CUISINE: Indian ADDRESS: 174 King Street DATE: September 11, 2014
We have finally made it to the first Indian restaurant on the AZ RESTO tour.
Ian and I adore Indian food, which is ACTUALLY the reason that Indian restaurants haven’t been featured heavily on the blog: we’ve eaten at almost all of them. I could have a full conversation (mostly me moaning) about a chickpea dish at Jewel of India called Chana Bhona. Back in the early 2000s, there was a fire on the Talbot block at Dundas. Our first thought: Is the Curry Pot OK? THAT’S WHERE WE GET OUR SAMOSAAAAAS!! (It was, but is sadly gone now.) We even go to Moxie’s solely to eat their Beef Vindaloo, one of the only genuinely spicy dishes you can find on a chain restaurant menu.
MEGAN: (interrupting the waitress) Yes, we knowwww it’s spicy. We’ve eaten it before.
This is how much we like Indian Food: Ian and I remained at the scene of our SINGLE MOST HUMILIATING MOMENT for more than an hour, simply because there was the promise of ONION BHAJI.
[SCENE: EXTERIOR. FALL1999]
(Megan and Ian’s high school friend, Shamir, had been admitted to medical school, and his enthusiastic parents sent out email invitations to a surprise celebration at their home.)
IAN: (ringing the doorbell) It’s weird that we didn’t see any cars around.
MEGAN: That’s because people hid them so he wouldn’t KNOWWWW!
IAN: Craig and I ruined a surprise party once. We were walking across the lawn when the guy came home.
MEGAN: You’re horrible.
(Shamir, the guest of honour, answers the door. Having not seen Megan nor Ian since high school, he looks surprised.)
SHAMIR: Heyyyyyy, guys. What’s up?
(Megan and Ian are stunned into silence. For many seconds.)
MEGAN: Heyyyyy, buddy! We….were driving around…on a Friday night around dinner time…and we thought we’d say hi!
SHAMIR: Hey! It’s good to see you!
IAN: Ahem. What are you up to tonight?
SHAMIR: I’m headed out in about half an hour, actually. Going to church.
(Shamir’s mom bustles her way into the doorway.)
SHAMIR’S MOM: Shamir’s old friends! What a lovely surprise! We’re just about to eat dinner! Join us!
IAN: Noooo….we have to—
SHAMIR’S MOM: Nonsense. You haven’t eaten! I just made curry, rice, samosas….comecomecome!!
And that’s how we found ourselves with Shamir’s entire family, feasting on his mom’s delicious homemade food. She sent Shamir to fetch ice cream from the basement, and explained that she had sent an email to cancel the party (that we somehow DIDN’T RECEIVE), but because it was going to be rescheduled, we couldn’t tell him why we were there.
And of course, there never ended up being a party (that we were invited to, anyway), so to this day, Shamir must assume that we showed up randomly on a Friday at 7 and crashed his family dinner.
This was so embarrassing, so cringeworthy, still so tender, that Ian didn’t even want me to write about it.
But the onion bhaji was AMAHHHHZING.
Massey’s stop on the AZ RESTO TOUR took two weeks to schedule, because now we are back in the social nightmare known as the school year. Other events like TIFF, a wine weekend in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and late work nights all prevented various guest stars from being able to commit to a time.
We finally found a night that Ian and I could both make it…and ended up still having to make an 8pm reservation.
Kenny, my student, co-star and frequent blog star, is working on a production with me at school, and he stuck around to help me pick up some set pieces, and talk to parents at Grade 9 Parent Night. We were starvvvvving while waiting for the parents to arrive, so we deigned to eat a Student Council Hotdog, being served on the sidewalk outside the school.
Student Council Hotdogs: No better or worse than any other hot dog in the world.
Because of our after-school activities, we didn’t get to Blog Dinner until even later than we anticipated. By that time, Kenny’s phone was dead, so he asked to borrow mine to text his family, who were attending a speech by Jane Goodall at the university that night. His sister replied.
