Before Sarah and I left for San Francisco, she told me about a new restaurant located near her work. Built in a heritage building, east of the train tracks on Whyte Ave, and a block south of the main road, Narayanni’s is run by the Naidoo family who you might know as the former Block 1912 owners. Cooking South-Indian dishes with a South-African flair, we finally made our way down last Friday to check it out.
Meeting with Miz J, the three of us walked up to the strikingly whitebuilding and couldn’t help but notice the giant, gorilla sized flower pots contrasting beautifully with the backdrop. Stepping into the restaurant, we were seated by the patriarch of the family in the back corner next to the bathroom. With people constantly barging by in order to clear their internal systems, this seating position isn’t ideal for a private meal, but did give us a full view of the restaurant.
One thing we all found agreeably was the setup. With the all of the main dishes wrapped around a centre island, only a handful of appetizers are situated apart from the mains, and they are easily accessible on a near wall. This circular setup is a nice change from the straight wall of kitchen pans that I often find ends up with people bumping into each other. We of course, started with the appetizers, which included bahja, potato rolls, lambs rolls, watermelon and a coconut, mango and mint chutney. The starters were ok, but we found they would have been better hot rather than served cold/room temperature. The chutney’s were all sharp, bright, and very distinct; a big hit!
The mains are easy to conquer, as there are really only a handful. The table starts with South African naan bread, lemon pickle, and Greek salad before moving into the hot dishes. Basamati rice, savory wheat, vegetable biryani, lentil daal, squash, green beans, cabbage, curried chicken, curried lamb, and finally egg and prawn curry.
The standard rice was cooked nicely, not turning to mush. The savory wheat dish reminded us of cream of wheat, and while it could be a favourite for some people, I found the gritty texture not that pleasing. The vegetable biryani was fantastic with a very aromatic scent and taste. None of us really like the daal dish, which surprised me as I generally find them quite good. The squash was amazing; sweet and perfectly cooked, I went back for thirds of this item. The green beans were average. The cabbage retained some bite, and like the squash made it to the plate more than once. Now I should say, they do advertise that all of the vegetable dishes are vegan friendly as well…for all you who are curious.
The curried proteins started on a miss, as the chicken was cooked well past the point of moist and ended up being like little bouncy balls of dense dry meat. The lamb on the other hand, wasn’t cooked to the point of melt-in-your-mouth tender, but was quite good and had me going back for more. The prawn and shrimp curry was interesting, with the hard-boiled eggs getting a bit firmer than I’d like while the shrimp somehow managed to stay perfectly juicy and plump. It was a shame this dish wasn’t restocked during our visit.
As we sat down, we saw the other two family members running around, with the matriarch checking on dishes and the daughter chatting with customers. When we were finally approached about drinks, we were promised fresh roti and I can’t tell you how disappointing it was to have this hot flatbread forgotten until we were eating dessert. Fail. Speaking of dessert, Mr. Naidoo is quite the character, and makes for an enjoyable and entertaining host. He promised us that we had to have the chocolate mousse, as we would not find it anywhere else! I was almost waiting for him to click his heels as he returned with our closer. Sweet, smooth, and full of Callebaut chocolate goodness, this small dish served as a great finish to the hot and spicy food.
As our bill never arrived, we found ourselves waiting for quite some time as both the mother and father of this family didn’t seem to control this aspect and we had to wait until the daughter returned. The cost at $25 a person, was considerably higher than the buffets Ive experienced with Edmonton’s Little India in my own backyard. The food was good, it was fresh, and it was light when compared with the heavier cream based curries found at so many other establishments, but limited dishes and hit-or-miss service had me wondering if the $80 bill for 3 people was really worth it’s wait. If you do go, I’d suggest trying to hit the lunch buffet which rings in at a more reasonable $14.99.