At the southwest corner of Christie Pits Park (I kid you not) is a pair of Indian restaurants: Madras Masala and Banjara Indian Cuisine. They’re not much to look at when you arrive, at least in the winter, with patio tables and chairs in disheveled heaps and snow still heaped in odd mounds that make maneuvering through the small walkways a bit of a challenge. Still, Banjara was praised highly by the Toronto Globe & Mail in 2007, and the general internet buzz was positive, so it was worth looking into.
Despite at least four men behind the counters, it seemed like only one was actively engaged in hosting tables. We appreciated that he was working so terribly hard to meet everyone’s needs, and he deserved a generous tip just to keep him going, but the place really needed at least two people attending to guests, which made the service rather sparse and harried. Still, it wasn’t unbearable. We just wondered why the others seemed so uninvolved.
The atmosphere also seemed a bit overly frugal with plates that had obviously seen better days and drapery that were colorful but basic. It felt like it was perhaps at least somewhat authentic, though this is the opinion of one who has never been to any part of Asia, but reflective of some of the less well off portions of India if so.
The menu isn’t extensive, but when you’re as hungry as we were, it still became hard to choose. Since chicken has become a rarity in our diets with the expense in Toronto, we opted first for the Chicken Tikka, a breast marinated in yogurt and spices and cooked in a traditional tandoori clay oven. I was surprised and amused when it arrived since its vibrant color puts Chinese-style orange chicken to shame! The foundation layer of onions and peppers was a pleasure, and the chicken was well cooked and flavorful, but it overall came off as a tasty and fair dish, but, save for the color palette, not especially noteworthy. Nicely spiced, but not exotically so.
Chicken Tikka: 3.5/5
Our other choice was the lamb with spinach, a name that was far more bland than the dish itself, along with a single roti, the same as traditional naan bread, but whole wheat. The appearance and presentation of the lamb dish left something to be desired, but the flavor was a testament to all that draws one to Indian fare. The spices were rich and striking and so varied that it was difficult to pick out any single flavor. Garlic and ginger and tomato were all part of the mix, but everything combined into a powerful zest of savor that needed the roti to tame it lest we were completely overwhelmed. There was the occasional instance of spinach or some herb stems that were inedible and needed to be picked out, and while the lamb was exceedingly tender and cooked long and well, it had a bit too much fat left on it on a couple bites. Still, for its few flaws, the dish was very flavorful and not one to be regretted.
Lamb with spinach: 4/5
Well, there is a caveat. The lamb wasn’t to be regretted in the short run. However, neither of us are used to such extreme spicing, and we both found ourselves struggling with upset tummies for the remainder of the night. Was it worth it? Probably. And for those who are wanting good Indian fare that’s easy on the finances, Banjara’s likely a good choice. Especially if you’re a little younger or most robust than I am…