123 Dundas Street West, 2nd floor
Buffet lunch for two with all taxes, tip and lassi: $30
So it’s pretty much a given that no one actually expects great food at an All-You-Can-Eat buffet. Passable, possibly flavourful, but never outstanding. Reasonably priced, but with the knowledge that you get what you pay for.
Such is the case with Indian Flavour. Formerly located in the Atrium on Bay, Indian Flavour reopened its doors a few months ago on Dundas West, just west of Bay Street. Like so many Indian AYCE places, the new location is up a flight of stairs, lessening the draw to walk-by traffic. Yet at lunch time, the place remains busy, with local office workers teeming in, even on the rainy day we were there.
The room itself has an odd banquet hall feel. Traditional Indian embroidered wall hangings compete with plastic flowers and odd lacy curtains that look as if they came from a tearoom run by someone’s doddering auntie. The large windows looking down onto Dundas Street at least ensure the place is bright, and mirrors along one wall help that as well, despite giving the room a very 80s feel. High backed wicker chairs have come from the old location at the Atrium, but the remaining furniture is banquet-hall issue – high-backed, metal, and yes, feeling retro enough to make me start humming “Hungry Like the Wolf”. This would be fine except for the fact that someone, perhaps the previous business, has made an attempt to modernize the lighting and champagne flute-shaped orange pendant lamps hang over the larger tables. It’s just all a little too mis-matched.
Customers find a table, ditch their coats, order drinks and quickly hurry to the back of the room where the extensive buffet is laid out. Immediately we notice the lack of appetizers. There are no baji, no pakoras. Just a large variety of salads and condiments. Papadum, naan and… chow mein?
To its credit, this is probably one of the best AYCE buffets for vegetarians, with seven of the ten mains being meatless. We sample a little bit of everything: split peas, lentils, green beans, eggplant, a combo of peas and mushrooms, curried potatoes and cauliflower. Meat dishes are simple and basic – curried chicken, tandoori chicken and lamb masala.
We dig in and it’s all… okay. The dishes are heavily based on tomato and/or cream, typical of northern Indian dishes. The spicing on everything is mild, we don’t even break a sweat. As a fan of spicier south Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine, every dish is spiced very conservatively for me, but I know this is typical of both northern Indian dishes and is likely also a conscious decision in the kitchen to accommodate the palates of the predominantly Caucasian patrons.
The three meats are all are carefully cooked and flavourful; the chicken falling off the bone, the lamb fork-tender; but not necessarily memorable.
The a la carte menu offers a plethora of delights that never make it to the buffet, where tamer fare is offered to appease spice-wary palates. The many ways with chicken such as Chicken Kesar Malai (saffron and cream), Green Chicken (titillating green spices), Nine Jewels Chicken with pomegranate and fenugreek, or Vindaloo from Southwest Goa ($11.95 each for most) all sound far more exciting than what can be found on the steam table.
Buffet desserts, too, are minimal and safe, with not even a rose-scented gulab jamun in sight. Instead there is rice pudding, fruit and a neon green pistachio custard, which is surprisingly good – creamy and nutty – despite the colour.
At $9.99 for lunch and $12.99 for dinner, Indian Flavour offers a hearty buffet meal with a touch of the exotic for those who might be new to Indian food. Anyone interested in actual Indian flavour would be advised to bypass the buffet and put the kitchen to the test by ordering some of the more esoteric dishes from the regular menu. They’re not exactly cheap and easy, but I’m betting they’re much more interesting.