Prawn Koliwada ($21) is a feat of mastery, crispy fried prawns named after Bombay’s Koliwads (the fisherman’s district), these are crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked prawny on the inside.
Where are the curries, you ask? Yes, yes, they’re coming, but the joy at Foreign Return is that you can enjoy Indian food and it’s not just about the curry, which is a wonderful way to really explore the cuisine beyond what we are used to.
We enjoyed the Seafood Mollee ($34), a delicious coconut-turmeric sauce with barramundi, pipis and prawns. The barramundi was perfectly cooked; firm and yet melted in our mouths. This was the standout of our experience and is a dish that should be shared. The woman seated next to us had kept the dish to herself…which, after tasting it, seemed like a very mean thing to do!
We also enjoyed the Kathirikkai Kurma (v) ($16) a curry of baby eggplant, nuts and poppy seeds. A vegetarian delight robust enough for the hardiest of meat-eaters. Spicy and flavoursome, this is a must try. Curried eggplant is simply the best.
We also had the Kosha Mangsho ($29), a lamb cooked in mustard oils and spices – a bit of a Bengali delicacy. For us this seemed like more traditional Indian restaurant fare, but still with a heightened sophistication delivered by the team at Foreign Return.
Our meals were accompanied by a Traditional Naan ($5) and a Cheese Garlic Naan ($7). Both freshly made, doughy, light and the perfect tool to move food to mouth at pace.
Dessert is a true highlight. We enjoyed the Nariyal Panna Cotta, a coconut and palm sugar panna cotta with raspberry and seasonal fruits ($16). The perfect dessert to counteract the spices for someone who wants to be a bit more familiar with their sweet choices. For the more experimental, we also had the Forbidden Phirni ($16), a black rice pudding with macerated strawberries, pistachios and rose petals. We fell in love with this. Imagine a tasty sweet Bircher Muesli but this was not thick and gluggy, weighing you down for days – this was instead, fresh, a perfect balance of sweet and nutty. To be honest, one of our future trips may just include a cocktail (or two) and this.
In addition to the vast dining menu, the team provide comprehensive vegetarian options as well as a lunch menu.
Foreign Return is a new, bold classic. A well-thought through restaurant, where every single element from design, to food, wine list and cocktail creation has been meticulously thought through. The team has brought a little bit of India to Surry Hills and we’re grateful for the dedication to perfection.
527 Crown Street, Surry Hills
Mon-Tue 5:30PM – 10:30PM
Wed-Sun 11:30AM – 3:00PM, 5:30PM – 10:30PM