Review: Pukka, Definitely Not Your Mother’s Indian

On the Toronto food scene I’ve been hearing a lot of rumblings about Pukka restaurant located on St Clair West – Hillcrest Neighbourhood. On a cold winters evening in January we decided to see what all the fuss was about. After a thirty-minute journey in -15 degree weather my sister and I made it across town and arrived at our destination.

Restaurant partners Derek Valeau and Harsh Chawla showed us to our table and we commiserated about the arctic freeze, especially since I had just returned from Argentina with 35 degrees celsuis weather. Both Chawla and Valeau, previously affiliated with the Amaya chain of restaurants, opened Pukka four months ago.

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When I first walk into a restaurant I like to get a sense of a place – the visual and vibe. My first impressions of the décor – is that it is modern with simple exposed brick walls and a cement bar. Wooden tables and chairs adorn the place. Indian influenced art has been commissioned for the walls with a modern focus. If you try to compare this restaurant to others on the Toronto landscape then don’t! It’s truly a unique place.

restaurant view

Besides surveying the décor and ambiance of the place, we were ready to sample dishes from the very inviting menu.

Valeau, a certified sommelier by training with strong ties to the Toronto restaurant community, visited the London Indian food scene to discover how local chefs were evolving Indian Cuisine. Valeau believes that Indian cuisine still hasn’t reached its peak.

As I’m partial to a good glass of wine – I asked Valeau what he would recommend to accompany the dishes, he picked a lovely Riesling. The wine list is twenty-five label strong from around the world, with plans to add more later. Valeau collaborated with Scaramouche Sommelier Peter Boyd to develop a wine list that pairs well with the menu.

Both Chawla and Valeau describe the fare as a fresh modern take on Indian cuisine and both are inspired by the cuisine of Vij’s in Vancouver.

Dishes are inspired from across the Indian subcontinent. Chawla, a restaurant consultant originally from the Chandigarh, Punjab is well versed with modern Indian cuisine. Both Chawla and Valeau work closely with their team of chefs (Cornel D’Silva, Kirti Singh and Dinesh Butola) to create inspiring dishes that blend the freshest ingredients with Indian spices.

On The Menu

Baby Kale Salad ($8.50) with dates, lotus chips and a spiced cashew dressing. Very refreshing and the lotus chips added a bit of crisp to the bite.

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Vegetable String Chaat ($8.40) puffed rice, sprouts, chickpeas, granny smith, pomegranate, chutneys & sweet yoghurt dressing. If you have ever been to an Indian wedding this is one of main appetizers served to the guests. Its usually full of potatoes, chickpeas and crispy toppings making it a very heavy dish. Pukka’s version is much lighter and full of flavour but leaves you room to enjoy other dishes aswell.

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Eggplant Tartare ($7.90) Tandoori smoked eggplant served with khata roti (made with semolina)

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Gunpowder prawns ($16.90) tempered moong bean salad. A South Indian dish with a spicy kick to it. Definitely one of my favourites.

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Spinach and Mushroom Stuffed Paneer ($17.30) on a bed of pistachio korma sauce. Very creative way of serving Paneer, a delicious dish but a tad on the rich on the rich side.

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Pan-Seared Sea Bass ($22.40) with roasted spices, curry leaves and coconut. The fish was extremely fresh and worked well with the curry.

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Punjabi Chicken ($17.40) Home style chicken curry. Having grown up on dishes like this one all I can say is that Pukka does an excellent job in this version. It has all the flavours without being overpowered by the spices. Another point worth noting is that no preservatives or food colouring is used each dish.

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Harsh Chawla and Derek Valeau have definitely raised the bar on upscale Indian cuisine. Vegetarians and Vegan’s will rejoice at the abundance of choices on the menu. Pukka is most definitely not your mother’s Indian.

My visit to Pukka was hosted by the restaurant.  Opinions expressed are my own.

Restaurant Details:   778 St Clair W.,  Tel: 416-342-1906, Web: www.pukka.ca   Twitter: @pukkatoronto 

Pukka on Urbanspoon

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