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Photos by Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail. Read Chris Nuttall-Smith's full review of Indian Street Food Co. here.
Hemant Bhagwani ran Amaya The Indian Room, a lauded fine-dining spot on Bayview Avenue, the more casual Amaya Bread Bar on Yonge Street, and 14 Amaya Express takeout counters around Toronto and Mississauga. He licensed his name to a U.S. company that runs restaurants in Toronto’s Pearson Airport, sold his butter chicken recipe to the Jack Astor’s chain, struck a deal with Aramark to serve Amaya-inspired dishes in corporate cafeterias, and hawked a line of Amaya-branded sauces, spice mixes and breads in grocery stores from coast to coast.
Its walls bear hand-painted rules lists of the sort you find across the subcontinent: No leering, No running away, No sleeping in the washroom, No feet on table. It’s refreshingly pop-Indian instead of silks-and-sitars regal. The cheque at the end of each meal arrives, a little oddly perhaps, with the battered remains of a pre-Partition-era typewriter. It’s the real India, whatever that is, but tidied up just enough for rich, white midtown tastes.
Indian Street Food Co., which opened last fall in the old Indian Room space, is Mr. Bhagwani’s comeback attempt, and with it, the chef has turned from the refined but rich, cream and ghee-drenched Northern Indian and Punjabi cooking he made his name with, to a lighter, sharper, more regionally varied fare.