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A superb first impression: Singh's Cafe in Wellesley (detailed review)

A few nights ago, I got home late from a conference in Chicago, and the last thing I wanted to do was prepare dinner.

I had a strong craving for some Indian "comfort food", and decided to call up Singh's Cafe in Wellesley, since I'd heard they'd recently opened and wanted to give them a try.
I was not in the mood to try anything adventurous, so I decided to settle on an old standby favorite, chicken tikka masala, and a couple kinds of bread. Hard to mess that up, right?

Well, the chicken tikka masala was superb. A very fine rendition, with tender chicken chunks, and a rich sauce that wasn't too greasy, like many other CTMs can be. The spicing was balanced and bright, and the sauce was most likely finished with pure ghee and/or cream, though with a careful hand. Still not a dish for the health conscious, I know. Mainly, I was impressed that they pulled off a delicious CTM without having to resort to the OVERUSE of ghee and cream. A very well-balanced sauce.

Laccha paratha is a flaky, layered Indian flatbread, and it may actually trump the ubiquitous naan as a personal favorite. Singh's Cafe's rendition was probably one of the better versions I've had. Packed in a foil-lined thermo bag, the layers were distinct, and the dough had a home-made taste with a slight masala-y background. My gripe with many of Boston's take-out parathas, is that the layers often become mooshed together during transit, and some times, aren't even properly cooked all the way through.

The naan was also excellent, with spots of fluffy chewiness, and buttery crispiness. Notably, neither the laccha paratha nor the naan were terribly greasy. And to think, just a few days ago, I ate at some crap Indian place in the Hyatt Hotel in Chicago, that I'm CONVINCED uses Bisquick mix to make their naan!

The place is on Washington St., in Wellesley, and was a quick drive up Route 9 from where I live in Newton. The restaurant is situated in a garden level space, although the place was far from gloomy. Tastefully decorated and cozy, I'd say. Nice place to bring a family. There were even a few guys having drinks at the small bar.

A notable, kind gesture: I arrived a few minutes before my take-out order was ready, and they had me sit in a solitary chair near the bar area. I felt a tad awkward, sitting amongst the staff, but then I received a complimentary, small bowl of a DELICIOUS yellow daal, very home-made tasting with a touch of ghee.

Then, I was presented with a complimentary, full-sized glass of mango lassi. They must have been reading my mind, because I was totally fiendin' for a mango lassi, and was close to ordering one for the road. It was mango-y and delicious. Not overly sweet, and not stingily watered down.

The above-mentioned gestures of hospitality left a very pleasant impression on me. Hospitality is trait I find that is often lacking in Indian restaurants.

I was very glad to get a glimpse of some of Singh's Cafe's strengths, and I look forward to trying more things from the menu.

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  1. I had their weekend brunch a month ago and it was REALLy good too. I definitely will go back soon.

    1. Gonna have to try that out. I've heard it's more reasonably priced than Masala Art (that's not saying much, though).

      1 Reply
      1. re: nsenada

        Yeah, definitely a tad cheaper than Masala Art. Singh's may have to be my local go-to for Indian, since it's cheaper than Masala Art, and seems to have more available parking.

      2. Interesting. The big turnoff with that space - and the reason for the big turn-over in restaurants that have tried it - is that the rooms are small, chopped up, and have low ceilings. It is in the basement, after all - but the original Craigie Street Bistro showed how that "limitation" can be overcome. Will give it a try.

        1. Great review- I've had takeout and ate lunch there, and it was excellent.

          1. Stories like that about good hospitality always make me smile! =)

            1. We went last night for dinner. Service was considerate, friendly - outstanding all around. Had the Mulligatwney soup and house special salad to start; Lasuni Gobi and Punjabi Kadhi Pakora for entres; and onion kulcha naan to accompany - all excellent. Only negative was the wine - first a shiraz off the wine list that was way too fruity, then a shiraz off the special's list that was way too undrinkable. Otherwise - even though you're still dining in an apartment building basement - definitely impressive and definitely worth a return visit.

