Raja’s Ahana Dutt on What’s Ahead For Sydney’s Indian Dining Scene

Raja Sydney restaurant

In 2021, a census found that nearly 188,000 residents of Greater Sydney were born in India. Despite that, the presence of Indian cuisine in Sydney’s dining scene, particularly in the CBD and its immediate surrounds, has a lot left to be desired — though that’s slowly changing.

Sydney-based Indian chef Ahana Dutt says there are two main reasons for the city’s lack of Indian eateries. Firstly, Indian people love to cook — it’s a big part of their culture. This means little demand for Indian restaurants and takeaway shops from Indians themselves.

“But [the lack of Indian restaurants in the city] is also because of how Sydney is,” Dutt says. “People stay in certain suburbs and it’s hard if you have an Indian restaurant in the city. I have family friends who live in [Sydney suburb] Winston Hills. So, for them to travel to the city is a big deal.”

best restaurants sydney ahana dutt
Image: Supplied

Some popular Indian restaurants near Sydney’s CBD include Don’t Tell Aunty, The Spice Room and Lankan Filling Station. You’ll need to travel a bit further for the rest, including Wigram Street in Harris Park, Chatkazz, also in Harris Park, and Temasek in Parramatta.

Dutt says she can compare Sydney to Mumbai in that it’s a melting pot of different cultures. In Sydney’s suburbs, you can see different ethnicities and the restaurants that represent them, but in the CBD, it’s a mix of everything, she says.

Most recently, Dutt worked at Potts Point Indian restaurant Raja, open for only nine months before closing this May. Before that, Dutt worked for Keystone Group venues and at Surry Hills restaurant Firedoor.

“[Raja] wasn’t open for a super long time, but we did get to see a massive difference in how people saw us. In the beginning, people came in with their idea of what Indian food should be.”

People assumed Raja being an Indian restaurant, there would be a curry on the menu. Dutt says diners were confronted by the fact there wasn’t. She says it’s an experience every South Asian chef has when they open a restaurant.

Raja Sydney restaurant
Image: Raja

“Slowly, we saw this massive turn and everyone who was coming in was loving the food,” she says. “And that’s a credit to the front of house team because they explained it so well and everyone was like, ‘Oh my god, the food is amazing’.”

Diners not only came back to Raja but brought their families and friends too. And that, Dutt says, is the note the restaurant ended on. People came by the restaurant when its closure was announced, saying they were going to miss it.

“Even though Raja’s closed, I think there is such a space for Indian food, whether it be in this version or a different interpretation,” says Dutt. “It’s not just heavy spiced curries. There’s such a delicacy in certain [Indian] dishes, and I think people would really appreciate that. And I take it as my responsibility to showcase that.”

Dutt says she believes that if the food — be it Indian or another ethnic cuisine — is really good, and people are open to trying it, there’s a market for it. As for when Dutt will resume her goal of showcasing that, it won’t be any time soon. She wants to take some time off.

“I have not taken a holiday in a while, and I will use this time to just decompress, read a book,” she says.

Related: Tastemakers: Raja’s Ahana Dutt on Where to Find Sydney’s Best Food

Related: Matt Moran’s Two Favourite Restaurants in Canberra (Apart From His Own)

Read more stories from The Latch and subscribe to our email newsletter.