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Apr 29, 2003 09:16 AM

Biryani House

  • c

Having just returned from Paris, I finally got around to trying Biryani House after reading the comments on this board. I was very impressed. The presentations are thoughtful and fairly artistic - not at all what one expects in a typical Toronto Indian restaurant. As well, the use of spices and chilies is very bold. The signature shrimp dish was excellent, but made me sweat. The chili chicken was also very good. My favourite dish of the evening was the pakoras, served in a papadum basket. A great looking and superb tasting dish. Since we live so close by, we will definitely be returning to this place to work our way slowly through the menu!

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  1. But the question is--which Biryani House did you eat at....the original at Roy's Square which was abandoned by Debu Saha, or his new digs on Wellesley?

    6 Replies
    1. re: dan

      The new place on Wellesley.

      1. re: dan

        I am all about the old place on Roy Square.

        I often stop off here on the way home from work to pick up dinner (it's a short hop off of the Yonge subway at the south entrance of the Bloor station). Had an interesting experience one Sunday evening when I had the most intense craving for their Curry.

        I looked up the number on and called in with my order. The woman who answered seemed confused at a bunch of the items I was ordering and made alternate suggestions. After being a bit grumpy that either she couldn't understand me, or didn't know her menu, I hung up and set off to pick up my order.

        I arrived at the restaurant on Roy Square to find it locked up, dark and closed. Not a little perturbed, I found a pay phone and looked up the number again. Sure enough, the address listed in the phone book for the number I had dialled from home was Roy Square. Yet I had just found this resto was closed a few minutes earlier.

        I called them up. Yes I had ordered from the Biriyani House but they had moved. "Where to?" I asked. "Leslie" the lady said. "Leslie?!" I nearly screamed into the phone. "You might have told me you had moved to Leslie!" Once I had calmed down, and was able to understand her thick accent, I learned I had ordered from a restaurant of exactly the same name down on Wellesley or "wuh-Leslie" as I was being told on the phone.

        Back on the subway and down one stop, I was a bit pissed and not a little hungry by this point. Walking up the stairs to a bit of a run down looking place (the ceiling was peeling if memory serves) I had finally found my food. My food was getting cold by this point so I wanted to get out of there ASAP, but not before asking to have the confusion cleared up. How there could be 2 identically named restaurants a few blocks apart. Were they connected? No, I was informed, they weren't connected and no, they couldn't tell me anything about the Roy Square spot.

        I went home unhappy with the food (not what I remembered from my visits to the Roy Square spot), unhappy with the service (or more to the point with having been sent on a wild goose chase), and unhappy that my meal was considerably more expensive than any I had had at Roy Square.

        In that the "wuh-Leslie" lady had been less than forthcoming with how I had gone so terribly wrong, the mystery remained, and I had to get to the bottom of it.

        So later that week I went to Roy Square. I had theorized that perhaps my confusion arose from an old sign that had yet to be changed with new ownership. Once inside however I found that it was still called Biriyani House. In my hands I was holding two take out menus ( I had taken one from "Wuh-Leslie") with identical names printed on them from 2 totally different restos.

        I was greeted by the familiar smells of a heavenly combination of spices - too many to identify individually.

        One of the things I have always loved about this place is that the kitchen is open so I can talk to the chefs while they prepare my food.

        I told them what had happened the week before and wry grins appeared on their faces. They apologised profusely and filled me in on what had happened.

        Apparently, the building the restaurant sits in was scheduled for demolition and redevelopment so the original proprietors cut loose and moved to a new location - on Wellesley. A sous-chef (?) decided to stay on at the old place starting his own business for the few remaining months before they were to be kicked out of the space. Well the development deal fell through and they were never kicked out. The former sous-chef and his young team carved out their own menu - to my mind excelling the former chef's - and the Roy Square spot is still going strong.

        I will give the Wellesley spot another couple of visits to see if a fresh attitude may change my feelings about it.

        But of the Roy Square spot I must say that the tastes are so complex, the prices so good if you are looking for the best Indian take away in Toronto, this may be it.

        This I know - if you are a TTC commuter travelling home on the Yonge line - it is.

        1. re: Yermum

          That is one CRAZY story.

          I've also had a great food experience at the Roy location. I'm not South Asian, but have had enough tastes of Indian food in the city to recognize the strengths of this restaurant.

          My impression is that the place definitely caters to the munjiecake/lo-fan/gringo crowd but in a way that translates clean flavours and freshness in a real atmosphere; As opposed to the means by which so many other ethnic eateries try to attract this market - where they serve bland food in a bland environment and they try really hard.

          Taking a tangent from your story, one of my observations on eating at an 'ethnic' restaurant is the challenge of finding the middle ground between a place that is 'authentic' - but where you get lousy service and potentially unappetizing plates at the risk of getting an amazing experience, and the 'north americanized' - where the service IS in English and you know what you'll get but it sure won't be particularly great or exciting.

          1. re: Yermum

            just want to the wellesley joint too, never tried the original at roy. it was passable food. forgettable experience due to its lack of impact on me. more style than substance..

            1. re: Yermum

              I have a story that is far less lengthy but equally as crazy. A friend of mine took a date to the old location, which, before Debu Saha left, was the best Indian in the city bar none. He walked after showing his date the menu--which he noticed had changed--and raving about the food. Upon entering at about 7:30PM on an idle weeknight, the waiter inside told them that unfortunately they had no food left. A RESTAURANT THAT RUNS COMPLETELY OUT OF FOOD?!?!?! That's like Canadian Tire running out of Tires.

              After sampling the old place and the new Wellesley location, it is evident that neither one alone (or combined) can rival the original. But clearly Debu Saha is the preeminent Indian chef in Toronto, and despite his strange new digs, the food is still top-notch. The Roy's Square restaurant bears the old name but is now nothing more than another mediocre Indian restaurant, of which Toronto has far too many.

            2. re: dan

              Debu Saha left Roy's Square because of the impending development deal. However, he *gave* the restaurant, its name and its menu to a cook who worked under him for... nothing. The Roy's Square Restaurant is still very good, but they're Debu's recipes - plain and simple. I used to go in there when they had six stools to sit on and he would make us items that weren't on the menu years ago.

              When the original owner of Indian Rice Factory (a wonderful older women who started her life as a nurse), left that restaurant to her sons (temporarily) and took over an Indian Restaurant at Charles and Yonge, Debu would ferry over many of the dishes from his own restaurant, a block away. That's high praise from a woman who has trained many of this city's great Indian chefs.

              His new restaurant, on Wellesley, is superb! At its core, the same menu, but with a less traditional approach, great ingredients and excellent presentation. The prices are higher, which I don't like, but you're paying for a different experience.

              Don't let your phone mix-up turn you off the new restaurant. Debu is one of the best Indian chefs in the city. So good, his old restaurant is still using his recipes.