Where To DINE Now: 309 Dhaba

309 Dhaba
Photo Courtesy of TorontoRestaurants.com

Up a flight of stairs to a large airy dining room that overlooks the TIFF Bell Lightbox and the street below is an oasis: 309 Dhaba. Complex and exotic delicacies prepared by Chef PK Singh Ahluwalia and his personally trained kitchen staff reveal rare expertise with the many cuisines of India that is as impressive as it gets. Along the wall, televised song and dance from India. Flashing colours and provocative dances reflect the flavour profile of a menu that moves effortlessly across the map: from Punjab to Madras; Bengal to Goa; and from Mughal to British influences. Chef PK has the virtuosity to traverse it all, and with both confidence and humility to toss the menu aside if we prefer anything customized.
Love at first bite. Samosa Chaat, topped with chicken tikka and avocado, is chock full of fresh and vibrant flavour. Vegan Soy Paneer of in-house made tofu is elevated with turmeric and masala marinade, skewered and fired for a charcoal essence. Paratha of multi-layered whole wheat is baked, shallow fried and stuffed with Kashmiri cheese and fresh mint. At this point, so early in our dining experience, we’ve already enjoyed three very different dishes, and it is clear to me that there is no way to experience the range of what this kitchen can do in one sitting. I don’t know what to order next, because the menu is so diverse and it all looks so good. I have to give up and defer to the chef. He happily obliges.
The only thing more incredible than Chef PK’s lamb is that he is a vegetarian! “In order to cook good food you have to love challenges,” he tells me. Well, I love that he loves that, because this is the most delicious lamb I have ever tasted in Toronto. Tender, smoky, mild tandoor and charcoal flavour, and topped with plump shrimp; this puts all other barbeque lamb to shame. So flavourful and tender, this will linger as my favourite dish of the year. Pineapple and mango chutney and red pepper sauce that set my palate into a Bollywood spin punctuate our multi-coloured, multi-flavoured table.
We order basmati rice to pair with the wonderful panoply of flavours surrounding us. Cashew and porcini paneer is so light it’s almost like a tofu. Mild and luscious, it’s a joy to taste this dish. Chicken Xacutti with coconut-based curry is velvety smooth, rich and with such depth of flavour. It is completely different from any other dish on the table. Goan cod and eggplant in a masala-based curry are making love in the bowl. They just go together so perfectly. The cod is a very dense fish but it’s so airy. And then there’s the undertone of heat—just enough to make you want one more bite. Venison with pureed fresh rapini and broccoli is tossed with garlic and ground cumin. This is another dish that is deceptively light and without any cream. Each dish has it’s own profile and personality, and is totally unique in texture, in colour and in flavour—and yet they’re all made in the same kitchen. It’s like we’re ordering from different restaurants. At many Indian restaurants every dish tastes the same. 309 Dhaba is not one of those restaurants.
The whole menu is gluten free. Vegetables are from local farmers. Each sauce is made from scratch a la minute for a “freshness you can feel.” Each dish is layered with both spice and lightness; heat and coolness—it’s not a spicy heat, but one that makes us crave more. Our dessert of rosemalai, medallions of raw paneer soaked in water and sugar, with reduced milk and rosewater, and a sprinkling of blueberries is the perfect sweet ending to our exotic culinary journey.
Chef PK is part chef, part choreographer, making our taste buds dance. Authentic and yet accessible, the kitchen at his 309 Dhaba knows it’s not about heat; it’s about exciting flavours.
309 Dhaba, 309 King St. W., 416-740-6622

Adam Waxman
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, and Chief Content Officer of DINE Media Inc.