Simba Grill -- very 'hound worthy (long)
- TorontoJo Aug 3, 2007 02:34 PM
I can't believe it's taken me this long to finally try Simba Grill. This is the Tanzanian/Indian restaurant on Donlands, just South of O'Connor (across the street from Fresh From the Farm). The owner is Indian, but lived in Africa for many years.
I ordered the following for take out:
- a dozen beef samosas
- mogo (fried cassava, akin to big french fries)
- chicken pili pili (a half of a small chicken which came w/salad and fries)
- ugali w/beef curry
My mouth is still happily tingling from all the wonderful flavours of the food. Everything was just bursting with spices.
The samosas are positively addictive. The pastry is unlike traditional samosa pastry. The closest equivalent I can think of is a thin tortilla that's been deep fried. It stayed crisp and non-greasy after an hour in the container in my car as I ran errands. The filling is a lovely and simple ground beef, lightly spiced. While it could maybe use a pinch more salt (something I rarely need to say of restaurant food), once I dipped it into the slightly sweet dipping sauce, the flavours came together perfectly. I could eat a dozen of these. Samosa King officially has a contender for my samosa love. I will try the veggie samosas next time.
The mogo were simple and a tasty alternative to french fries. Closer in flavour to a sweet potato fry, but with a tougher texture. I'd love to try these fresh out of the fryer, instead of after hanging out in a carry out container.
The chicken was simply wonderful. Very reminiscent of the best Portuguese churrasco. The skin was very red from the pili pili sauce (which the owner makes in house). The primary difference from piri piri seems to be the use of lemon juice as a base instead of vinegar. So tasty.
The ugali was an interesting change of pace from rice or potatoes. It's made from cornmeal, so has a flavour similar to polenta. The texture is much thicker though, and apparently, you're supposed to pick up a chunk, roll it into a ball, then flatten into a scoop to pick up whatever you're eating. The plain flavour was complemented well by the flavourful curry, which had lots of tasty sauce with some tender chunks of beef. I'm not a cornmeal fan in general (don't like polenta), so I can't say I was bowled over by it, but I was really happy to have tried it and can certainly recommend that you try it at least once.
Hubby loved everything as well and we can't wait to get back and try the other things on their menu. The bill for everything above (which was enough for 2 meals+ for us) was $42. Please go and try this place if you haven't, and let's keep our local gems in business! The owner was so friendly and he clearly puts a lot of love into his food. It's made fresh to order, so don't expect speedy service. I waited about 35 minutes for my order. Fortunately, I had already planned to hit Fresh From the Farm to pick up some fresh veggies, so just made it a more leisurely visit. BTW, FFTF has some great veggies in -- it's clearly harvest season in Ontario!
Thanks for the great report, TorontoJo. Simba Grill has been on my must-try list for a while. Will have to try it out sometime soon!
I just recently tried Simba Grill and I too was impressed. I love trying foods from around the world and I've discovered that the best gems in the City are the small family owned restaurants that you normally would not think of tryimg. Simba Grill is one of them. It has a cozy and very friendly atmosphere and the owner is lovely to talk to. He explained every dish, their ingredients and which sauce goes with which food. For the appetizer I ordered the Daal Bhajia, which are lentil dumplings. They were fried but not at all greasy. My friend ordered the Veg Samosa and it was a delightful treat to not have potatoe as part of the stuffing. It makes them much lighter and you could easily eat a few of them and not feel too full to eat your main dish. As the main I ordered the Sekela chicken with fresh-out-of-the-oven Naan. My friend ordered the Chicken Tikka Masala and both dish were bursting with flavour. One of the advantages of this restaurant is that you can control the amount of heat. For anyone who loves extremely spicy foods, the green sauce can be added and will be sure to satisfy their tastebuds. Similarly, the white coconut sauce can help if something comes out of the kitchen and it's already spicy.
There are very few restaurants that I enjoy enough to add them to my "visit frequently" list, but Simba Grill has certainly earned such a spot. I can not wait to return and try more dishes.
I'm glad more hounds have found Simba Grill. They are wonderful and the ugali with spinach is one of my veggie faves...Just be warned, and this is not a criticism but an explanation - they sometimes do just take-out in the evening when things are slow so it is always better to call before one goes, to check - after all the owners are elderly and it is clearly a labour of love with things being cooked pretty much from scratch...if you sit there, go slow and have a pleasant meal with family or friends as we do!
