Candice is a secretive one. A porcelain skinned, spirited beauty with an elegance reminiscent of the renaissance who knows good food from bad food, and great food from good food. This is as much of her as you are allowed to see. I am sure that if Dracula were still with us today, this image would have driven him to some apocalyptic aneurysm of desire - and that's precisely what I am going to drive you to when I tell you about The Best Indian Food Ever. Forgive me for going a little photo crazy with this place, but I just had to do it justice.
Radhika and Raj are responsible for the paroxysms of delight that were spreading around our table with every beautifully anguishing bite. That's Radhika there. Upon observing her for a few moments I decided she was exactly my type of person. Intelligent with deep, compassionate eyes, efficient and bloody cheeky. You get the impression she is letting you in on their wonderful food rather than obsessively trying to please, her comfortable, easy nature and discerning eye make you feel completely at home and well taken care of. If this was home, I doubt I ever would have moved out. Ruchi is doing the best Indian Candice, Dan and Yoni had ever had in their life. After the year spent living in Pakistan when he was a little boy, my boyfriend's alimentary canal has become a living, breathing shrine to the spicy, sharp and creamy flavours of Indian food. Dosai in particular drive him dotty, and the best he had ever had was at this beautiful eatery in the backwaters of Belconnen.
The food was so good it hurt. The Chicken Biryani here was my introduction to this dish, and I loved it. The Masala Dosai came in the form of a perfectly crisp, golden and light rice and lentil crepe that beautifully eveloped a steamy mix of spiced potatoes. It didn't last long. The section off the menu which we selected it off is rightly entitled Dosa Galore, with a staggering ten dosai choices, whats a girl to do.
The Paneer Bruji continued the wonderful assault on our culinary senses. The description of this dish on the menu does it no justice: shredded cottage cheese seasoned with spices. Yeah right, and and the Mona Lisa was just a painting. This was simply stunning. Home made cottage cheese, screamingly fresh and creamy in texture, laced with perfectly balanced spices you can see and resting on a bed of fluffy, snow white basmati. At this point I was actually thinking that Candice taking us here was a gross, cruel unkindness, rather than the sweet and loving generosity of a dear friend: I live a ten minute drive from this food and you live about 3 and a half hours away!
Where's the beef? It's languishing, tender and yielding in a sweet smelling gravy with almonds. A soft, gentle beef that pairs perfectly with its sauce and mixes with rice in your mouth so wonderfully you will pounding your fists on the table. Lamb Nilgiri Korma is just as breathtakingly tender and bathed in fresh herbs and coconut. It melts into your mouth slowly and with a flavour that surprises and pleases, but never, ever overwhelms. The Lamb Nawabi is exactly the same, except with a gentle, creamy cashew nut gravy. Jesus. Cashew nut gravy. Don't even bother finishing the rest of this post. Get to Canberra now.
The naan. Oh my lord, the naan. The texture and the doughy creases of white folding into themselves with crispy patches of golden brown. A spongy, annihilatingly wonderful naan. Give-us-this-day-our-daily-bread type of naan. It was so photogenic I ignored the impatient stares of my fellow diners who wanted to attack the sultry warm break and took photo after photo. Here's another:
And another. Good looking bread, eh? It needs an agent. You could justify the drive to Canberra from Sydney based on this dish alone. It's a revelation when you try a simple food that you've had often that you always liked and someone takes it to a completely new level by making you feel like you'd never really tried it at all. Ruchi's does this. It's not just shining on the tricky spicy dishes, but also on the simple, humble ones. Every bite testifies to the quality, the ingredients and the know how that is the daily rhythm of this alchemical kitchen.
Radhika explained to me that they don't cook as though they are running a commercial kitchen. This is the same standard, the same method and the same quality of ingredients that she employs in her home. Again, it never fails to amaze me how many restaurants, too bent on making a dollar, have lost sight of the basic principals of success: feed people wonderfully, well priced food, serve it to them well and they will always, always come back.
Those of you who have had some experience with Ayurvedic philosophy know that alot of the spices used in traditional Indian cooking have highly medicinal properties. Even the fats used in cooking are beneficial for health (when they are of a good, pure quality) such as ghee, which is a warming food said to nourish the brain, and coconut, a fortifying fat that allows hair and skin to shine. Given that Ruchi's also uses very clean tasting meat and chicken and wonderful vegetables, this is healthy dining as far as I am concerned. Spicy chicken cooked in coconut milk, with beautiful white and unfatty chicken pieces for your health? Well, if you insist. Is anyone even still a vegetarian after all these pictures? Certainly not the well fed and discerning Yoni, just you look at that happy, red cheeked foodie with a full mouth. Something about this photo makes me want to pat him on the head and tell him he's a good boy for finishing all his dinner, but given that he sleeps with a gun by the bed (he's in the army), I was not going to tempt fate.
Dan, not to be outdone, also had the time of his life. He was smiling during the whole meal with a dreamy look in his eyes like he does when he's very, very satisfied. I think we diagnosed it as Curry Coma. No one could believe how much food we had, how great it all was and how little we paid for the experience. This is fine dining without the pretension or expense, and with a take away menu to boot, I am surprised anyone in Belconnen actually cooks for themselves.
I wonder what other delicious secrets Candice is keeping from the rest of us. Radhika and Raj's Ruchi, it's won Best Indian Restaurant from the Restaurant and Catering Awards in the ACT: Well, duh. Like any other place ever stood a chance. It's a good thing the venerable Mr Gandhi is not alive and living in Belconnen, hunger striking in such close proximity to unspeakably divine flavours would surely be unthinkable, or soul destroying at the very, very least.
Thankyou Radhika and Raj for a wonderful night, and Candice for the inside word. We will be back very, very soon xx.
At: U4/17-23 Oatley Court, Belconnen ACT
Ph: 6253 2506 (credit card taken over phone for takeaway, free delivery with conditions)