Friday, March 25, 2016

Indian Street Food: Hemant Bhagwani's New Amaya

Chef and restaurateur Hemant Bhagwani has played a pivotal role in shaping Toronto's perspective on Indian food since launching Amaya in 2007. This past autumn, the charismatic owner of the Amaya group of restaurants turned his beloved fine-dining flagship Amaya Indian Room into Indian Street Food Co., Bhagwani's tribute to India’s vibrant street food culture. An afternoon of eating street snacks from newspaper cones at the Dehi railway station convinced him that his next project had to connect with street food. “It took me back to my childhood. Eating aloo tikki, chicken nantha roti on newspapers on the street. I wanted to bring that experience into a restaurant. After Amaya, I wanted to take Indian food to the next level. It’s about street food for me now." Wanting to keep the original Bayview location, Bhagwani transformed Amaya’s elegant and sophisticated dining room into a much more animated space with colourful silk tablecloths, framed photographs depicting Indian life from Bollywood to food vendors and famous sites across India, plus two handsome street-vendor carts made specially made for the restaurant in Delhi. 

Bhagwani oversees the menu, recipes and presentation at Indian Street Food but has a number of chefs that help in key areas: Kamleshwar Prasad is executive chef and in charge of currys; Sudhan Natarajan takes care of the street food dishes; Devender Singh heads the tandoor; Prem Singh on the range and Sheikh Anwarruddin in charge of desserts. The menu has two tasting menu options with shareable appetizers and moves on to an impressive thali, plus of course the extensive à la carte menu of delectable dishes from Lasooni Cauliflower, Baigan Eggplant Frites and Spicy Lamb Chops to sumptuous Butter Chicken and Coastal Prawn Curries to silky Saag Paneer and ultra-creamy Black Lentil Daal Makhani. At the end of the meal, the bill is presented on a charming antique typewriter — one of three that Hemant brought back from India, but make note, Bhagwani has a 'no tip policy' at the restaurant — the first restaurateur in Toronto to institute this policy. "ISFC pays its employees a fair wage and they all share in the profits, so no tipping, please," he insists. With a fabulous new menu, warm and friendly well-paid staff and excellent food, Bhagwani's Indian Street Food is absolutely superb from start to finish.

The new interior of Indian Street Food on Bayview

The creative cocktail menu

Hemant Bhagwani doubled as bartender and host the evening we were at his newest restaurant, Indian Street Food Co.

The cocktail menu features a mix of cocktails named after the legendary kings of India, 
such as the 'Nizam' made with gin, orange syrup, lemon juice, fresh turmeric and Indian tonic water and garnished with sliced lime

Lassi with turmeric, pistachios and cumin seed 

The Indian Street Food Company cocktail and dinner menu

Baigan frites, made with Japanese eggplant, served with chutney and a mustard yoghurt dip
was served compliments of the chef 

'Lasooni Cauliflower' - hot and sweet fried cauliflower garnished with sesame seeds

'Chor Bazaar Ka Tikka' - Chicken tikka inspired by a street vendor that Bhagwani met while visiting Delhi’s Chor Bazaar

Spicy Lamb Chops cooked with warm spices, charred to medium colour and in a Lucknawi marinade, fenugreek and mint sauce

An impressive Thali is the main entrée of the tasting menu after a series of appetizers

Flaky Paratha, Premium Basmati Rice and Papadams are served in the centre of the Thali testing menu 

Kachumber Salad with chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and crunchy puffed rice 


'Saag Paneer' - Curried spinach with amaya fresh paneer fritter, watermelon radish and pickled carrot

'House Black Daal Makhani '- creamy black lentils simmered 24 hours on a tandoor

'Butter Chicken' - Not your usual butter chicken - this is a classic recipe from a street vendor from the walled city in Delhi, and garnished with toasted melon seeds

Kerala Fish Curry doused in buttery smooth tamatar masala curry sauce

Halwa for dessert

Chai Tea

The bill arrives in an old typewriter that Hemant Bhagwan picked up in India while looking for interesting finishings for his new restaurant

Keralan Chili Beef
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy chef de cuisine Sudan Natarajan, Indian Street Food

1 tsp Kashmiri chili powder or mild paprika
1 tsp table salt
2 tbsp garlic paste
1 tbsp ginger paste
5 curry leaves, roughly torn
3 tbsp coconut vinegar or malt vinegar
1 lb flank steak, thinly sliced into bite-sized strips
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1-1/2 tbsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
5 green cardamom pods
For the cooking process
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 bird’s eye chilies, slit lengthways
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced into rings
2 tsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp unsweetened desiccated coconut
1/4 cup fresh finely chopped cilantro, for garnish
15 fresh curry leaves, for garnish
4 naan flatbread

In a large bowl, whisk together the chili powder, salt, garlic and ginger pastes, torn curry leaves and vinegar. Add the beef strips and stir, coating every strip and set aside. Using a small grinder, pulverize the peppercorns, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom until it makes a fine powder. Add it to the beef and toss until evenly coated. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let marinate for at least two hours or overnight.

When ready to cook, in a large wok or non-stick pan over medium heat, sauté the marinated beef without oil for 30 to 35 minutes, allowing juices to cook out and beef to slightly dry out and caramelize. Remove from heat and set aside in a separate bowl. Wipe clean the same wok or pan with a moist towel and heat oil over medium heat. Add sliced chilies and onion, stirring occasionally until onions soften and begin to brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add beef and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently until beef is hot. Add tamarind paste and coconut, stirring to ensure paste melts and there are no clumps, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with cilantro and fresh curry leaves. Serve immediately with toasted naan.

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