A delicious discovery in picturesque Stratford
By SUVARNA SHASTRI
Raja must be Stratford’s best-kept secret, I thought, as we came upon it by sheer chance.
We were in the picturesque Ontario town to catch a play and were looking for a place for a quick bite before the performance. The usual fast food chains were there aplenty and we were debating the merits of one against the other when my daughter said, “Or, we could enjoy an Indian meal”.
“Here?” I asked. “Where?”
She pointed dramatically across the street. And there it was, Raja Fine Indian Cuisine.
There’s a street presence with the name spelt out in beautiful brass letters and fancy window coverings. But one has to access it from steps to the side. The space inside is small, but they make the most of an awkward layout with an intricately-carved wooden screen and those window coverings I’d spotted from the outside. The banquettes are covered with brocade fabric and mirror-work cushions. The best part? It’s all very subtle and not that over-the-top gaudy that a place called Raja might well have gone for.
The choice of appetizers is small. Samosas, pakoras and onion bhajiis, and then a combination thereof in their mixed platter. As we were strapped for time, we decided to order dinner right away. Sag paneer ($15), dal tarka ($13) and chicken pasanda ($18). Our server, a friendly young lady, wanted to know where we were from. On being told Toronto, she looked a tad disappointed. “No, like, where from in India? I am from Punjab.”
Many restaurants have dispensed with papads altogether and those that do serve them do so with one chutney, mint or tamarind. She brought a basket of papads and a thali with little katoris of a variety of chutneys. Mint, tamarind, sweet mango, one with pickle spices, and more. Each with their own distinct taste. When she brought our dinner to the table, I asked if she could please leave the chutneys on the table and she smiled widely, “Of course!”
Our tandoori rotis and naans ($3 each) were hot and crisp. The sag paneer was delicately spiced and not the green goop that one sometimes sees at other places. In this, you could actually see the spinach leaves. The chicken pasanda was an absolute treat. Aromatic and mild, it allowed all the flavours to come through with a light touch.
We ladies decided to use the washroom before heading out and were pleasantly surprised to see gilt and gold-brocade chairs and paintings on the walls just outside.
“They take the royal in the Raja seriously!” whispered my daughter. Inside, however, I saw a toilet brush placed prominently next to the toilet. My daughter said there was one in her stall as well. “They don’t expect us to use it, do they?” she asked as we beat a hasty retreat.
When we complimented the server on the food, the gentleman enjoying a solitary dinner at the next table joined in. “They make the best mulligatawny soup I’ve ever tasted anywhere.” Enjoying the chocolate-mints they serve with the bill, we concurred that a good time had been had by all.
• Raja is located at 10 George Street in Stratford and their telephone number is 519-271-3271. They have another location in Kitchener as well.