For my first review for Kingstonist, I thought I would venture out of my culinary comfort zone of downtown Kingston and try out a place that has been consistently scoring high on urbanspoon and is the only restaurant in town, that I am aware of, where you can bring your own wine with no corkage fee (score!).
Tucked away in an uninspiring strip mall in Kingston’s West End is Saber’s Taste of India. Formally Curry Original Uptown, where Saber served as head chef, the restaurant is now independently owned (Saber is both owner and head chef) and thriving, having quickly garnered a reputation for affordable and delicious food.
My partner and I went on a Wednesday night, figuring it would be quiet and that I might save him the embarrassment of having the entire restaurant watch as I snapped pictures of everything we ate. We were greeted at the door by a very friendly gentleman who acted as both host and waiter. He led us into a quaint dining room of 11 tables that is warm and inviting, elegantly decorated in gold and reds and adorned with life-sized scenes of India.
Saber’s menu is typical of an Indian restaurant featuring a wide-variety of meat and vegetable curries, rice, naan and a number of “dinner for two” options. Along with our bottle of Sandbanks “Dunes,” we decided to go with the “Customary” meal for two, which includes: onion bhaji, samosas, bhoona chicken, beef curry, vegetable curry, palao rice, papadum, and dessert for $45.75. Knowing in my heart that I couldn’t review an Indian restaurant without trying the butter chicken, I asked if we could substitute butter chicken for the bhoona chicken, offering to pay the difference of 75 cents. I was told there would be no charge for the substitution. In fact, they said I could substitute any of the dishes, as long as I ended-up with two meat dishes (one chicken and one beef) and one veggie. Substitutions are often frowned upon with “set” meals, so I was pleasantly surprised. To soak up all of the curry, we also ordered two naan for $2.75/each.
First up were the papadums– thin, deep-fried, wafers made from ground lentils, which were brought almost immediately after we were seated. They were savoury and crispy, and despite the fact that they are deep-fried, they were not oily, but rather took on the appearance and texture of a baked potato chip, only much tastier and the size of a large dinner plate.
For our appetizer course, we each received three onion bhajis and a giant samosa served with a tamarind-based dipping sauce. Bhajis are onions battered in grain flour and lentils and then deep-fried. These ones had a crispy outside and a soft, chewy inside that had a mild curry taste, which paired well with the sweet sauce. The samosa had a light flaky pastry that tasted like it was homemade. It was absolutely stuffed with a mixture of peas, carrots and potato and also was fairly mild spice-wise. While I usually like my samosas to have a little kick, I still enjoyed this one. Although very tasty, I found the appetizers to be quite filling (Our waiter even warned us not to finish them if we wanted to make it to the main course), so I opted to pack-up two of my onion bhajis for home.
Our main course was comprised of four dishes, all which arrived at the table at the same time and piping hot. We were given a generous portion of palao rice, which is basmati rice fried in clarified butter with mild spices and herbs. It was coloured with saffron and garnished with fried onions. The rice was very fragrant and had a light taste that complimented the robust flavours of the curries. The mixed vegetable curry combined potato, carrots, green beans, lima beans, green peas, chick peas, broccoli and cabbage in a mild sauce that really allowed the vegetables to be the star of the dish. Never having had a vegetable curry before, I expected the vegetables to be a little mushy, being almost indistinguishable from each other, but they were cooked to perfection — crispy and fresh tasting, each holding its own in the dish.
The beef curry sauce was mix of ginger, garlic, turmeric, cumin, coriander and salt, with onions, cilantro, tomato, and yogurt. Usually a mild dish, we asked that it be made spicy and its rich sauce packed heat, but was not overbearing. Instead it was a wonderful balance of heat, sweet and savoury. I find I am often disappointed with the amount of meat in curries, but this dish had 10 huge chunks of tender beef accompanied by red and green peppers and onions.
If I had to pick an item that fell a bit short for me, it would be the naan, a bread made from pre-sifted, self-rising flour mixed with milk, egg and clarified butter, then slapped onto the inside wall of the Tandoor. While light and fluffy, I found it to be a little on the crispy side, almost like a cracker in parts. I tend to like a soft and chewy naan that I can use to soak up any remaining sauce which I found hard to do with this one. If I ordered it again, I would probably ask for it not to be baked as long.
Saber’s pièce de résistance was undoubtedly the butter chicken. A delectable and rich dish of marinated chicken breast skewered in the Tandoor oven, then diced and cooked with cream, yogurt, coconut, and clarified butter (ahhhh…!), it is no wonder it is the most popular of their curries. Again, this dish had a very generous portion of smoky chicken and its sauce was much thicker than I expected. The coconut, peanuts, raisins, and fried onions scattered throughout added interesting texture and sweetness. It was so good; I seriously could have licked the sauce off the plate.
Our meal ended with gulab jamun, deep-fried milk pastries soaked in sugar syrup. This dessert is not a favourite of mine, but Saber’s serves their gulab jamun warm, and this really gives the dish a new feel, almost like a very sweet bread pudding. I really enjoyed it, but needless to say, I was beyond stuffed at this point, so I was glad it came with only two pastries.
I believe that Saber’s is truly a “hidden gem” in Kingston’s West End. The food was fresh and flavourful, and I also found the prices to be very reasonable considering the abundance of food we received. A highlight of the meal was when Saber himself came to our table to see how we were enjoying the food. I’ve heard that he visits each table every night, no matter how busy he is. The facts that he takes the time to make sure his customers are satisfied is a testament to the fact that he cares about the food he is preparing.
I’m glad I made the trip out of my downtown restaurant bubble. I will be returning to Saber’s soon with a bottle of wine or two!
Saber’s Taste of India is located at 2786A Princess Street and can be found on the web. In addition to dine-in, they offer take-out (10% off orders over $20) and delivery.