Never say that teenagers aren’t thoughtful. It’s all there.
This was Kenny’s sixth appearance on the AZ RESTO TOUR (previous meals include #19 DEMHAI DENG, #28 FITZRAYS, #38 KOREAN RESTAURANT, #40 LONDON GRILL and #43 LOS COMALES) and he knew he would have to pose for his requisite DINER HEADSHOT. And this time, he had demands.
KENNY: Take this picture of me with my coat over my shoulders. I want it to look like, “I need to wear a coat, but my arms don’t want it.”
Also making a repeat appearance is our Darling Erika, lately of the land of George W. She and her husband moved to Texas in July.
ERIKA: At first I was nervous, moving to Texas. But our mayor’s a lesbian and there’s lots of good restaurants, sooooo….it feels liberal.
Pensive Ian peruses the menu in a lavender Blog Shirt and sweater vest.
The red brick wall in front of me made me look sunburnt. Earlier in the day, some students told me I was dressed like a Barbie. They claimed it wasn’t a bad thing.
Our elegant and reserved waitress brought us some papadum, the crispy bubbly snack cracker that smells WEIRD, but tastes great.
Massey’s serves them as little teepees.
IAN: Papadum me.
MEGAN: (passing Ian a crispy cone) Oh, funny! There’s another one underneath!
IAN: Hmmm. indian Russian dolls.
Massey’s menu was quite extensive, and we agreed, as we almost always do in Indian restaurants, to dine family-style and share a variety of dishes.
Nothing says FINE INDIAN DINING like a chef bird pointing his filthy talons at the price.
ERIKA: (flipping through the menu expectantly) I wanna get a KORMA. I’ve been reading a lot of bad British books lately, and they’re always eating kormas.
While we debated our curry choices, we asked our waitress for appetizer recommendations, and she suggested what are surely the two most popular: samosas and onion bhaji.
The bhaji arrived first, a delicious, crispy mass of batter and onions. I don’t think that batter and onion together have ever not gotten along, but these ones were particular fresh and perfectly cooked, with a sweet and tangy tamarind sauce for dipping.
ERIKA: This is delicious. Sauce: bang on. Well, you can’t go wrong with deep friend onions with…Cilantro?
IAN: Maybe coriander.
Bhaji glamour shot.
While we debated the difference between cilantro and coriander, Kenny had moved on to the samosas.
He alerted me with a squinty face and a throat-slitting motion.
KENNY: Ew. No. This Samosa is not a thing. I’m NOT a fan.
For some reason, that only made us want to eat them more.
It’s like that old SNL sketch where Tom Hanks drinks sour milk and says, “Oh, no! This milk is off! Tryyy it!”
And while I wasn’t DISGUSTED by them, they certainly were not the best samosas I’ve had. While the outside was crispy, it wasn’t FLAKY, the way the giant samosas at CURRY’S are, and the filling puzzlingly lacked both flavour and texture. The yogurt sauce they served it with was its only redeeming feature.
RANDOM YOGURT MUSINGS*
ERIKA: Is it Y-O-G-U-R-T or Y-O-G-H-U-R-T? Why do they spell it it that way?
IAN: in England… they call it it YUGGURT.
*sure to become a recurring feature on the blog. Or not.
Our patient waitress came back to take our entree order, and we were still debating. Erika is pregnant with Baby #2, and didn’t want anything too spicy. Ian was trying to decide how many chicken dishes to get. I was trying to take a picture of the menu, when the waitress yanked it out of my hand.
To be fair, I was holding it up in front of me. Maybe she thought i was anxious to get rid of it? The annoying thing about not telling people you’re writing a review, is that they don’t know you’re WRITING A REVIEW.
Ian finally took the reins and ordered two chicken dishes, Erika’s lamb korma, and something called BEEF SHEHNAZ, which is an amazing name for almost anything.
