At The Host in Richmond Hill for lunch some months ago, I was surprised to see a billboard announcing a new vegetarian eatery, Bhai’s Indian Canteen.

Why would they do that, I wondered out aloud.

“Bhai’s is part of The Host group,” a friendly staff member informed us. “We all call chef Sanjeev bhai!”

Bhai’s is located just across the street from The Host and the smaller venue promises a “canteen” feel.

While the pared-down menu, hammered metal plates and glasses and a rickety (though I doubt if that was intentional) table do stay with the theme, there are touches that are not seen in any canteen that I have ever been to.

The colourful jars at the entrance for one. The table with an eclectic collection of teapots and containers. And the wash basin set in a tyre in the ladies washroom. It’s a spotlessly clean tyre in a spotlessly clean washroom, and there is also a little step-stool thoughtfully provided for little ones, but still... it’s just a little odd.

“They must have been going for the dhaba feel,” says my husband, when I come out and describe it. “You know, dhaba, truckers, tyres...”

Which might well be the case, but then what’s with the black-and-white tiles with images of men on the walls? I’m guessing the better-informed (and younger) women will probably identify the faces, but I was at a loss to explain their presence.

However, as we were there for dinner and not to critique the decor, we checked out the menu.

I saw pani puri shots ($6.95) and visualized the pani being served in shot glasses. It turns out to be way more fun than that.

The pani arrives in a coconut shell with a syringe with which to fill the puris. Get it? Pani puri shots?

The choley of the choley bhaturey ($9.95) are delicious, and the bhaturey not too oily and a good size, not the gigantic ones that one struggles to finish at other places.

My masala dosa ($11.95) arrives as a cone sans the masala. I point out that I’d asked for a masala dosa.

“Please pick up your dosa,” the server says with a smile like a kid waiting for you to applaud his neat trick.

I oblige, revealing a generous amount of the masala below. The chutney, served on a strip of banana leaf, is authentic.

On a subsequent visit, my friend Kanta and I try the Purani Dilliwala Matari Kulcha ($9.95). Served on a wooden board the “kulcha” is more like a puffy pita bread, but the matar is yum. It is also a lot of matar and we end up asking for phulka rotis ($1.65 each) to finish the matar with. Our dahi puri ($6.95) arrives in a hammered metal bowl and is a tangy, spicy, treat.

Saunf in little pressure cookers, the kind kids might have as part of a play set, accompanies the bill.

“It’s like they had to find a place for the all stuff they have collected from all over the place,” observes Kanta. “But it’s fun stuff, I like it!”

And as that’s what counts, we decide we will be back soon for another round.

Bhai’s is located at unit 8, 115 York Blvd. in Richmond Hill, and their telephone number is 905-731-7272. 

Desi News