AS I pushed open the entry door, my eyes widened. The ambiance at first was like a night club. People were practically shoulder to shoulder. There were neon lights, exotic smells shifting about, and I even spoke in a slightly raised voice to be heard over the collective chattering. A fun environment for sure.
Lions and Tigers had always had my tickled my curiosity. Tucked just off Freo’s cappuccino strip, the restaurant has occupied the Bannister Street venue for several years now. Whenever ever I’d stroll past, there’d be people perched out front with a cocktail in hand, and it looked like a good time.
Now I had clicked my red shoes and was having the Lions and Tigers experience for myself. Yes, the name of the place is a random nod to The Wizard of Oz scene (I confirmed with staff). And while I love a bit of novelty, I wish the name meant something more. Maybe it does.
Today is a Friday, and it is now about 8.30pm. Mum and I had a drink up the road at reliably upbeat Ronnie Nights, and after 25 minutes we were called by Lions, who said we were top of the waitlist now. As it seems, it may be the sort of place you want to make a booking for.
With fewer people, I can see more of the restaurant’s warm, modernly furnished interior, its the dark-timber features giving a dash of vamp.
A friendly staff member promptly ushers us to a table and gives us a rundown of the menu.
The menu is comprised of gorgeous and creative sounding Indian-fusion dishes. And thanks to the staff members confident recommendations, we don’t hesitate on our choices.
To start we got the Gunpowder onion bhajis ($12), and the oddly named ‘Steve’ #1 Sourdough naan with whipped ghee ($11).
I also got a ‘Life of Riley’ cocktail which was around the $20 mark.
We thought the menu organisation could be clearer, as we missed a complete section of cocktails, but a shoutout to the well-curated wine list, with picks ranging from local to Italy and Germany.
The bhajis come out and the dish is decorated beautifully with large mint leaves. Tastewise, we agree they’re the best bhajis we’ve had.
The leek and sweet onion give the perfect crunch, and are infused by perfectly balanced and aromatic spices that linger. Its topping of soft chilli aioli is a nice Western entry too.
Then comes the naan. Its spectacularly pillow-ish but is slightly doughy. The salty, sweet ghee pairs pretty marvellously too. Overall, it’s a great side.
The naan also combos fantastically with the saucy Masala rubbed octopus ($26). This dish was impressive. The texture alone made this incredibly enjoyable to eat (the octopus was some of the softest we both have ever ate).
We adored the crunchy chilli peanuts and thought the perfect level of spice was achieved – not smothering, just elevating.
Then we end our night the best way possible. It is a visual treat, presented with swirls of coconut amongst a small heap of crispy King snapper pieces, pickled onions, chillies, mint and coriander and next to a bowl of vibrant yellow, saffron rice. The Goan fish curry ($32) is wonderful. The spice was a level up, and the heat was consistent, but I could still taste all the complimenting, separate flavours.
This is where my light citrus cocktail became a perfectly cooling accompaniment.
The curry is a caramelised blend of onions, vinegar, spices, tomatoes, and chillies. It tastes like the chef added a few squirts of lime juice on top, and it’s the best flavour marriage ever. I am also impressed with the fish, which although fried, managed to preserve its delectable taste in full.
This dish is the epitome of perfectly balancing heat and flavour – something Lions and Tigers have mastered.
Overall, this place has some magic going on. Especially when it comes to spices. We thoroughly enjoyed everything but ended on an exceptionally great high. And for a fair price and with a fun atmosphere, this place is a no brainer.
Next time I am coming back to try the papadums, cauliflower salad and basque cheesecake with rose caramel.
And while I’m not in on the inside-joke style homages, maybe they are intended to intrigue. Like a mouth to a flame or a tiger to its prey; I am devoured.
by DANIELA GARBIN
Lions and Tigers
8 Bannister St, Fremantle