Massey’s decor is unlike any Indian restaurant I’ve ever been to before: instead of velvety curtains and Bollywood movie posters, it’s decorated kind of like Monica and Rachel’s apartment from Friends: boldly painted walls, exposed brick, cool lamps, beaded door frames. It’s pretty large inside (allllllso like Monica and Rachel’s apartment…in Manhattan…wait a second, I’m getting the feeling that it MIGHT not have been REAL!), and has several different seating areas, which allows for more space between tables. Not feeling crowded, or having to listen to inane conversation at neighbouring tables is something I’ve definitely grown to appreciate.
It does still have traditional Indian music playing, but we all agreed we actually loved it. Plus, no TV blaring videos over the bar! Wellity, wellity. Looks like someone’s been taking notes from the blog.
Or, you know, has a taste level.
Not long after we ordered, a myriad of dishes appeared at the table.
The aroma of the Naan bread hit us long before it arrived at the table: buttery and sweet. The light, fresh, chewy naan at Massey’s is possibly the best I’ve ever eaten.
IAN: Possibly?? It’s DEFINITELY the best. No question.
I thought the rice looked ADORABLE.
MEGAN: Look at the RICE! It’s all spikyyyyy! It’s standing at ATTENTION!
IAN: They fluffed it for us.
Ian surveyed all the food, then got impatient while I was taking notes.
IAN: GET INTO IT!
The lamb korma was lovely and warm, with a sauce of tomato, yogurt and cashew.
MEGAN: What’s that spice in there?
IAN: (understanding my inane question with the patience of someone who has lived with me for 15 years) Cardamom.
MEGAN: Oh, yeah!
IAN: it’s a bit pumpkin-spiced.
MEGAN: Oh, do you not like it?
IAN: No, I do. I don’t like pumpkin spice in things that TIM HORTON’S wants me to eat. I like it in this.
The beef shehnaz had a little pepper beside it on the menu.
To me, none of these dishes were spicy at all, but I’ve been told by Indian and British friends that you have to give the waitress a specially signal to get food prepared “Indian Hot”.
Our friend Gavin, who grew up in England, told us to say, “make it like I’m a brown man!”
Neither Ian nor I have ever had the courage to do so, so we usually end up with curries slightly less spicy than we would like.
The butter chicken sauce was rich and velvety smooth. Butter chicken is always a good choice, but this tomatoey sauce was definitely more complex and memorable.
The madras chicken was cut into larger, flat pieces, which made it incredibly tender. The sauce was made with coconut milk, which automatically makes it my FAVOURITE.
KENNY: it was really flavourful. It’s what you want. It’s like, “I’m gonna eat Indian food,” that’s how you want it to taste.
From Left to Right: Butter chicken, lamb korma, chicken madras, beef shahnaz. Also, I quickly understood I had woefully underutilized the size of my plate.
We all enjoyed the chicken dishes, and the lamb korma was tasty (now we know why all those lovelorn British gals eat them), but most of us agreed that the beef shahnaz was our least favourite. Maybe we should have ordered more chicken?
KENNY: OK. Here’s my order. #1—Chicken madras, butter chicken TWO, third… lamb, four beef. (pause) Actually, the hot dog at school was better. Hot dog four, Beef FIVE.
Ian declared Massey’s his favourite Indian in London, but I’m not sure I’m ready to make such a proclamation. The prices are excellent, to be sure. The vibe is lovelier, yes, and ambience is a big part of what makes me to return to a restaurant. Almost everything we ate was delicious, and I gobbled up the leftovers for lunch the next day.
The naan, cold from the fridge and eaten on my desk at school, was still better than 95% of naan I’ve eaten previously.
But I think to be the TOP INDIAN RESTAURANT in London, you’ve got to have a better samosa. In order to achieve greatness, it’s got to erase my memory of The Curry Pot’s perfect version.
Who has the best Indian food in London? That’s easy.