Stirring a spicy Indian menu in quiet Kenmore

By Indira Laisram
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Reagan Nongkhlaw (L) & Urvik Bhalani

In the leafy suburb of Kenmore in Brisbane, two Indian chefs Reagan Nongkhlaw and Urvik Bhalani are beating the pandemic creating a spicy Indian journey for all food lovers. Their Shakespearean-inspired cafe Method to the Method was serving modern Australian cuisine with a quirky Shakespearean twist. Now, they are pivoting slightly, something that others in the area are less likely to attempt (more on that below).

During March end-April, when Queensland entered lockdown due to the novel coronavirus, Method to the Madness closed its dining areas like all other restaurants and café in the state. It was a bit of a frustrating time for the two chef friends who had moved to Brisbane from Melbourne two years ago with a dream: to establish a cool and culinary thrilling experience in a new place.

Their 100-seater café & bar was “offering an escape from the madness of everyday life” with its flamboyant improvisation of food. It was a dream venture for the two young chefs who wanted to convert the place into a literature of food, true to their inspiration. So while being modern and contemporary, they also incorporated a bit of their unique cultural backgrounds. “We wanted to design a grandma’s recipe with a twist of madness to the method,” says Reagan.

However, all that creativity was reduced to takeaways during the initial weeks of the pandemic. Now, having survived the COVID-19 scare, Reagan and Urvik have decided that their future and success lay in reinventing themselves. Starting September, their menus are Indian-inspired breakfast and brunch. This will continue till the end of the year.

Malpua

Reagan comes from a town called Shillong in the remote northeastern part of India and Urvik’s roots go back to Gujarat, western India. In a way, what they bring to the table is an amalgamation of exotic Indian cultures.

The Indian-inspired breakfast and brunch menu narrates a story of all their childhood memories. The ubiquitous Indian butter chicken, both have grown up with back in India, has been arranged with kheema croquettes, greens, beet root labneh, poached eggs and butter chicken hollandaise now serves as Butter Chicken Benedict.

Malpua, Indian pancakes and a monsoon nostalgia, is popular throughout the country and made with variations. Reagan and Urvik offer Malpua with brazen decadence. It comes with saffron orange ice-cream, kumquat syrup, pistachio milk, fresh fruit and nuts.

Butter Chicken Benedict

Worthy of mention is also Black Magic, an east India spiced chickpeas. Traditionally called Dai-Nei-Iong, it is one of the staple foods of Khasi tribe of Meghalaya in east India. At Method to the Madness, the chickpeas come with an assorted mix of roasted pumpkin purée, charcoal goat’s cheese, poached eggs and bonito flakes.

Combining skill and taste, Urvik says these are “dishes that speak our heritage in the Australian way”.

The duo are grateful for the support from the local community during this time. “All our regular customers were coming to buy coffee and other takeaways when the lockdown happened. We had takeaway dinners five days a week,” says Reagan.

Queensland is back to normal but even in the best of times, restaurants can run on small margins. “We still have a 1.5 m distance and so we still don’t have a full café. We still can’t have a full house. The café is spread over 240 sq metres, I can fit a lot of people in that space but perhaps only about 50 now. But it is still better than what it was,” says Urvik.

Black Magic dish

Method to the Madness has been running for a year and a half. It was a bold pitch for these two friends to move from Melbourne to Brisbane in pursuit of their food dream. But it was the opportunities that presented itself in the form of ample tropical produce, great weather and the ability to source as much from local farmers that outweighed everything else.

Both Reagan and Urvik have years of experience working as chefs in India and Australia. After passing out from The Monarch International College of Hotel Management in Ooty, India, in 2008, Reagan worked at the Taj Coromandel in Chennai, part of India’s largest business conglomerates, the Taj Group. In 2010, he came to Australia to study commercial cookery at the Carrick Institute of Education in Melbourne and went on to work at many reputed places.

Urvik moved to Australia in 2008 and studied hospitality management for two years at Melbourne Polytechnic, formerly NMIT. He opened his first cafe in Murrumbeena in 2016, called Iron Henry. After his wife found a job in Brisbane, he followed her to Queensland to open Method to the Madness together with Reagan.

Working side by side, Urvik and Reagan share the same vision of a self-sustainable, contemporary and classic cafe. ‘Our dream café’, they say in unison!

This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas


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