“A beautiful girl does not need a lot of make up”. Similarly, “if you have beautiful ingredients, you don’t need to do too much with them”, shares Hemant Bhagwani, mastermind behind Toronto restaurant, Amaya Restaurant. For Bhagwani, whether in business or on the menu, it’s about always trying something new, but “the key must always be good quality ingredients. That has to be the base of everything”.
Born in northern India, but fascinated by Indian southern cooking, Bhagwani trained in Switzerland, Syndney, Dubai, and Toronto, enjoyed successes and endured struggles along the way. He observed Indian dining in London, England, and realized what Toronto was lacking. Never wanting to do a buffet, Bhagwani has since elevated Indian cuisine in Toronto. From his first restaurant opening in Brampton years ago, Bhagwani now maintains sixteen Amaya restaurants, as well as a line of sauces and naan bread.
So here we are at Amaya tasting their new menu, and we are wowed by the creativity and diversity of colour, flavour and texture from lamb tenderloin with wasabi ice cream to saffron chicken korma with pistachios, orange and kumquat. There is quite a range of cooking here. Crunchy kale and spinach fritters, smoky chicken tikka with a refreshing coriander foam, and plump Amaya prawns lavished with green mango curry. All delectable teasers.
Eggplant steak is stuffed with potatoes, peppers, carrots and asparagus in a mild mustard based sauce. Tender beef short-rib is nourished in a curry perfumed with cinnamon and cumin; and roast lobster sits atop colourful citric beet rice. There is an interesting juxtaposition of sweet and spice that harmonizes on each plate. Biryani, presented in an earthenware pot and covered by a layer of naan is cut open tableside to reveal a wonderful medley of baked aromas and ingredients including lamb and nuts. A variety of naan bread from garlic, to chili and olive, allows us to soak up all the wonderful curries before us, and then, “pow”, we’re hit with hot spice, so a cucumber raita serves as our fire extinguisher.
For dessert, ice cream is not to be missed. Prepared a la minute with liquid nitrogen, before our very eyes we watch this lab experiment result in a pretty display of rosewater ice cream with crushed pistachio, cardamom powder, saffron caviar and blueberry sauce. Light, airy, and delicately flavoured, this molecular gastronomy reflects the imagination of Bhagwani, his passion for flavour and texture, and his forward thinking to create and define new possibilities of Indian cuisine.
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Associate Publisher and Executive Editor of DINE and Destinations magazine.