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Restaurants

Shala-Mar Restaurant

Posted by Staff / Reviewed on March 15, 2007 / review policy

20070315_shlm2.jpgWhen you think "eastern" food on Roncesvalles, you'd be forgiven if your culinary map included a vast white space just past the Balkans with "here there be tygers" scrawled in some archaic maritime font. But if your tastes run more towards pakoras than perogies, your appetite will feel right at home at Shala-Mar.

Upon entering the subdued-yet-stylishly decorated dining room, you're greeted with muted browns and rich dark woods, latticed lamp covers, smartly draped ceilings, and the charmingly avuncular owner/chef Khalid Bukhari, who you're as likely as not to find these days working the front of the house.

A 25 year veteran of the Toronto culinary scene , Bukhari reportedly counts the Rolling Stones among the multitude of ardent fans of his current kitchen's take on sub-continental fare, what he terms "ethno-healthy cuisine".

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Though not traditionally considered a 'healthy' choice, it would be easy to mistake the fantastic house take on pakoras ($4.95-$5.95) for just that. Piping hot and without a hint of the oil they were fried in, prepare to devour without even a flicker of guilt these lovely, mildly spiced vegetable and garam flour batter fritters bursting with large, flavourful chunks of onion, potato, carrot and pea subtly perfumed with cumin and coriander; although you could easily do without the overly sweet tamarind sauce which tends to overwhelm these apps.

For those of a more carnivorous bent the kabab's complex, spicy fragrant heat along with the addition of a spoonful of the wonderful tangy onion chutney goes a long way to redeeming the slight dryness--no doubt owing to its leanness-- of this minced beef appetizer ($5.95).

Tasty though ultimately forgettable, the pedestrian chana salad ($3.95) combines fresh chick peas, cucumber, tomato and lettuce in a light vinaigrette in what many might consider (minus the pita, natch) little more than a 'deconstructed' falafel.

Several standard, though pricey, a la carte curries make up the bulk of the menu. The wholesome house version of butter chicken ($12.95) finds roasted chunks of perfectly done fowl bathed in a light piquant pulpy tomato and onion gravy redolent with cumin and cardamom but suffers from a lack of flavour depth, or possibly just the actual butter, of more substantial versions of the dish found elsewhere.

And while the toned down heat of the lamb vindaloo ($11.95) disappoints on the scoville scale, it nevertheless delights with succulent, on the bone pieces of lamb submerged in a delicious masala fugue wonderfully sopped up with classic takes on chapaty and naan (both $2 each). Equally complex and arguably a high point, the palak paneer ($10.95) mixes tofu-esque cheese cubes in a spinach puree that should be utterly bland but rather provides a wonderful textural canvas for a wide range of spices and herbs to express themselves.

Having transformed itself from Polish to posh through the magic of gentrification, Roncy's host of family-style restaurants with Zywiec on tap now find themselves displaced by the increasing encroachment of wine bars and more upscale cuchinas on their territory. With new money comes new yearnings and for those looking for something a little lighther and slightly more exotic than your average Krakow carb orgy and find themselves unwilling to park the beemer SUV anywhere near Gerrard and Coxwell, Shala-Mar may just be the perfect neighbourhood place for you.

image courtesy of website
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Shala-Mar Restaurant - 391 Roncesvalles Avenue (at Howard Park) - 416.588.9877

Discussion

13 Comments

PC / March 15, 2007 at 11:24 pm
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Cool, thanks for the review. I walk by that place sometimes and also wonder if they are any good...
Tim / March 16, 2007 at 12:28 am
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Do they have any good vegetarian options like Aloo Gobi or Dal?
frank / March 16, 2007 at 09:07 am
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considering my disdain for most things vegetarian, i was actually surprised by how much i enjoyed the palak paneer (as i mentioned, probably the highlight of the meal) and they seem to have a pretty decent selection of other non-meat dishes as well. check out the website for the full list.
M&M / April 12, 2008 at 01:22 am
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Really disappointed after seeing this on your top ten. My friend and I were expecting much more - more authentic and higher quality. The food was oily with small portions and was over-priced for the quality/amount. Not to mention the service was lethargic to say the least. The butter chicken was like a runny soup... what a major diappointment! Maybe when the restaurant was originally reviewed in 2007 it was good but a year later, four thumbs down from us :(
kgrizzle / May 6, 2009 at 05:29 pm
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Worst Indian food I've ever had. Pakoras were dripping with oil, tasted like the oil had never been changed. The main course was even worse. I am so shocked that you have this hole in a top 10. Should I even trust the rest of the list?
David / September 21, 2009 at 07:06 pm
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Frank = tit
Rachel / June 13, 2010 at 09:26 pm
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The food was not very good. I would avoid eating here again.
yet the Owner was lovely and chatty, I would love to have him serve me again.
Rachel / June 13, 2010 at 09:27 pm
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The food was disappointing, the portions were small, but the owner was lovely and chatty. Unfortunately I will avoid going there again.
trawna / October 21, 2010 at 04:01 pm
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Terrible place. I live two blocks away and love Indian food so imagine my frustration that this low-quality warhorse plods along year after year. Lethargic service, as someone else said, and bad food. Last time I was there I got some chicken which tasted like it had gone bad. The owner laughed it off, got me another plate of it many minutes later (yes the chicken tasted fine then, but it still wasn't very good), without a whiff of apology or embarassment. Cynical, slow, and way substandard.
Joe / July 17, 2011 at 06:22 pm
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We had an overall good experience here. The owner was very friendly and entertaining. Although the food was tasty, it was a tad bit oily and runny. The next morning, we awoke to nasty stomach pains! We were very disappointed. Our last meal before the shit attacks was at this restaurant. I'd like to come back again, but I'm a little afraid now. Maybe our stomachs were too weak to handle all that heat and heaviness, or maybe the food wasn't good. Who knows?
NaNaBooBoo / August 13, 2011 at 04:29 pm
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Have lived in the hood for years and have gone here maybe three times, hoping each time that somehow it will have gotten better. The last time I made that mistake, our food came out so quick it was likely microwaved, oily and greasy and pretty unsatisfying. And our "Naan", it looked like it was the President's Choice "Naan", essentially pita bread. The owner just doesn't look like he cares much...something sad about it and could feel it in the restaurant.
fee / January 28, 2013 at 03:19 am
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I love this restaurant. I first came here while walking down the street discussing with my aunt where to eat, a stranger stopped us and told us to try Shala-Mar. I don't eat here as often as I'd like, because it's expensive, but when I do it's amazing. The man who owns it is lovely, always very friendly and willing (even delighted) to go out of his way to accomodate special diets. The atmosphere is calm, warm and friendly. I usually order a pakora, a chicken curry dinner, and some garlic nan. No complaints about the serving sizes! (Sometimes I might want to complain about the take out sizes - but take out is always smaller than eat in).

I live nearby, every time someone comes to visit me I make sure to take them here. Everybody loves it! It's far better than many of the other indian restaurants I've eaten in in Toronto (which, to be fair, has not been many).
Dan Robb / March 26, 2013 at 05:13 pm
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Being a local, I wanted to love this place so much (especially since I'm such a fiend for indian food) but this place has repeatedly served me really mediocre fare at a steep price. I never see anybody eating there and always wonder how it has stayed open for so many years.

I'll keep biking to Mother India in Parkdale.

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