Ah, the benefits of being a freelance writer. A couple of nights ago, Susanne and I had the opportunity to sit down with Tejpal of 1234Pens.com, John Chow of John Chow dot Com and his wife, Sarah, and have a fine three-hour dining experience at India Gate Restaurant in Downtown Vancouver. We were invited by part-owner Gurmeet S. Gupta, who told us that India Gate has been at its current location (616 Robson Street) for thirty years. Needless to say, the neighbourhood has changed quite a bit since they first opened, especially in recent years with all the new condo developments.
I don’t eat Indian food very often, but I have to say that what I ate at India Gate was simply superb. John wanted to make the dishes as spicy as possible, but I didn’t want the flaming mouth to drown out the subtle flavours of the various spices. We asked Gurmeet to create a surprise menu for us that would showcase the best that India Gate had to offer. He certainly delivered.
Before I get to the food itself, here is an interior shot of the restaurant, which is actually quite a bit bigger than I expected based on how it looks from the outside.
It’s pretty casual in there, complete with a TV mounted in the corner so that diners can take in the Vancouver Canucks game (Luongo and crew beat the LA Kings that night 4-2) while sampling some of the best Indian food this city has to offer. That says a lot, considering that Vancouver is home to a lot of great restaurants, spanning just about every kind of ethnic cuisine imaginable. And this includes some really greasy Chinese food.
We started out with this dish which consists of spinach and onion dipped in mild spiced batter and fried, served with mint chutney. If you like deep fried soft shelled crab, you’ll like pakora. Despite being fried, it was actually quite light and airy, while the dipping sauce added just a touch of sweetness.
Take two crisp patties and stuff them with minced beef and you’ve yourself a meat samosa. This is one of the most common things you’ll find on an East Indian menu.
All this time, I thought that it was spelled with two A’s, but I guess I’ve been wrong. Nan is similar to roti or pita bread in many ways, and it is commonly used to accompany just about any dish. It’s great for dipping in the various sauces, and this garlic version added a little bit of flavour, but not too much.
Biryani takes rice and cooks it with vegetables (or meat), garnishes it with coconut and almonds, and then tops it off with papadum (a lentil-based wafer-like cracker) and chutney. I would have liked to get the lamb or chicken version, but with more dishes on the way, I can see why Gurmeet got us the vegetable version.
Tandoori Mixed Grill
I’m a meat lover, so this was my favorite dish of the night. We got a wide assortment of meat, served on a sizzling platter. I especially enjoyed the chicken tandoori, while the lamb tikka and sheekh kabob were quite good as well.
Think of it as the Indian take on Irish stew (or maybe it’s the other way around). Tender chunks of boneless lamb served with ground coconut, almonds, and a thick sauce.
Also known as Murg Makhani, butter chicken — according to Gurmeet — is easily one of the most popular East Indian dishes served around these parts, and I’d have to agree. It’s just as common as burger and fries. That said, the butter chicken served at India Gate was top notch with soft, succulent, moist pieces of chicken served with fresh tomatoes and cream. It was so good, we asked for seconds.
We had to counter all the protein and sauces found in the other dishes with something a little lighter and the pillau rice filled that need perfectly. Indian and Chinese food aren’t all that different, in this respect.
Onto dessert. For the first of two desserts that we had, we got kheer, which is a rice cooked with milk and served cold with almonds. You could say that it’s similar to rice pudding, but thinner in consistency, of course. If you like almond milk, chances are that you’ll like kheer.
And you wonder where Tim Horton’s got their idea for timbits. I prefered this over the kheer, but I think it’s largely because I like English-style bread pudding and the gulab jaman was similar. The warm milk balls were served with sugar syrup and flavored with rose water. Very nice.
All in all, I had a great experience at India Gate Restaurant and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for good Indian food in Vancouver. Want to try it yourself? Gurmeet gave four $20 gift certificates to John, and John in turn is giving them away to a few lucky readers. Check out how you can get some free food over at John’s post about India Gate.