Last year I went to Amaya the Indian Room and was stunned by the sheer excellence of the food. So when I heard that Hemant Bhagwani and Derek Valleau opened another location with a twist, Amaya's Bread Bar, I was excited but tentative- could they recapture the same excitement and ingenuity in a location north of Lawrence on Yonge?
I am happy to say yes they did.
The food remains Indian with a modern twist, but at the Bread Bar it's about sharing plates. There is a welcoming communal tabl
e in the back that sits amongst a setting swirled with colour. Here the bright atmosphere serves to accentuate the dining room's overall casualness and the fun food that's served.
While Hemant and Executive Chef Kirti Singh have not reinvented the wheel with their menu, they have, however, put in unexpected delights into their already delicious fare so it feels like nothing you've had before. The Cornish Hen Korma, a few duck dishes, Prawn & Crab Curry and the 'Naan'inis-Hemant's latest creation of a Panini-type sandwich done with naan and Indian ingredients-are just some examples of this. Even the raita is livened up with the addition of fresh pomegranate seeds.
At the beginning of every meal, you are brought an amuse bouche-they vary depending upon the day. Tonight it's fresh watermelon and ginger juice (what an elixir!) and an onion pakora served on a Chinese soup spoon.
Hemant calls it Neo-Indian, but whatever you call it, it's delicious.
Take the Jalapeño Onion Rings ($6) for instance, which are onion slices dipped in a chickpea flour & jalapeño batter and served with a zesty tomato chutney. The crispy shell is impossibly light, yet thick (like on perfect British fish and chips), adding its own flavour and a fair bit of heat, making these, in my opinion, the best onion rings in the city.
The Lobster & Scallop Makhani ($26) ("the butter chicken of the sea!" as stated on the menu ) has a hint of brandy, making this succulent, decadent dish all the more sumptuous and indulgent, but worth every last bite.
The Cornish Hen Korma ($18) is a creamy concoction of cashews and spices, forming a thick, comforting curry over a crispy half-roasted hen. Try and get that at your local Indian restaurant!
The Lamb 'Naan'ini ($14) consists of lime juice and chili-drizzled naan stuffed with pulled lamb and mashed potato. It is messy, but insanely fun to eat and oh-so-good. Rich and soft, the lamb mimics the texture of pulled pork while the naan and potato soak up much of the jus. You can see why Hemant is so excited about the 'Naan'inis, it's a fabulous idea-like lamb pie in a sandwich.
You'll come for the food, of course, but the place itself, a weird oblong shape, offers unique dining options and the brightly coloured décor, makes your usual evening out seem more like a celebration. And if you sit at the gorgeous communal table, who knows who you'll end up meeting? In a setting like Amaya's, "Strangers become friends," Hemant says.
And there is more to come from Derek and Hemant. They are building a patio for this coming summer and the menu is being tweaked all the time. Amaya Express, their take-out and delivery service is right next door (and there are probably more of those locations to come), along with another Amaya in Leslieville and more restaurants on Bayview.
And whatever they do, they do it extremely well.
I mean, they managed to create fine dining food with a casual and fun atmosphere, all in the usually stuffy area of Yonge and Lawrence.
These guys can do anything.