My time in Toronto was coming to a close. I had tried the many cuisines that this multicultural city had to offer, so thought tonight was as good as any for some Indian food. The night was cold and the wind was sharp, I wanted something within walking distance of my hotel. And apparently there isn’t much available after 7pm on Sunday. So I was in luck to be able to walk in and get a table right away, while a few others waited. Many were in the same position I was, out of options, and just happy that this was available. Especially after learning that this was one of the best voted Indian restaurants downtown Toronto. And given the amount of people they kept coming in well after 9pm, and all the take out orders that went through the exit, I guess it is safe to assume this to be true.
They advertised themselves and a fine dining Indian restaurant. Having sampled several Indian restaurants in Vancouver, I would consider their cuisine regular Indian food, good but certainly not the small portion and curated plates you think of when you think fine dining. I consider Vancouver’s “Vij’s”, and “East is East” more fine dining than this place, and they themselves classify their establishments as being on the casual side. It was especially the case here with their buffet line towards the back of the room. Metal troughs meant to keep cooked food warm. They weren’t in use now for dinner service, but I imagine them a quick and easy lunch option for those in the area.
Maybe the fine dining was in reference to the decor. It was a dimly lit space with white table cloths, red cloth placemats, and reusable cloth napkins. They also served water in goblets from a copper jug, and the staff were well dressed in vests and slacks. In comparison I underdressed in literally everything I packed with me. I planned for sun and Toronto heat, so when it was colder than I expected, I bundled up with layers and everything I had with me. This included a hoodie and sweatpants. But they served me and treated me with much consideration just the same. I really appreciated the conversation the server provided, going into more than just if everything was okay. He really wanted detail as to how the food was. There was care and pride of work in this young man.
I would be going vegetarian for this one. After eating so much over the last few days, I needed a vegetable cleanse, even if most of it was deep fried and covered in sauce. I ordered more than I could finish, and found much value in what I had. It was an impressive assembly that was not only tasty alone, but complimentary all together. I had things that looked mushy, turn out to be delicious with a creamy texture; and things I expected to be soft and tender, to be crunchy like raw carrots. The surprise was an adventure and I enjoyed it all.
The meal began with a complimentary serving of sweet pickled vegetable with crispy thin rice crackers. This complimentary basket was definitely inline with fine dining. It was semi raw carrot cubes in a pickling syrup, eaten with the wafer thin cracker; not for taste, but for the airy crisp texture it provided.
I started with an appetizer of “Vegetable pakora”. “Pakoras” are a variety of vegetables deep fried in a chickpea batter. It is a fritter shaped like a patty, with a crispy texture. It was spicy and savoury alone, and then more so with sweet and also spicy dipping sauce provided. The sauce was a neon red similar to the Chinese sweet chilli sauce in colour and in taste.
The “Vegetable thali” is a platter sampling various starters. A combination of four different vegetable dishes, served with salad and plain paratha, Pulao rice, raita, and the chef’s special dessert. This was a lot of food and I recommend sharing it with three others, leaving room for some much needed palette cleansing desserts.
Everything was served in sample size portions, on a sectional metal tray. With various shapes and specific sizes I assume it was designed specifically for such a course. From the dips in mental for soups and sauces, to the small dents meant for a smear of plum paste.
I wasn’t certain how to incorporate the dollop of salted plum at the centre of the platter. But I assumed its sharp flavour was helpful in refreshing the palette in between flavourful bites.
The salad was a simple shredded lettuce in a tangy vinaigrette. It felt like it didn’t belong and was more of a place holder.
“Paratha” is unleavened whole wheat flatbread. They are made by baking the dough before frying it. Parathas are more thicker and more doughier than their cousin the roti. They can be layered and stuffed, but this one was served plain like a side of bread. They made a great base for the other dishes, similar use to the rice below.
The rice was flavoured basmati. I would have liked more of it for the starch amongst the vegetable stews below.
“Raita” is an Indian side dish made with dahi together with raw or cooked vegetables. It is milky in colour with the consistency of a melted cream and the tang of yogurt. It reminded me of a watery tzazki dip; without its thickness, but with its pickling. It gave the serving a great cooling element to layer on to your bites.
The “Eggplant bharta” wasn’t much to look at, but it was at least tasty. Smokey grilled eggplant, mashed with tomatoes and onions, and seasoned with various spices. It made a great dip for the flatbread. Like a chunkier and lighter hummus, if we are keeping with the Mediterranean similes.
“Palak paneer” is fresh spinach cooked with cottage cheese. A literal puréed spinach, spinach dip. I avoided this one as it looked like regurgitated greens to me and the visual eater in me wasn’t having any of that.
“Chana masala” is chickpeas cooked in a spicy ginger tomato sauce. The peas were grainy, and therefore not my favour texture, but the taste certainly made up for it in my eyes. Plus it offered the platter some more chewing opportunities, where most of its neighbours were spreads and sauces.
The “Vegetable jalfrezi” came on its own separate plate. It was nice that I got all this from one order, but I couldn’t have done without this bowl, especially as it was just a collection of frozen vegetables (You could tell by the grating pattern on the carrots). Mixed vegetables cooked with garlic, ginger, tomato, and spices.
By the end of the meal my mouth was burning with the slow accumulation of spice. I couldn’t pin point where it came from, but the dessert that followed certainly helped to soothe some of it.
Tonight’s chef special dessert was the a milk-solids-based sweet “Gulab jamun”. It is basically a spongy cake ball that soaks up all the sugar syrup that it sits in. It was nice to have something sweet to end on, but after the initial bite, I found it too sweet. And sadly it wasn’t any better after my attempt at squeezing each ball, to rid it of any excess syrup. I am also not a fan of the soggy texture. Given the spice above, I would have preferred a creamed milk or better yet some chai flavoured ice cream, but I guess neither would be very authentic.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – No.
Indian food is hard for me to describe, I don’t have many point of references, I just know what tastes good in my mouth. Here everything smelled great and was so different from everything else. Not the most aesthetic dishes I have had in Toronto, but definitely some of the most tastiest. The only down side is, having such pungent food means you wear it with you, as your clothes absorb the scents and spices, and follows you back to your hotel. Don’t deny your cravings.