Sunday, July 5, 2015

Mick Hundals Spice Rack, Woolgoolga

All right, we are at Coff’s Harbour over the long weekend in June. We decide to explore a nearby area of Woolgoolga. About 25 kms from Coffs, this place is a small village which has a Sikh Temple. So we head down and visit the temple. Apparently Sikhs have been in this region since the time of the federation. At the temple, you get pamphlets of the Anzac Sikhs- who have fought as Australian forces in the World War I and II. Well Sikhs came in in the early 1900’s and worked in the banana farming and then settled there. As you go ahead of the temple, down into the village center and beyond, you reach Woolgoolga Heads- and there are some superb and breath taking elevated views of the beaches and islands nearby. Now being in this area, I search for food and trust me, at 2 in the afternoon, the options are so limited. A subway, and maybe 1 or 2 cafes. Alongside, there is a wishful thinking if there is a good curry place here, given the large number of Sikhs here. We do come across a couple of Indian grocery stores, but nothing else. This is until I search online and notice that there is a restaurant called Mick Hundel’s Spice Rack. Few reviews but all great reviews. Having my craving for Punjabi style curry, I follow to this place, only to realise it doesn’t open in the afternoon. It only opens from 5 P.M. so we head up to the subway in the afternoon, drive down back towards Coffs, to Sealy Look Out Point and then return back to Woolgoolga in the evening. So a lot of driving. Top it up with the fact that we have to drive back again to Coffs to get the train in the night and a GPS malfunction leads to us driving for another 10 kms until we found a cut and drove back.

  1. So as you can make it, we were getting on the edge and wondering if it was worth all this. Now Mick Hundal’s Spice Rack better be good. When I heard the name, I probably thought wow, what a name. I thought, may be its an Aussie bloke like Gordon Ramsay or someone who is in a remote place and cooks real great curries. Of course, the irony was that I didn’t realise why would an Aussie be selling curry in a place dominated by Sikh’s. Any ways, as we reach and head in, it’s a small little eatery. Very basic. And its got this very family feel to it. Its like a small little cosy home. And this is when we realize, Mick Hundal is actually not an Aussie bloke, but a Sikh gentleman. Came to Australia in the 40’s with a dollar in the pocket and working hard to making it big here. And then he started cooking to follow his dreams and passions.

The eatery is full of pictures of his family, of his wife, his sons, daughters. There are origami birds decorated on the wall and on the tables. A small makeshift bar – having a few bottles on the table. As I walk in, it is his son, who takes us to the table and gives us the menu. There is another table with an Aussie couple dining. The other table has a group of Punjabi boys celebrating birthday over some whiskey.

We settle in and look at the menu and decide to order a tandoori chicken and fish fry for starters, for mains, we ordered the chicken curry and an assortment of breads. As we were ordering, the son of the owner taking the order asked us, if there is anything specific and he can customer the curry for us. So I ended up telling him that I don’t want any of the regular curries like the vindaloo or the butter chicken. He does mention that he can customize the curry and that I should just describe it. Well I do that – tell him that I want the typical home made Punjabi curry with onion and tomatoes paste with coriander and it shouldn’t be those typical creamy curries.

Now we start with our drinks and conversation. It’s a cold night and the craving for a warm curry is high. The décor is very simple and it gives a very family feel to it. The next table has an Aussie couple who are on their way to Queensland. Apparently they do it every year to travel to warmer areas during the winters and every year they stop here. The other table which ad bunch of Indian Punjabi boys, celebrating drinks over their mate’s birthday was quite the thing from India you probably didn’t expect. 

These guys were just wonderful. A few drinks in and then they were speaking in English and then further went to be quite friendly with all of us in the restaurant, including offering free drinks and dishes. Simple boys, clean hearts and open mind, it was good to be in the company of them. They did talk about working in the nearby farms and then the fact that how Coffs Harbour is an area for the growth of blueberries, strawberries and cucumbers. Although it is famous for the big banana and the banana farming, truth is that now Queensland is now the place for banana cultivation.

Coming to the food, well, the fish fry came and so did the tandoori chicken. The fish fry was lovely. It was soft fish dipped in a besan batter and deep fried.  Beautiful Loved it. Especially considering the trauma we faced two nights before when we had the soggy and crappy fish fry in Oberoi’s Indian food. So good fish fry, wouldn’t mind trying again. Next comes the Tandoori chicken. Now tandoori chicken is one which has achieved fame worldwide and hence, has also been corrupted and abused. So while I hoped for something awesome, I hoped it wasn’t abused with incessant color and over spiced chicken. Well, it was my day and the tandoori chicken was perfect. One of the best I have had. Perfectly grilled, well spiced, and succulent chicken. Again I liked it. It had this char grilled burnt flavor on the sides.

Next came the chicken curry and the breads. The chicken curry was just what I wanted an expected. At times, you want the real stuff, the real curry that you get in India, the curry that you make at home. Sometimes, you are just sick of the creamy pre-cooked curries with the predictable taste. You just want fresh cooked gravy. And let me tell you- this was it. Beautiful red color with oil floating on the top, fragrant and flavorsome.

One of the best chicken curries I have had so far in Australia. So as of now, the hidden jewels for me in Australia for the best Indian Chicken Curry is Spice Rack at Woolgoolga and Lync’s Hotel in Narooma.

The breads were good, a bit too generous with the oil or butter. Towards the end of it, we were given Gulab Jamun’s and these were so awesome, seemed fresh and home made. So full marks for the food.

The place is alive like a little Punjabi family. The gentleman Mick, actually in between the cooking comes over and sits down with you, has a drink and shares interesting stories. Its so wonderful to have met Mick, who is like a larger than life figure. He is caring, talks freely, treats you like his own kids and just makes up the evening. I was so enchanted, as he spoke about his days in the 1950’s when he came over to Australia with a dollar and very little education from Punjab and moved onto working in the farms, meeting an Aussie lady here who supported him. An interesting story is how he struggled with English and couldn’t learn, until they did a challenge for him to learn one word every day and in return he gets a beer. It’s just the human determination and kind heartedness, which gets you overwhelmed.

All in All, I am dying to be back here again for the next visit. Loved this place and highly recommended to anyone in the region.

Mick HUndal’s Spice Rack Indian Restaurant
5/31, River Street, Woolgoolga NSW 2456

Ph: 02 6654 1900

Mobile: 0407469001

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