              1. I've taken clients to lunch here a few times - it is always loved. Great mango lassis too.

                1. Finally et there last night - my son asked who's apartment the restaurant was in. As noted it is downstairs with low cielings, but a really beautiful space. Interesting complimentary mozzarella sticks with hot sauce to start, as well as little lentil soups that were delicious (perfectly seasoned, and not too heavy or light). Had the vegetarian appetizer plate, which was very well fried, and much hotter than the similar one at Masala Art. They were also much more generous with their condiments at Singh's, for once we actually didn't tap out the tamarind and cilantro sauces. Had chicken tikka masala - definitely on the heavy side, but quite good. Also had shrimp korma, which was excellent - the shrimp seemed fresh. The other entree we had was the punjab pakoras, which were pakoras simmered in a cream and cilantro sauce - I could eat a bathtub full of those things. Aloo paratha came to the table very hot, but was a bit dense and compact - will try that bread you mentioned in your review (I was fumbling for this post when they came to take the order). One item that blew my mind was the chicken kebab - we didn't order any, but someone at the next table did. The smell coming out of the pot they brought to the table in was like those cartoon smoke fingers - I almost got up in a trance and stole one. I ordinarily find stuff like that boring and dry, these looked moist and delicious, so definitely going to try them next time to see if the taste matches the smell. Much cheaper than Masala Art, and portions are notably larger. Quality is pretty comparable, so they are going to be our new default spot.

                  -----
                  Masala Art
                  990 Great Plain Avenue, Needham, MA 02492

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: nsenada

                    My new goal is to make the 'Crime' section of the Wickedlocal.com Wellesley Townsman for carrying out your plan. Watch for me - "Area Nepali Swipes Kebab, Sours Nepal/India Diplomatic Relations".

                    Did they bring you free mango lassi, too?

                    I need to try the shrimp korma, something I usually avoid at Indian restaurants due to the risk of overcooking.

                    1. re: Prav

                      I'll testify at the war crimes tribunal for you, with some kebabs - one sniff of that woodsy, meaty aroma, and they'll understand.

                      No free lassi for me, unfortunately, but the other freebies made up for it. True on shrimp of any kind. Even at Masala Art, which I think tends to be pretty good about not overcooking, you occasionally get a vulcanized or mushy shrimp.

                    2. re: nsenada

                      Enough reviews that we finally had to try it; that, and a $25 coupon from restaurants.com...

                      Based on the lure of the kebabs, I went with that. What I really loved, I mean RREALLY loved, was that there are mahi-mahi and salmon kebabs, instead of just the ubiquitous shrimp, for non-meateaters....They were just as nsenada had imagined, moist, juicy and flavorful, with crispy edges. On a bed of red, yellow and orange pepper chunks (no green; yay!), they were served with rice, and two dipping sauces. A Korma, IIRC, and a Black Lentil, which was wonderfully rich and slightly spicy. I ate WAYYY too much.

                      We also shared a cheese-stuffed nan, and enjoyed the creamy raita served with our entrees.

                      TC had the Goat Biryani, and he was totally delighted. He loves goat, but not stewed. We've never found grilled goat for him around Boston, and these large, toothsome chunks had been braised, or grilled in some way before being added to the gingery, onion-y rice...

                      We had been started with an amuse bouche of some fried shrimp with a nice hot sauce, and a cup of excellent lentil soup. We also ordered Chaat Pappri, which I had eaten more of my share of. Too hot for TC, lots of big crunchy wheaty chips, chick peas, a little potato and wonderful tamarind flavor.
                      No wonder I was stuffed by the end of my meal!

                      TC managed a rice kheer for dessert; slight hint of pistachio and cardamom, a little saffron, and a thick RICH creamy base. He may have licked the bowl, it was too dim to see..

                      Did I mention we ate outside? At 8:00 on a Saturday night? When we got there, we were asked if we wanted seats on the patio, which got a big thumbs-up from us. The patio faces Washington street, but there isn't that much whizzing traffic, so it was great, and it was a lovely night. As everyone has mentioned, a degree of hospitality usually reserved for Thai restaurants, really unusual. The food was flavorful, the cuisine seems much lighter and fresh than anything else I've had in Boston. This is my current favorite Indian resto.

