The south end of King Street seems to have become a little more noisy of late. No, not the doof doof from the ghetto boys hooning into town to do laps but more like a repetitive tapping of metal against metal reverberating against the walls and street frontages. It looks like taka tak (or kata kat) has landed in Newtown. Taka what, I hear you ask? Originating in Karachi, this meaty dish is generally made using offal such as kidney, heart, liver and brain; cooked on a large flat griddle and quickly chopped and mixed around with two metal spatulas. The name of this specialty dish comes from the rhythmic sound created as the two blades hit the cooking surface.
Don’t let the appearance of this place deter you. It’s all about shiny surfaces, splashes of colour on the walls and ceiling and very much a take away kind of vibe. Out the back is a sheesha garden, an area and an exercise I choose to avoid thanks to a bate of nicotine poisoning I got in Egypt almost a decade ago. Nasty things, those sheesha pipes.
As soon as you sit down the friendly staff drop you a bottle of water from the fridge. Very nice gesture, I thought. I’m still not entirely sure whether they like you bringing your vino, being a Halal establishment and all, as they don’t really have glasses to drink from other than paper cups. The menu reads much the same as your average Indian/Paki joint, meaning you’ll catch many of the usual suspects like seekh kebabs, chicken tikka, korma, palak paneer and biriyani’s. A little predictable, some would say. Except for this …
One thing for sure is that in a stark place like Khan Baba, devoid of any acoustic buffers, the sounds bounce around the room like nothing else. When the burly Pakistani chef gets his metal spatulas out all hell breaks loose in the noise department. Conversations are cut short and ears start to bleed to the deafening tuka-tuka-tuka-tuka rattling your brain. Which variety did I go with? The chef’s special where you can choose two ingredients from the menu. I went with chicken and liver, a concoction tuka tuk-ed with loads of spices, green chilli, onions and coriander. The end result is crumbly and a little dry but an accompanying chutney helps lube things up a tad.
The tandoor is located in the front kitchen within view of the guests so you can happily watch meats and breads go in for the baking. The portions here are on the generous size, even the lamb karahi, cooked on the bone in a thick spiced gravy loaded with strips of fresh ginger. Delicious and pretty good value. As for the bottles of water handed to you on arrival, just say ‘no thanks” if you don’t want them appearing on your bill. Sneaky.
453 King Street
02 8065 0712
Reviewer's rating: 2.5/5
Worthy of a repeat visit ... Khan Baba in Newtown. Photo: Fiona Morris
The rhythmic sound of metal on metal welcomes us in at Khan Baba. A man stands at a giant, round hotplate, bashing it with two large implements. He's making taka tak (tawa), the house specialty. A Lahore dish, it is named after the sound the half-moon-shaped cleavers make when they strike the plate. That's the taka tak bit. Tawa is the name for the large, flat, wok-like dish on which it is cooked.
We take our seats in the main part of the restaurant and are handed bottles of water with our menus. A warning of impending spiciness, perhaps? These turn up on the bill, so those counting their pennies, or wishing to quench their thirst with a lassi, might wish to say no.
Pitching itself as a Pakistani and Indian-style cafe, it has a fast, friendly, almost takeaway feel. The menu beams out from large boards above a long, glassed-in counter. Takeaway and home delivery are offered and we see a delivery person head out the door a few times to meet the demands of hungry locals.
Chicken Karahi ... roasted chicken in medium spicy gravy with green chilli and tomato, garnished with fresh coriander. Photo: Fiona Morris
Out the back is an astroturfed ''shisha garden''. A group of teenage girls fill the air out there with shrieks, giggles and the fruity smells of the tobacco-free shisha they're smoking. They try to convince the waiter it is OK to sell them the real stuff. He won't be swayed but is jovial and patient in his refusals.
The best seats in the house are up front, where the taka tak is made to order and the naan bread is rolled and cooked in the tandoor. We order two types of bread - plain and garlic. The naan puffs up beautifully during the cooking process. It is light and fluffy but also substantial enough to scoop into the curries when they arrive.
First up is the palak paneer, a creamy spinach cooked with pieces of paneer or cottage cheese. The spices - and heat - are subtle.
The fish karahi dish comes topped with ginger and coriander. It is oily without being overly rich and has a good hit of heat.
On to the taka tak menu, which has plenty of options for the adventurous eater, with various bits of offal on offer. We steer clear of the liver, kidneys and testicles and stick to the lentils, the taka tak dall fry, which we request hot. Soon the room is filled with the sounds of the chef in action. The result is a dry curry of lentils, tomato and spices, minced together and topped with pieces of green chilli.
It doesn't blow our mouths off but there's a notable amount of heat, more than with the karahi. Our noses are running and there's a slight tingle on the lips. We're grateful, although not desperate, for the calming effect of the raita and festive-looking mango lassi, which comes with strawberry topping decorating the inside of the glass.
For dessert, we decide to give the gajar ka halwa a go - a warm dish of diced carrot cooked with milk, spices and cashew nuts. It is like a carrot cake and strudel filling all rolled into one - warm and delicious. It is a true test of a good dessert that just when you think you cannot fit anything else in, you manage to find your way to the bottom of the glass.
In our eyes, the sweet treats make this place worthy of a repeat visit. Or we might just find the sounds of the taka tak luring us back for another hit of spice.
Menu Popular Pakistani and Indian dishes with some house specialties.
Value Good: entrees $4.50-$24, mains $8.90-$29.90, desserts $4.90-$6.90.
Recommended dishes Garlic and plain naan, mango lassi, fish karahi, gajar ka halwa.
453 King Street, Newtown, 8065 0712
Tue-Thu, Sun: 5pm-midnight; Fri, Sat: 5pm-1am