Kensington Market has long been the cultural mosaic that best reflects the heart of Toronto's ethnic diversity. Recently emerging, along Augusta Street, is a collage of cuisines that are kneading this arm of the market into an eclectic dining destination. In keeping with this global village theme, Waterfalls Indian Tapas has an exotic flow of flavours fusing Indian ingredients with Mediterranean cuisines that pour out to the droves of curious urbanites streaming in.
"I wanted to create som
ething that nobody else has done," says Rassi Mahendran. With a background in hospitality, courtesy of the Park Hyatt and the Hilton, as well as certificates from both a Québec City bar tending program and George Brown College's food and beverage program, Mahendran set out to do just that.
The waterfall centre piece changes colours from blues to reds, sunlight floods through large, front-facing, bay windows and illuminates deep into the seventy-seat former art gallery space. Ochre walls, dark wood decor and elegant, yet simple, chandeliers provide a modest open ambiance from which to casually people-watch or, on Friday evenings, leisurely tune in to the four-piece in-house jazz band.
The thirty seat patio is also a popular spot for locals and tourist who, Mahendran says, "love the market. When the patio is open everybody likes to stay here and have beer". To be sure, there are ten beers on tap. Special to the house, Mahendran also enjoys crafting a rainbow of mojitos ($9) and martinis ($9). There are 12 different blended mojitos of fruitopian effervescence, including mango, watermelon and strawberry, to quench the summer doldrums and awaken the senses to a passionate whirl. Even the cocktails' colourful presentation is a pick me up.
All the essential Indian dishes are on this menu, along with unexpected twists like Tandoori Chicken Fettuccini ($13.99) and Tandoori Chicken Pizza ($10.99). Taking moulles (mussels) and frites to an ambrosial level is the Waterfalls Delight ($12.99). The dish comes with a spoon, but I would use anything to scoop up this rich and savoury curry. Not at all heavy or too creamy, it's a velvety alchemy of in-house made curry paste, a smidgeon of cream, coriander, onion, cardamom, cumin, garlic and white wine; crisp, lightly salted garlic naan makes for an excellent pairing.
Southern Indian cuisine uses a lot of curry, ginger, garlic, tamarind, mint and herbs. The curries here taste homemade; achoice of any two, come with rice and papadum for $13.99. The Korma dishes of chicken and lamb are easy on the cream and have more of a gravy texture with a sprinkling of halved cashews. The Chicken Chettinad is a mildly spiced southern Masala curry with coconut and crushed peppercorn judiciously mixed into a rich medley. We taste the exotic flavour of the spice more than the burning heat of it. Mahendran tells me that the purpose of the spice is to open up the palate, not to overpower it; he recommends an accompanying glass of Riesling.
For Mahendran, going "local", merely means going to the corner. "We can get so much fresh food from being in the market. There is a lot of seafood here, and we all support each other in Kensington". Southern Indian cuisine relies on seafood, and that is reflected in the menu.
The north of India is the home of Tikka and Tandoori. Marinated in yoghurt, paprika, coriander, and a smattering of Indian spices are jumbo shrimp ($9.99), and tender and juicy boneless skewers of chicken ($8.99). These meaty flavour-bursts of two shrimps, or eight pieces of chicken, with mint sauce on the side, are perfect for sharing.
The cherry on top is the Golab Jamun ($4.99). This syrupy sweet and nutty desert of dough balls in cardamom and rosewater is a lip smacking delight; a seductive nibbling for any sweet tooth.
Another very comforting and important quality of this restaurant is its ventilation. When we leave we will not be wearing the aroma of curry for the rest of the evening, and for that we are grateful.
"I want to make sure everybody who comes here, leaves here happier," Mahendran cheers. Indeed we are impressed. "My wife told me," concludes Mahendran, "that water brings you wealth. In our culture, water, sunshine and air, are all essential." The young crowds that have discovered this cool Kensington Market hot spot agree, and keep it flowing all night long.