Thank you hounds! I had no idea it was possible to find real East African food here (trust me, I've looked). I haven't eaten proper East African food aside from that made by my own hand since I left that area of the world years ago.
I'll be off for some much needed ugali ASAP.
Just as a point of interest, as you likely guessed the differences you all notice in the samosas are the difference between the Indian and East African varieties. The dough is a simple flour and water dough and doesn't have the same texture as Indian samosas (I've only made East African samosas so I'm not sure what's done to the Indian dough to make it like that) and they also tend to be much smaller. In addition to the minced meat samosas you tried you also often see them stuffed with a sort of pea (this might be a pigeon pea, I'm not certain).
You will also find that chapatis are different if they're offered there. They are thicker and made from white flour, with a fair bit of oil in them to make them pliable.
Piri piri (pili pili) chicken is huge all over Africa south of the Sahara. I suppose it was originally brought to the continent by Portuguese colonists.
I am so looking forward to eating the cuisine of an area of the world that I love deeply but haven't seen for some time. Asante sana for the recommendation.
I've never tried East African food either. Because I am severely (anaphylaxis) allergic to all things tomato, including vapours, I am very cautious about trying new cuisines. While I can usually find dishes without tomato in it there's always a danger of cross contamination. I looked up some recipes for pili pili and they don't use tomato so I may give this a try. Thanks for the recommendations...it sounds like a cuisine my family and I would enjoy sampling!
We tried Simba Grill last night, for takeout, expecting to be wowed. It was a mixed experience.
The service was very friendly and helpful, if not exactly fast, and the owners are obviously very proud of their food. We were told our meal would be ready in 1/2 hour, and it appeared right on time.
I was a bit taken aback when I made my standard request to "prepare the food exactly as you'd eat it yourself" - spicy foods spicy, mild foods mild. He said mild was the only option, lest we "not like the spice". This is typically a problem at Chinese places, but I wasn't expecting it here.
We ordered the Grill Combo for two and the Ugali Beef Curry. The curry was recommended as the best dish in the house. He said this would be enough for 2-3 "comfortable" meals, which was right on target. However, this makes Simba Grill more expensive than it seems at first glance. It cost $42, which would have fed five handsomely at most south Asian or Ethiopian restaurants. However, without the filling ugali, $42 bought just enough food for 2.
There were two types of chutney, different from those described in other posts. One was a thin syrup with a hint of tamarind. The second was a sweetish red potion with much visible pepper, but it wasn't nearly as hot as the appearance would suggest. There was no complexity in the spicing and neither was great on its own, but they made a tasty samosa dip when mixed together.
We had one beef and one veg samosa, which were fresh, crisp, and non-greasy. Like others, I could eat quite a few of these. However, they were barely spiced and needed a fair amount of salt and a healthy chutney dip to goose the flavours. These were good, but disappointing, at the same time (if that makes any sense).
The curry was wonderful, right out of the park. There were tender beef chunks (though far too few of them) and spinach in a yummy coconut sauce. I expect to crave this dish in the future.
The ugali was, well, ugali. It's basically an inexpensive grain paste made to fill you up where poverty is rampant and protein is scarce. I've had this in other African cuisines as fufu. Less flavourful than polenta, it went well with the saucy curry. I would have preferred roti to accompany the plain grilled meats.
Unfortunately, the rest of the meal was more miss than hit. The grill combo came with beef and chicken mishkaki cubes, grilled short ribs, and BBQ wings. Everything was minimally seasoned, and the chutney mix didn't help (since it made everything taste alike).
The grilled meats were all overcooked severely. The beef mishkaki, apparently well marinated, survived this, and was decent (though not wonderful). The two chicken items were bland and extremely dry. The ribs ("best in Toronto") were really bad, with minimal tough dry meat and little taste.
The grill platter came with fries, which were frozen spicy fries that didn't survive the trip home. I suspect a high demand for these, but I would have been happier without them. A mound of salad (iceberg and carrot, undressed) was...there. I didn't ask, but suspect that fries and salad may not be part of this cuisine.
The mogo, described elsewhere, was the oddest part of the meal. Like the fries, it didn't fare well on the short trip home. I thought it kind of weird and almost tasteless, and it was neither hot nor crisp. Then it registered that I was eating another, and another. I think I'll give it another try when it's fresh from the fryer.
Since the curry was fabulous, and we pass them often, we'll very probably return. But we really expected to be happier overall.