                    3. I took a date here last night. She enjoys Indian food and this was my first time. She was very impressed with this restaurant putting the meal over meals she had at Masala Art and Bollywood and a few other places. It was also larger portions than normal she said and she left full which she couldn't say about the other restaurants.

                      She ordered the Chicken Tikka. This came on one really large skewer placed in a copper bowl as decoration. On the side was a 3 square plate with 2 sauces and a tiny salad. One sauce reminded me of Chinese Sweet and Sour sauce with red pepper flakes. A little too sweet to me but packed some nice heat. The other sauce was perhaps a tomato based sauce with a spice that reminded us both of pumpkin. Tasty. But the chicken was very flavorful and perfectly cooked without the sauces. Also rice.

                      I ordered the Chicken Madras which was chicken in a tomato/coconut/curry sauce. Supposedly with a bit of ginger or garlic but I didn't detect them so they must have been subtle. Also served with rice and naan. A smaller meal than the chicken Tikka because not as much chicken. It was good for my first taste of Indian but her meal was clearly superior.

                      They served a single fried shrimp in a hot dipping sauce that reminded me a bit too much of Tabasco. Also served was a tiny portion of mushroom soup that was nice.

                      The staff was very pleasant, never went without water. So the early reviews about slow service was not the case now on a Friday night with the restaurant about 60% full. Decor was very tasteful and the leather chairs and the see through tables filled with beans and bay??leaves were really attractive. They have an outdoor patio which looked nice but it was raining.

                      I told the waiter it was my first time trying Indian food so the manager came out to ask what I thought and how I heard of the restaurant. I told him Chowhound. He introduced me to another manager/chef? of the restaurant as well and he was pleasant. The waiter before I left also asked how I enjoyed my meal. He suggested I come back and try their buffet to sample more dishes which they change up and is something reasonable like $12 on a Saturday for all you can eat.

                      So overall, the friendliness of the staff across the board, the constant refilling of water and attentiveness to our needs was a really fresh surprise and I can't give enough praise for that.

                      That service plus my dates praise of the quality/portion size/price for Indian in the area is why I am recommending giving this restaurant a try.

                      -----
                      Bollywood Cafe
                      135 Massachusetts Ave, Lexington, MA 02420

                      Masala Art
                      990 Great Plain Avenue, Needham, MA 02492

                      1. A friend and I went the other night and we had a great meal and the prices were very reasonable. The service was great and they were very helpful. I don't like very spicy food and liked that the waiter asked me how spicy we wanted our food We had the garlic naan which was excellent and shared two dishes. The seafood masala was very tasty and the chicken tikka was great too. The potions were large. And when we left, my friend forgot her leftovers and the waiter ran outside to give it to her.

                        1. Went for the lunch buffet today and it was excellent! They had chicken wings as an app and they where nice and crunchy with a hint of spiciness. Grilled turkey and veg was good. The lamb kofta (meatballs) was very good. In the shrimp tikka the shrimp was overcooked but the sauce was good. An eggplant and potatoes dish was OK. A Chickpeas dish was very tasty. Rice was cooked perfectly and the two chutneys I tried was really tasty and spicy. Nan was included and served at the table, really light and fluffy. There is also a small salad bar and everything on it looked fresh. Service was good (Well, I was the only one there) and everyone seemed very friendly and the place and decor is REALLY nice. At $7.95 it was really a bargain. Wish they had more spicy dishes but that is hard on a buffet..

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Ferrari328

                            Glad to see this place getting some well deserved praise. We order take out from here once a month or so and have enjoyed it every single time.

                          2. We love this place. I hope it succeeds, as the previous two restaurants in this spot have failed. But unlike Vela (and whatever was before that, I forget), this one is actually good, with reasonable prices. My 13 year old son is super picky and ONLY orders tandoori chicken at Indian restaurants, and he said this was the best he'd ever had. It came to him served in a massive, wine cooler-like pot on skewers, and he managed to eat them all. The lassis were delicious, very fresh and nothing we tried was greasy or swimming in ghee. But hot really does mean hot, at least to New Englanders.

