old is new again
By SUVARNA SHASTRI
My friend Kanta called to ask if we could try a new restaurant for lunch. “It’s called Sher-E-Punjab and is supposed to be really good,” she said, excitedly.
I would love to go, I said, but it’s not new. In fact, it’s one of the oldest Indian restaurants in town!
For some strange reason, we’ve just never been there before .
One reason could be that it is located on Danforth Avenue – not in the heart of the Indian areas, so to speak.
But that’s no excuse when the restaurant has been open since 1975 and is known to many as the place to go to for family-style Indian food.
“You’ve known about this place and yet this is first time we are coming here?” asked Kanta incredulously, looking around at the eclectic decor as we walked in.
A wall of mirrors, big and small, in all shapes and colours, with beautiful, decorated frames. Posters of the Air India maharaja. A collage of old B&W photographs on a wall and a gorgeous tapestry framed on another.
Not anything like the Sher-E- Punjabs I’ve frequented in other parts of the world.
There used to be one in Mumbai that we got parathas from for weekend breakfasts. Alu or gobhi parathas, each a meal in itself, requiring just a bowl of their thick dahi and a serving of their yum pickle. But it was not really a place you could actually sit and enjoy a relaxed meal in.
The one in Dubai was a tad higher up the ladder – quite literally so. It had a street level take-out window, and one had to climb a steep staircase to reach the dining area. But the food was the same hearty fare and the restaurant was a local landmark, with photographs of all the film stars that had visited displayed proudly on the walls.
This one was decidedly different.
“You know what they say, location, location, location,” I attempted, in an admittedly lame defence.
Fortunately, the wait staff came to my rescue and Kanta gave me one of her “You’ve-not-heard-the-last-of-this” looks and turned to the papads and chutney that were placed before us with the menu.
Sweet mango chutney is not something I would normally pair with roasted papad, but it is a combination that works surprisingly well.
We ordered mulligatawny soup ($5), mango salad ($7) and a pakora platter ($6) as starters.
The soup was more of a thick broth, almost dal-like, and very filling. Along with the mango, peppers, cilantro and nuts that one associates with mango salad, ours came with cabbage, too. And the onion and spinach pakoras were served with a delicious tamarind chutney.
Our lunch consisted of chicken tikka masala ($13), aloo gobhi ($10) and chana masala ($9), with naan ($2 each). The chicken tikka masala, that is now famous in Britain as ctm and considered its official dish, hit all the right notes with its tandoori chicken in a thick and rich curry. The aloo gobhi was a lot more garlicky than at other places.
The Sher-E-Gulab Jamun ($5) is described as home-made coconut and cinnamon doughnut and as we had already enjoyed several variations on the traditional, we decided to share kheer, or “Mr. Singh’s famous traditional Indian rice pudding with cardamom and almonds”. It turned out to be a good choice.
The servings are generous and with all the food we’d ordered, we got to come home with big doggy bags.
The wait staff is super friendly and even packed the chutneys in small containers because we’d so obviously loved them. I just wish they knew the origins of or the stories behind the photographs on the walls. When I asked the girl who was bringing our food to the table if those were family photos of the owners, she looked lost and admitted she had no clue.
And there went an opportunity to engage with customers.
Sher-E-Punjab is located at 351 Danforth Avenue in Toronto, and their phone number is 416-465-2125.