Red Pepper sits somewhere between a typical cheap student Indian eatery and a mid level restaurant. That's often an uncomfortable place to be, as you can end up with a restaurant combining the worst of both worlds or one where the atmosphere just doesn't feel right. Fortunately Red Pepper does a good job of straddling this line, with good but not outstanding Indian food in comfortable surroundings and at reasonable prices.
Quite nondescript from the outside, long and narrow on the inside, Red Pepper takes a comparatively minimalist approach to decoration which works well. With dark wooden tables and chairs with natural light, it feels more like a restaurant than a café.
One of the best ways to try a variety of curries is to order the thali. This version came with chicken tikka marsala, butter chicken, goat curry, daal, salad, rice, naan and raita. The naan was good, crisp and slightly chewy. The chicken tikka marsala and butter chicken were smooth and creamy, and with a bit more heat than these curries usually pack. But clearly the best was the goat curry. Served on the bone, well at least it would have been if it wasn't so tender as to be in danger of falling off, I love the taste of goat and think it's one of the most underrated meats around.
The fish marsala wasn't available so the other curry sampled was the lamb vindaloo. After the chicken curries I thought this could be hot enough to require the fire brigade. However, it was only slightly hotter than the other curries. With slight smoky undertones, again a nice curry if not as good as the goat.
I'd often seen Kashmiri naan on the menu before but I've never tried it. Sweet and sticky on the outside, stuffed with a fruit and nut paste on the inside, interesting and something I'd happily order again.
Biggest disappointment was the tandoori chicken. It looked a little dry when delivered to the table which was quickly confirmed. I'm not sure why, but whenever I order tandoori chicken in Melbourne it always ends up a little overcooked and dry. Turnover too slow, that's the way most Australians like it? Whatever the reason, a bit of a letdown compared to the curries.
Finally, for dessert the gulub jamon. This was again good, served hot in a sweet syrup. Not terribly complex in flavour but still a reasonable way to finish the meal.
Better food than a student hangout, cheaper than a mid-level restaurant, Red Pepper is probably best suited to office workers seeking a quick lunch or dinner with colleagues. Respectable food at slightly below par prices, you could do a lot worse if looking for a quick meal at the Spring Street end of Bourke.
Food - 7.5
Ambience - 7.5
Service - 7
Price - 7
14 Bourke Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
Tel: (03) 9654 5713