Pukka, a newly opened restaurant and wine bar on St. Clair is offering a fresh take on Indian cuisine. Owned by Harsh Chawla and sommelier Derek Valleau, the new spot boasts snackable street foods, family style feasts and even a few lighter selections.
Taking over the former address of Zemra, the refreshed interior features sleek black ceilings, painted white brick walls, industrial cabinetry and pops of green and orange upholstery. A pair of glossy canvases scrawled with a Hindi creed is the lone detail evocative of its Indian identity.
At the crux of Pukka's ambitions is a serious wine program curated by Valleau and Peter Boyd (sommelier at Scaramouche). Bottles starting at $39 and glasses priced from $8.29 to $12 are selected to pair with rich, spice-infused comfort foods and fun festive bar snacks like South Indian styled fried Chicken 65 ($9.40), Gunpowder Prawns ($16.10) and Butternut Squash Samosas ($6.90).
I try the Chaat ($8.70), a cold salad featuring a hearty mix of sweet potatoes, mung beans, chickpeas, crunchy puffed rice, green apple, radishes, carrots, scallions and micro greens dressed with chutney and sweet yogurt. The dish is delicious and exciting to eat; it could even rival Susur Lee's famed slaw for its multitude of ingredients, contrasting textures, and bold, unique flavours.
From the list of kebabs I try the North Indian-inspired Malai Chicken Tikka ($12.80) featuring super tender bites of poultry marinated in saffron, cashew and cardamom-spiced yogurt served with a green chili sauce for dipping.
Next up, thick slabs of Stuffed Paneer ($15.90) are layered with oyster mushrooms and identifiably fresh spinach over a base of creamy pistachio korma sauce. On the side, warm Buttter Naan ($2.80) sops it all up alongside an order of crunchy French Beans ($7.90) covered with turmeric, coconut and caramelized onions.
Instead of typical Indian desserts that Chawla admits aren't always well received (I couldn't agree more; I'm not a fan of gulub jamun), there are choices like a Chai Pot de Creme ($7.20) or Eton Mess ($6.70) with rosewater meringue and sweet lassi cream.
Pukka is open daily for dinner at 5pm. Reservations are accepted and take-out orders are welcome.
Photos by Jesse Milns