In an unlikely spot along Henley Beach Road is one of Adelaide’s most unique and rewarding dining experiences.
Situated about 200m from Thebarton Theatre, Parwana Afghan Restaurant has been open for about five years – and it has never been busier or more popular.
It is a heart-warming success story of a family who came to Australia from Afghanistan 27 years ago to start a new life.
Their journey has led to an authentic family-run restaurant of passion and tradition that not only serves very good food, but has a beautiful and comforting charm.
Based in what seems to be an old showroom, it has colourful mismatched mosaic floor tiles which contrast starkly with soft-hued walls featuring a rustic, washed-paint effect.
A single shelf runs high along the wall, displaying various trinkets, while black and white family portraits from different eras are framed and hung haphazardly.
Wooden tables are set simply and – at a stretch – about 60 people could fit in the restaurant at any one time.
Service is quick but relaxed. The father of the house keeps a close eye on the room.
There is no wine list, as all booze is bring-your-own. BYO beers are a single dollar while wine corkage is $10 per bottle.
A selection of traditional-style drinks, essentially sour and sweet cordials, are served in old milk bottles, although most diners arrive clutching bottles of white wine – no doubt purchased at the bottle-o down the road.
Parwana has a series of menus it cycles through, each day featuring a small selection of starters and mains.
It is always a good sign when a restaurant has the confidence to serve a few dishes really well, rather than a lot (usually poorly).
On this particular night, Parwana’s menu features two starters and eight mains from which we order the vegetable fritters (pekowrah) and the dumplings (mantu) with meat sauce to begin.
The fritters arrive first, chunky vegetables mashed together and fried in a brown batter. They are not oily and the batter is light and crispy (similar to the Indian-style pakora), and they pack a decent punch of chilli. A citrus and mint chutney adds acid and sweetness to counter the spicy mouthfuls.
It is simple, yet the flavours are bold.
The dumplings are among the most peculiar yet amazing I have eaten. A large bowl of steaming white parcels, packed with onion and carrot, is smothered in a rich meat sauce with a generous dollop of mint and garlic yoghurt. They are a meal on their own. The thin wonton-like casing is chewy, the onion and carrot is wonderfully acidic and bitter, the meat sauce adds tomato-based sweetness and the tartness of the yoghurt makes every mouthful an adventure.
For mains we order far too much food: the eggplant (banjaan borani), chicken and potato curry (morgh qormah) and the specialty Afghan-style rice (narenj palaw).
The eggplant dish is like an Afghan version of moussaka – long slivers of slippery eggplant soaked in tomato gravy with minted yoghurt topping off a delicious, vegetarian combination.
The curry is a highlight: the sections of tender chicken and waxy potatoes in a rich tomato and cream sauce is as good as any.
The rice sounds a little bizarre on the menu – aged long-grain rice topped with candied orange peelings, slivered almonds and pistachios. However, the flavours are subtle and they are a very suitable accompaniment to the curry and eggplant.
This is the theme of Parwana cuisine – the food appears to be simple, however the dishes are bold, complex and offer the full range of textures.
The traditional cooking methods brings out intense flavours from the humblest of ingredients – the dumpling of onion and carrot being the most extraordinary example.
Parwana serves food that has been refined over many years. Flavours are matched extremely well and the combination of hot gravies and cold yoghurt featured in some dishes is a great contrast.
It is also very well-priced. I walked out with change from $100 after ordering more than my guest and I were capable of eating.
Parwana is unique and it is charming and it is going so well that there are imminent plans to open a take-away style Parwana deli in Ebenezer Place in the city.
Would you find a more unpretentious and delightfully homely restaurant in Adelaide? I don’t think so.
Parwana is a must. Just be sure to book.
Four and a half out of five.
124B Henley Beach Rd, Torrensville
Tel: 8443 9001
Open Tuesday – Sunday for dinner
Open for lunch on weekends
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