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Jul 16, 2008 07:14 AM

Shahi Palace report

A small group of very hungry hounds (and lurker hounds) headed to Shahi Palace a few weeks back, based on bomobob's raves about their mutton palak. It bills itself as serving Pakistani and Indian cuisine, and while the menu is fairly typical of most Indian or Pakistani restaurants here – with a few very notable exceptions – the dishes themselves are far better than almost any other I've had in Montreal. Decor-wise, the restaurant is what you'd expect from an ordinary strip mall on Sources. It's small (I don't think it seats more than about 25 or so) and seems to be family-run. It's also BYOB.

We had beef nahari, chili fish, the aforementioned mutton palak, shahi paneer, haleem, chicken balti, vegetable biryani, palak paneer, aloo gobi, naan bread and raita. By far the best dish was the chicken balti, which we ordered on the waiter's recommendation. Its combination of deep/dark and high/bright flavours wowed us all. (It was so good we ordered a second one, actually). This isn't a dish we've ever seen in Montreal before, and you can be sure we'll be going back to try this again soon.

While all the dishes were very good, some were really outstanding – aside from the aforementioned chicken balti, we loved the beef nahari, chili fish, and the naan. The naan rated as the best any of us had tried in Montreal – great texture and flavour, perfect blistering. The chili fish was a bit of a suprise – I think everyone expected it to be a seasoned piece of fish, but instead it was very much a spicy curry with good-sized pieces of mild white fish mixed in – even the non-fish eater among us enjoyed it. The scrumptious beef nahari had a rich, dark, deeply spiced sauce. The vegetable dishes were good, especially the biryani, with its large chunks of seasoned potato mixed into the rice, the palak paneer, which some of us found to be far more complex in flavour than ones we've tried elsewhere, and the gobi aloo with its delicate and complex spicing – one of our group commented that this was a dish that usually bored them to tears in most restaurants, but felt that this one was a pleasure and a treat to eat. Surprisingly, although the mutton palak was indeed good, with its mixture of lamb, spinach and spices, it was not in the same league as the chicken balti...The only dish that was a bit disappointing was the haleem – and even then, not because it wasn't good (it was), but because according to our haleem experts, it wasn't at all like the one that Halal serves – the consistency was soupier, and more dal-like, with a less rich and complex taste than the one at Halal. But that chicken balti – how do I describe that mix of flavours? It was just really a standout.

All dishes had just the right balance of spice and flavour – not too much spice to overwhelm the delicate flavours, but just enough kick to leave us in need of the raita. It seems that someone in the kitchen is using very fresh spices and mixing up different curry blends. They don't just make a generic spice blend and use it for every dish. And the dishes had none of the excess oiliness often found at other Indian or Pakistani restaurants.

A dry Portuguese white wine and Dieu du Ciel beer were the libations of choice for the evening (and then there was that forgotten bottle in the freezer...). Portions look deceptively small, as they're served in small copper pots (are these also called balti?), but there was more than enough to go around, and we all left feeling quite sated. If however you were still hungry after a meal here, Pushap is right next door, where you could always pick up a few Indian sweets to go. You should count on at least 1 ½ dishes per person, plus naan and rice, to make up a decent meal. Our feast came to about $20 per person (not including the cost of the beer and wine), which might be a little high price-wise in comparison to other places, but certainly worth every penny, quality-wise.

Shahi Palace is located at 4773 Sources in the West Island, and is closed Tuesdays. Definitely highly recommended. Now the only difficult decision to make will be whether to head to Shahi Palace or Bombay Choupati next time we're in the area – although we would seriously consider doing both!

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  1. Great report! I wish I had come!
    I have seen balti in other places around town but it is not common. The most recent place is Masala Mantram in Laval, which I have previously written about. They have both chicken and lamb; I have tried only the lamb and just loved it...indeed very complex flavours.
    Balti is indeed the name of the pot in which it is cooked but also denotes food from Mirpur, a place in Northern Pakistan.

    1. This makes for mouthwateringly good reading. I wish I'd known you were going.
      I'm so glad they didn't disappoint.

