Indian food, in my opinion, polarizes people, you either like it or you don’t. I believe however, that the delicious food at Pukka might be able to convert even those who consider themselves non-Indian food lovers. Describing itself as “forward thinking” Indian food, Pukka serves delicious dishes, each one tasting different and bursting with unexpected flavours.
While I am not an expert on Indian food, I do consider myself enough of a “foodie” that I know good food when I taste it. My experience in Indian food extends to the tried and true Indian restaurants of Toronto, The Host, Amaya and Amaya Bread Bar. I would say Pukka is as delicious as those restaurants but takes it to a different and higher level by combining different spices that just taste so good!
Located along an area of St. Clair west already packed with busy restaurants, Pukka is a welcoming and warm restaurant. Upon walking past Pukka’s purple glowing sign, the host takes our coats and places them on a long coat rack right at the front. I loved the casual feeling of the front of the restaurant as soon as we arrived, yet the elegant clean lines of the white exposed brick, the wooden tables and hard wood floors. My husband loved the bar, and even commented on how well stocked it looked.
Our server took our drink orders right away. Not wanting me to be disappointed our server insisted on bringing me a taste before I committed to my wine. I order the ’12 Pinot Bianco, Nals Margried from Alto Adige Italy, I loved it and ended up ordering two glasses by the time we were finished our dinner. My husband first ordered a bourbon sour and didn’t like it so the server was happy to replace it with a beer. Our friend had a mango lassi, I didn’t try it but he said it was delicious.
It is always better to go to a restaurant where the plates are meant for sharing with lots of people, increasing your tasting options. That being said we went with another couple and ordered quite a bit of food. Unfortunately the server forgot the first thing we ordered, the baby kale salad, and by the time we realized it we were full so we cancelled it.
Starting off with the smoked eggplant tartare, the vegetable pakoras and chicken 65 made for a delicious beginning to our meal. The presentation of each dish was simple, clean and a bit of fun. Eggplant tartare arrived like your typical tuna tartare, a perfectly smooth tower. The tartare was a bit colder than I was expecting but still delicious. I loved the crackers that accompanied it for dipping and scooping. I was tempted to ask the server for more crackers to finish the few bites of eggplant left but decided not to as I didn’t want to fill up too quickly. The vegetable pakoras, small batter covered crispy cauliflower and other delicious crunchy vegetables were hot and addictive. Pouring out of a paper cone on a thin rectangle platter gave them a fun look. We finished the pakoras in under a minute and decided as a table to order another, asap. The tomato chutney accompaniment was the perfect amount of sweetness to bring out the flavours in the chutney and pakoras. Chicken 65 was small pieces of south Indian crispy chicken with a chilli tamarind glaze. My husband took one bite and asked, “why have we never been here before?”
For our mains we ordered butter chicken, beef short ribs with daal makhani and wilted greens on the side, and of course naan and basmati rice. I loved how the butter chicken was served in a mini shiny pot and the basamati rice was served in a jar. I am a real sucker for clever yet functional presentation. I took a pic and instagramed it immediately.
The butter chicken was moist chicken covered in Indian spices and a smooth and creamy sauce. I could have made an entire meal out of this alone, and wanted to soak up all the sauce with the naan but needed to pace myself.
The beef short ribs were my favourite. I love short ribs, but am used to the usual red wine sauce that accompanies them. These short ribs were made with black cumin, garlic and ginger masala. Yes, the Indian flavours come through, but not in an overpowering way. The meat is tender but not too tender, I cut each one in half so everyone at our table got half of one. Honestly, I thought of the short ribs as I went to sleep that night. I’ll be back for them again.
On the side we had daal makhani, a slow cooked black lentil dish that was delicious and not mushy as I was worried it would be. We also had the wilted greens with sautéed paneer. I love wilted spinach so the wilted greens with sautéed panner was something I was looking forward to. Again, I could have made my whole meal out of it, not too saucy, the wilted greens were tasty and flavourful, definitely made with Indian spices in a wow, I would have never thought to spice them this kind-of-way.
For dessert we had all of them! My favourite was the carrot cake. This was not your typical dense carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. The texture was lighter and more like a banana bread, with curry crème fraiche drizzled on the side. The eton mess, with grand marnier yogurt had a delicious tartness to it that hit with you the right amount of sweetness in each bite. I loved the crunchy orange blossom meringues. It was my first time having eton mess, I had only ever read about it in food magazines and it was as good as I had always imagined it to be. The chili white chocolate mousse was an inviting topping to the sweetness of the chocolate mousse. Finally, we had the toasted coconut panna cotta and while I love coconut I do not like panna cotta so I cannot talk about it because I didn’t try it.
Overall Pukka was a delicious, fun and attentive restaurant. We had a great time with our friends. I am still dreaming about those short ribs (and everything else) and never had a chance to try the baby kale salad, which gives me a great excuse to go back.
Pukka is located at 778 St. Clair Avenue West, 416-342-1906