Narayanni’s Restaurant, Edmonton

We spied a new restaurant called Narayanni’s just off Whyte Ave and decided to give it a try. I was curious as to it being billed as a South African/East Indian restaurant.

It’s located in a heritage building just off Whyte Ave and the owners spent three years renovating it before opening in June of 2010. The interior is very warm and inviting, elegant yet casual and serves homemade dishes buffet style.

What I liked about it is that everything is made from scratch including the curry mixtures, the cooling raita (yogurt dressing), the chutneys and the steaming hot roti that we used to sop up the flavourful curries with.

Where does the South African connection come in? The owners, who used to own the Block 1912 on Whyte Ave, came from South Africa during the Apartheid, having lived there like many descendents of the East Indian labourers brought over in the 19th century to work the cane fields. After selling Block 1912 and enjoying a few years of retirement, they got the bug to open another restaurant. Now, Mom is in the kitchen whipping up the dishes and Dad is on the floor making sure everyone has everything they need. So, it’s not what we might typically expect of South African food like the barbecue meats called “braii” or biltong (dried meat) and Droëwors (sausage), the connection here is more the style of cooking that influenced the owners while they lived in South Africa.

For instance, they don’t use cream in their curries, and that’s okay. The rich tomato based curries don’t leave you feeling weighted down with the fattening cream.

I was pleased to find out they use Alberta lamb and beef, free-range chicken and organic vegetables when possible. They also avoid food colourings, preservatives and MSG and all the vegetarian dishes are vegan style meaning no animal or dairy products are in the dishes.

The yellow pea dahl is a whole bowl of goodness…rich and creamy split peas flavoured with cumin and turmeric, garlic, and also the cabbage and cauliflower dishes—crisp and sweet with tangy mustard and cumin seeds throughout. Mmm-mmm-good. I could almost become vegetarian with foods like this.

You can order South African beer, called Castle, or have a glass of Two Oceans wine from the Cape coastal region. We opted for a chilled pistachio chai, something that’s not on the menu but trust me, if you go, you need to ask for it. It is the perfect accompaniment to the spicy dishes.

Speaking of spice, the dishes have kick but not so much that you want to tear off layers of clothing. All the foods here are based on the Ayurvedic food philosophy which revolves around balance through six tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. The heat of the chillies is tempered by the sweetness of the chutneys, the sour of the lemon pickle, the pungency of the spices, the astringent zip of cilantro and ginger. Everything comes together in a satisfying melding of flavours.

And dessert? Not only do they offer the standard rice pudding (flavoured with vanilla and cinnamon) but they bring two more to your table: coconut custard and peach trifle, and the “out of the park” Callebaut chocolate mousse, probably one of the most memorable desserts I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

Dinner buffet is $20 during the week, $25 on weekends and they’re also open for lunch. You better believe I’ll be back, not only for the dessert, but for more of the home cooked dishes that change on a daily basis. Narayanni, by the way, is the name of the Hindu Goddess of Abundance, appropriate for the abundance of good food served here.

My review of the restaurant can be heard here on CBC Edmonton AM with host Ron Wilson.

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