|2066 Yonge Street, Toronto ON
Approx $30 per person
Local Food? some local ingredients
Local Wine/Beer? some available
Tue to Sun: 12pm to 3pm
Tue to Sun: 5pm to 10pm
Closed on Mondays
Despite our city’s diverse cultural fabric and world-class status, there are few restaurants in Toronto which pride themselves on perfecting fine Indian cuisine. Though recent years have seen an upswing in the haute-Indian trend, riding the coattails of Vancouver’s Vij’s and the like, there have been just as many failures (the now defunct Tablaa) as successes (the ever-thriving Amaya franchise). Jaipur Grille, tucked away in uptown Toronto on a strip of Yonge Street populated by young families and the restaurants that serve them, has consistently strived to raise the bar on Indian cuisine in Toronto, and it is clear that chef and owner Pawan Mahendro continues to succeed in this mission.
A Friday evening visit finds Jaipur Grille nearly full, with one or two tables remaining free for late-night diners. Often the room is a buzz with families and children in the early stages of the night, to be replaced with couples, young and old alike, lingering over the candlelight and fragrant dishes. The space is clear and balances the bright white and pale blue colours with more ornate features like large mirrors, decorative sconces and chandeliers. The resulting atmosphere is much like the cuisine: refined and complex, yet by no means underwhelming. The service, too, contributes to the pleasure of one’s dining experience, being efficient yet not oppressive. The wine list is small but diverse, touching on Washington and Oregon states as well as the predictable New World players Chile and Australia; it could do with more local wine selections, particularly given the spice-friendly quality of many wines coming from Prince Edward County!
The team behind Jaipur Grille contends that Indian food in many Toronto restaurants suffers from being “over-oiled, over-spiced or over-seasoned”. From our first course, the Vegetarian Appetizer Platter ($11), it is clear that these traits are nowhere to be found in Chef Mahendro’s cooking. The large samosa, split for consumption by two, is light and crispy, the potato-pea filling refreshing rather than heavy. Four onion bhajias are similarly light, though there is a nice moisture (dare we say, a great onion ring quality?) to them. A selection of pakoras, deep fried eggplant and sweet potato slices, are the platter’s weakest link, but even so their batter is complex with a good amount of kick from the spice. The cilantro-laden bean salad that completes the plate offers a refreshing simple staple.
Main dishes take a while in coming, but after several visits to Jaipur Grille one recognizes that this is needed to truly prepare the palate and regain one’s appetite. When they do arrive, the steaming pots and plates are simple yet artful, the Baingan Hydrabadi ($13) eggplant dish arriving with a particularly unique skewered presentation. And the flavours match the visuals: each dish is unique in sauce and spicing, offering the layers of subtlety that Indian food in Toronto often lacks. The classic Chicken Makhani ($16) is, for our money, one of the city’s best butter chickens (though we hasten to say we haven’t met a butter chicken we didn’t like), rich and creamy with just the right amount of spice. Vegetable dishes elevate simple pulses to flavour-rich stews – the Daal Makhani ($10) is rich, yet more hearty than indulgent, and the Chana Amritsauri ($10) is dark with umami flavour. The standout dish on a recent visit was the eggplant mentioned above, however. The balance of the tomato and cilantro with the smoky eggplant is just right, and the texture of the eggplant stands up well to the sauce. Fluffy, Tandoor Toasted Naan ($2.50) is perfect for savouring the last few drops of the complex sauces.
We have never been capable of managing dessert after dining on Indian, but have stopped in to Jaipur to savour the Kesar Pista Kulfi ($5), a light saffron Pistachio Ice Cream, on occasion. The Gulab Jaman ($5), everyone’s favourite honey-soaked balls of dough, are a pleasant take-home treat, and are certainly a cut above the standard buffet fare.
All told, a party of two can dine, with two beers and two glasses of wine for about $100, depending on how indulgent you want to be. We strongly recommend ordering appetizers and/or three main dishes, as the portion sizes are judicious, and everything tastes just as good the next day.
The restaurant announced they will be serving weekend brunch, an addition that we hope means this seven-year-old spot can remain a neighbourhood standard for years to come. For the quality of service and food, in a welcoming and comfortable yet understated classic space, one cannot do better on this part of Yonge, and for the complexity of the Chef’s artful approach to Indian, Jaipur Grille remains one of this city’s best kept secrets.