      1. Thanks for the great write-up, cherylmtl. And thanks to bomobob for the heads-up.

        While many things about Shahi Palace impressed, the most impressive was the freshness of the cooking. Even the long-cooked stews had that quality. Nothing was generic or haphazard, nothing tasted stale or like it had been sitting on a steam table all day. Each dish had its own character. The spicing was savvy, too. A few days afterwards, three of us ordered the palak paneer at Bombay Choupati and it couldn't hold a candle to Shahi Palace's -- the cheese wasn't as tender, creamy or consistent, the spinach was mushier (more cooked?) and the spicing was flat by comparison. (In BC's defence, it was a Sunday evening and the kitchen didn't seem to be firing on all cylinders; the dosa was more spongy than crisp, for example.) That freshness was turned up a few notches in the balti, largely due to the fresh ginger and cilantro and the short cooking time, I suspect; a truly memorable dish, and one I look forward to trying in other iterations (shrimp, beef, mutton, kebab and quail balti are also on the menu).

        BYOB, yes, but not very well equipped in that regard. The glasses were small and clunky and no ice bucket was proffered for the white, a pity on such a warm evening. I'd be tempted to bring stemware and a wine cooler of some sort next time.

        Though one person in our party thought the dishes were small, I can't agree. That point was driven home at Bombay Choupati, where I was one of a party of three. My third of the goat curry (incredibly delicious) at Bombay Choupati was not much larger than my one-seventh portion of, say, the beef nahari (incredibly delicious) at Shahi Palace. Also, our Shahi Palace party of seven had no appetizers before digging in and, because it was so good, ordered more naan than we really needed to. And $20 a head is about the minimum I expect to pay for dinner at most of the decent London-style Indian restaurants in the centre city, places where the tired, production-line cooking doesn't begin approach Shahi Place's care and quality.

        Should also mention that the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and that, as befits its strip mall location, parking is plentiful. The phone number is 514 685-0000.

        1 Reply
        1. re: carswell

          <BYOB, yes, but not very well equipped in that regard. The glasses were small and clunky and no ice bucket was proffered for the white, a pity on such a warm evening. I'd be tempted to bring stemware and a wine cooler of some sort next time.>

          I am guessing this might be due to the fact that they are a fully halal restaurant, which probably means that they are not familiar with boozing conventions, such as the necessity to keep white wine cold. In other words, they seem to be letting people drink out of courtesy. Even if their belief might be against it, they respect people who drink, which I believe is very nice of them (or if you look at another way, they know their target market well).

          So future goers or Shahi Palace: beware the the BYOB situation, but also be fair.

        2. Lets see, if this restaurant get reviewed by any of the Montreal papers, and/or gets reviewed in any of the Montreal food blogs in the coming months. So there're some very good eats in the West Island. The Montreal restaurant critics(even in the English papers) usually never review West Island eats

          3 Replies
          1. re: BLM

            I doubt it will get reviewed (thankfully), its been around for ages (and always as good), is small and completely out of the way. Let's keep it an internet (not so) secret place. We don't want the masses clogging up all the space and overwhelming the family style kitchen. :-)

            1. re: BLM

              I say the Hour or maybe even the Gazette will review it within the next month.

              I probably just jinxed it, though.

              1. re: SnackHappy

                Shahi Palace has already been reviewed by the Gazette years ago, by the late-Ashok Chandwani. Finally went to Shahi Palace earlier this month. The chicken balti was excellent. The nan I was little disappointed(tried it twice over two visits). The sizzling chicken(recommended by the Shahi Palace owner) that I tried was barely edible for me(found it too too too sweet!).

            2. Based on Chowhound recs. my family of three went to Shahi Palace last night. 100% satisfaction - once again this board proves a valualbe tool in resto selection. We had the chicken balti, mutton palek, palek paneer and haleem; all served with includede naan. Spicing was "medium" (Canadian scale) and "mild" (Pakistan-India scale). Nothing to add to existing reviews except to heartily second them.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rosario

                Restaurant writers are simply humans like us (I am sometimes one) who are always looking for the next place to write about. If you want to keep this out of the papers, stop posting about it. The place has been around a long time and does not need the extra business that will be brought on by a Gazette review. More success culd lead to an increase in quantity and the usual corresponding decrease in quality.

                1. re: spankyhorowitz

                  It was already reviewed in the Gazette once awhile back, got great reviews. I've been there since the review, and still as great as always!