What can I say about Suraj ? Ever since being introduced to it by my good friends Ben and Jen, it’s been a regular place for dinners of both the rowdy and refined version, a point of reference to every other Indian restaurant I’ve been to, and a wonderful example of food that is honest and simple and good.
Suraj is run by Roger, and his wife Susan (get it… Su-Raj). It’s also convenient that Suraj means “Sun”. He’s been in business for close to 15 years in the same spot, and I’m willing to bet that the menu hasn’t changed a hell of a lot in all that time either.
Suraj is not so much a restaurant but an institution of traditional Indian cooking, often dwarfed by it’s elaborate and decadent neighbours in the ever trendy Highgate strip. But while places like Jacksons, Veritas, Must, and Soto try to ooze style and charm, and fancy looking Indian chain restaurants start up across the road promising glitz and glamour… Suraj is unchanging in it’s quaint approach to no frills dining.
So after yet another great night of dining there with a group of friends and curry lovers. I thought it best to put something online about this place, as it is sorely under represented in the high stakes (steaks?) world that is the Perth restaurant scene (which may or may not be an oxymoron) .
Of course I can see why it would be easy to overlook Suraj. The decor is drab (and that’s being polite), the florescent lights normally flickering overhead are more reminiscent of a hospital waiting room than a restaurant… and when there is more than 2 people in the place it’s almost impossible to hear anything over the resounding din caused by a complete lack of sound insulation.
But really… does any of that matter ? (Feel free to skip that question if your favourite restaurant is the Witches Cauldron, because you clearly enjoy spending stupid amounts of money on bad food, for the sake of supposed reputation).
Roger makes regular pilgrimages back to India to refill his spice coffers with the right quality of stock to use in his exacting recipes. Garam Masala is all ground by hand and even though I reckon I’m a dab hand at making the odd curry at home, Roger said it’d take me at least 3 years working full time to be able to reproduce any of his… which I will reluctantly concede may be true.
The menu is simple and consists of a number of curry dishes that for once actually taste different to each other. I can do no more than to point you to the blackboard above which is in essence all he does, aside from the occasional goat curry that manages to slip its way onto the menu depending on what his Halal butcher has in stock.
Highlights for me personally are the chickpea curry, the masala dhal, the beef vindaloo, and the magnificently airy pooris (or puri, i’m not really sure which, but i’ll go with what’s on the menu). The great thing though, is I can turn up to the place whenever I want, regardless of how late it is, and know that if people have already ordered I will love everything that comes out.
Suraj is not the kind of place to go if you’re in a hurry. Something I had to get used to the first time I went. But given the nature of the food, and the atmosphere of the place, I’m not sure you can rush things without losing some of the magic. Certainly the look on Rogers face when a large group of people all come in at once is a little troubling… but when the food arrives all is well and right in the world.
On a sad note however. It seems that this little slice of Highgate history may not be too long for this world. The owners of the building are planning to take the shop back over within the next few months, and according to Roger, turn it into one big restaurant / bar combined with the shop next door. I asked if he’d be moving elsewhere and it doesn’t sound like he has the energy to start from scratch all over again. So the days of simple Indian pleasure Suraj style may be numbered.
If you haven’t been yet, then do yourself a favour. Get a couple of good bottles of wine, a few close friends, and swing by Suraj for a taste of food the way it should be made… from the heart.
Suraj Indian Cuisine
513 Beaufort St
Highgate, WA 6003
(08) 9328 2858