I love South Indian food and was happy to learn about Ela Cuisine from co-owner and chef George. George has worked previously at the excellent cafe at the Wise Cicada in Newmarket (plus other achievements), so when I heard that he had opened this new restaurant with chef Daniel (also from South India via work as a chef in five-star hotels), I was keen to try it.
Ela Cuisine is located in the bustling Elliott Street Stables collection of restaurants. The restaurant itself is quite small with limited seating, but there is plenty of general seating right in front of it.
I went to Ela around lunchtime with the intention of placing an order of takeaway food to be reheated later for dinner, but the menu sounded so appealing that I also decided to have lunch while I was there.
I ordered a masala dosa ($12) for my lunch, and opted for a paneer filling with my vegetables. The pancake was folded over like a crepe with the filling inside. It was light and crispy and the filling was fine, although I would have enjoyed a little more vegetables in it. I loved the accompanying sambhar soup – a small cup of the most flavourful lentil soup that I have had in a long time.
For our dinner I ordered small size servings of “Butterless” Chicken ($15/$24), Kerala Beef ($18), Alleppy Fish Curry ($23 regular size) and Sauteed Vegetables and Lentils in Coconut Milk ($15). Rather than rice I opted for paratha bread as the accompaniament and made my own rice later at home.
Ela describes itself as preparing Travancore style cuisine which incorporates black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, tamarind, vanilla, ginger and nutmeg. I was intrigued with some of the flavours which I had always thought of as being south-east Asian incorporated into the food.
The Kerala Beef dish reminded me of the Malaysian dish Beef Rendang, probably because the tender pieces of beef had been slowly cooked so that they were literally falling apart and the spices used included star anise.
The “Butterless” Chicken was a hit with my daughter, a fan of Butter Chicken. I am not sure how the chefs managed to create it, although I think that the ground cashews had something to do with it, along with the fenugreek leaves.
I loved the vegetable dish, which had the vegetables served up in a richly coloured and flavoured thick sauce which included shredded coconut.
The fish dish was slightly less popular – although flavourful, I think I prefer my fish curry with fish cubes rather than small filets. A minor detail.
Be ware that the spice level in the dishes tends towards the hot end of the spectrum – the medium heat reqested for a couple of the dishes was plenty hot for me.
The paratha bread suffered a little in having to sit for the afternoon, but each serving had been carefully wrapped in foil which made for easy reheating.
There are other items on the menu that I would love to try – especially their signature dish of Ela Meen ($25) – a whole snapper with tomato salsa and Travancore spices, first fried and then baked in a banana leaf. Although this menu item is more than our $20 Cheapeats limit, it would be easily shared between two people. The Biriyani dishes ($18-$25) also sound very tempting.
Ela is open for lunch and dinner. The lunch time menu is shorter than the dinner menu and offers smaller servings at lower prices. There are usually specials and at lunchtime you can experience a Dosa pizza ($10)!
There are non-alcoholic drinks available such as mango lassi, watermelon juice and soda with lime ($4-$8), but I was glad to see their wine list which recommended wines to match spicey foods. Or for a truly different drink you could try the Vodkacoconut!
If your tastebuds are looking for a journey to the south of India, take a quick trip to Elliott Stables to Ela Cuisine.