                            1. TC and I fell in love with this place our first visit...The food, the service, the friendliness; all tops.

                              We went back last Saturday; let's say there are staffing issues right now...Three people tried to take our drink order, after which I got a white wine pour that would have been funny, it was so small, if it wasn't my drink. The little amuse bouche is gone.

                              ALL GOAT IS GONE FROM THE MENU!

                              App was quite nice, a shrimp and cucumber chaat that was light, spicy and piquant with tamarind...

                              That was when things took a dive (well, apart from the forementioned goat).....I think we
                              waited about 45 minutes for our entrees, (I know it doesn't sound like THAT long, but there was a screaming baby next to us. Who takes a baby to dinner on Saturday night? This is grown-ups time, thank you...) but when they came out, they were lukewarm and overcooked (mine, tandoori mahi-mahi, the dish I waxed euphoric over last time!) TC had some chicken skewers; nie presentation, dried out taste.

                              After we were done with our meal, our cheese nan came...We took it home..

                              In an attempt at the old service, the hostess brought us hot towels to wipe our hands with. Except, she explained, someone had turned the heat off, so they were cold, soggy towels. Um, so why bring them?

                              I was very sympathetic about everything, but I did ask a few questions. They're trying to train new staff...Already? Hope they get it smoothed out soon, cuz TC will only go back one more time... :(

                              11 Replies
                              1. re: galleygirl

                                Just curious, was it fairly crowded? I wonder if the prior staff were on loan from the Kebab Factory.

                                1. re: nsenada

                                  No, we were commenting that it was half empty.....Interesting, tho, that they could have been on loan from the kebab factory; because they were true pros, not newbies....

                                2. re: galleygirl

                                  Oh man, I really hope that was just a bad night.

                                  And no goat from the menu? That's a huuuuge bummer. :(

                                  1. re: Prav

                                    Yes, gone for good...There's a new Pakistani resto that just opened in Brighton, posted about it on the August thread; three goat dishes!
                                    I hope this was just an anomaly, too, and they get it sorted out soon...I'd hate to take this place out of the rotation...

                                    1. re: galleygirl

                                      GG, do you have Darbar's menu ?

                                      Doesn't seem to be online just yet .......
                                      http://darbarrestaurant.com/

                                      1. re: Nab

                                        No, but Thrillist must have gotten lots of sneak peaks...

                                        "Darbar
                                        Rare Pakistani spot opens in Brighton
                                        130 N. Beacon St, Btw Murdock & Dustin; Brighton; 617.779.8800

                                        ..." Specialties include fresh goat cooked in tomatoes, onions, and garlic; chicken meatballs simmered in a curry sauce and served with naan; and Paya, a slow-cooked goat foot soup that's often eaten for breakfast and considered a delicacy, presumably by people otherwise relegated to Goatmeal. There's also authentic Southern Asian grub like Gurda Kaleji, chopped exotic-spiced lamb kidney and liver cooked in a special sauce; boneless chicken sauteed w/ bell peppers and ginger; and Magaz Masala simmered w/ onions and spiced beef brain -- so... how's about another bowl of Goatmeal?

                                        For something a little less, well, brainy, Darbar's serving' more recognizable faves like crispy two-piece samosas filled with minced meat, three yogurt-marinated goat chops cooked tandori-style, and Bihari beef kebabs cooked in a clay oven, instead of a jackpot, cause let's face it, that's just not your tribe. "

                                        1. re: galleygirl

                                          Goatmeal, funny.

                                          Thanks for this. Paya, kaleji, maghaz, bihari kebabs ... these are my peoples. Looking forward.

                                            1. re: Nab

                                              Does your peoples have fish; cuz there was no mention of that?
                                              I haz a sad....

                                              1. re: galleygirl

                                                Lemme call them to find out about fish tikkas and prawn masalas and seafood biryani.