I had been looking forward to visiting Indian Street Food Company. I love Hemant Bhagwani’s idea of bringing to life in chilly Toronto the hot flavours of his Indian childhood. The website speaks nostalgically of the old Indian coffee shops which have been deserted for air-conditioned comfort. It’s a poignant image.
My guest and I are greeted by a waitress with a small glass of “today’s welcome drink,” a refreshing blend of watermelon and ginger juices. And so begins the evening’s delights.
Decisions are difficult. I want to try everything on the menu. But we decide a must is chaat, a classic Indian street snack. After all, that’s what this place is all about. This is a blend of potatoes, chick peas, crunchy lemon noodles, tamarind chutney, mango-mint chutney, sweetened organic yoghurt, chaat masala gel, curry leaf and mustard seed water ($9.90)
Before you get too impressed at my discernment in sorting out all the components of this dish, I took most of that off the website. For us it was simply a glorious mix of flavours and textures.
Next came a huge mound of baigan fries, along with two little bowls, one of herbed yoghurt and one of coriander sauce ($8.80). There’s a deliciously spicy batter on the eggplant. (How do you get batter to adhere to the smooth skin of eggplant?) It’s so savoury, it makes the dips almost superfluous — but they add another dimension, so I find myself dipping anyway.
I want to try aloo tikki. A twist on the classic potato cake, this version is almond crusted and stuffed with minced chicken. It comes on a bed of chickpeas, topped with tamarind chutney, and small dollops of sweetened yoghurt ice cream — yes, real ice cream. There’s a definite kick to this dish, but it’s not zesty enough to bring on the waterworks. And the ice cream adds a cold, sweet contrast to the spice.
After his first bite, my guest, not normally known for hyperbole, says, “I’m in heaven.”
I have to concur.
He insists on a curry so we choose gosht dabalroti ($10.90). A favourite dish of Bagwani’s childhood, this rich goat curry comes on toasted chunks of soft crusted bread, topped with fresh coriander and crunchy lemon noodles. I’m glad I tried some when it arrived, as my guest pretty much mopped up every last savoury morsel.
Those who read my column know I’m not much given to hyperbole either, but this spot hit the mark with every dish. But we had a small hiccup with dessert.
We ask for what is patently a signature dish, Gulab nut ($8.75). Gulab jamun — traditionally a syrupy fried ball — is fried in a doughnut shape. It comes on a bed of cardamom scented custard, topped with ice cream. Sadly, the ice cream is plain vanilla, though the menu advertises rose water flavour. My favourite part is the custard — mmmm, cardamom.
Even the bill has a new twist — our waiter arrives with a typewriter. Really! The bill sits atop it. I’m not sure why this is significant but it’s cute and softens the blow. Actually, the total bill for a very filling meal is under $60 — and that includes HST and an “administration fee” which precludes a tip. There’s a no-tipping policy and if you want to understand why, you’ll have to go online and read Bhagwani’s controversial stance.
The wall opposite me has a drawing of Gandhi with his famous quote: God has no religion. Only God has a line through it and the word food has been added. In fact, the interior has enough interesting notices (including the rules of the restaurant) and photos to make it worth a visit. With so many great Indian restaurants in Toronto, this one definitely gets a thumbs up.
Indian Street Food Company, 1701 Bayview Avenue, 416-322-3270, www.indianstreetfoodco.com.