Cassia is one of Auckland’s most recent and most exciting openings. Taking over the space next to Everybody’s on Fort Lane, succeeding the ill-fated Mandarin Dumplings, Cassia looks to take advantage of an awesome location by adapting traditional Indian flavours with a contemporary spin.
For a pseudo-food snob like myself I had massive expectations of Cassia. The head chef and owner, Sid Sahrawat, has been a long-term elite in Auckland fine dining and only this year won Metro’s best chef award for his Ponsonby restaurant Sidart. My friends and I had all been hyping this place to each other and our mates- a pretty dangerous game considering it only opened a couple weeks prior. Constantly raising expectations was fully justified, it turned out. ‘Contemporary’ anything is risky business but contemporary Indian sounds like a much bigger obstacle, especially when a belly of butter chicken is rivaled by not much else.
Image Cred // Brand Wagon
What was certain was the sick location. Fort Lane is great. The cobbled path and LED lights strung overhead feel like you’ve been transported to a Melbourne alleyway. The entrance and overall interior of Cassia runs with the theme, modern and punchy. Through a fast self-opening door you stand at the top of a set of stairs and look over the cavernous dining room in front of you- kitchen and bar hidden on the side. There’s an intricately designed low hanging lighting system webbed across the ceiling. Design is on point from before the first step.
Picture Cred // Metro Eats
A wait time of around 40 minutes, we are directed up to Everybody’s (first time any of us had been there in a state to relax and enjoy). This is a great complement to Cassia downstairs as there will be often a waiting list and they have no outdoor area for customers to hang around. Everybody’s is really helpful location-wise but moreover it carries the vibe of Cassia; sharp inner-city hospitality with a really interesting interior.
We got the call a bit late, but all was forgiven once we got to the front desk. The host was fantastic; she welcomed us into the underground dining room. I certainly felt really welcome and the seats were damn comfy. Our waiter was average- a charming Frenchman whose grasp of English left some to the imagination- interesting for Indian. We got to ordering, all share plates as expected, and a pretty vast wine list. I had an awesome Argentinian Malbec that was a little on the expensive side, but expected for a quality wine obviously carefully selected. For starters we had a good vege dish- roast potato and cauliflower. We were at like 7/10, enjoyable but not at expectations. It was like seeing a sub-par Nicholas Cage film; we were pretty content with what we had because the quality was all there, but you just knew there was so much potential for goodness to come. I had faith in my man Sid.
Unfortunately did not get to try the Scallops - Photo Cred // Taste
The soft shell crab we had next was so goddamn good. Melty velvet crabmeat cased by the crispy shell on a bed of carrot puree. A burn of heat in the kasundi juxtaposed with slices of refreshing pickled cucumber. This is an awesome dish. Just to look at you’ve got these beautiful vivid oranges of the puree and the crab, pastel watery green of the cucumber. I love everything about the crab- GO TRY IT. Right now.
We rounded up the meal with the rib of beef in Mughlai flavours. This one needs comment because who the hell knows what a Mughlai is. We asked one of the staff (who I loved) to explain the Mughlai. “Right”, she shifts into waitress mode and leans the plates she’s been clearing onto her hip. These flavours come from a region in northern India where the kings lived throughout history, so you’ll find all the richest spices from here like saffron and anise. The rib came out in a big bowl, the ribs stacked in a bath of thick gravy that we spent many minutes mopping up with naan.
We re-surfaced onto Fort Lane. Cassia is a much welcome addition to this growing strip along the eastside of Queen. The dining scene throughout Auckland has become consistently more exciting in the past few years since the Rugby World Cup gave us overdue justification to spend heavy on hospitality. We’ve started to take advantage of the clearly culture craving throngs of Aucklanders now flocking to the various foodie hubs in and around town. Cassia sure looks certain to stay- fully on point, we were in experienced hands and it showed. Beautiful food accompanies decent service- definitely worth a visit.
Title Image Cred // Gather and Hunt