Dining at Maharadjah Vinod's Table

by Jean-Philippe Tastet, Le Devoir

Vinod Kapoor has been delighting me with his delicious curries for over fifteen years. He left his native village of Mussoorie, formerly known to the British as Queen of the Hills, when Indians were persona non grata there, to open his restaurant, Le Taj. Ever imperturbable, he has the very dignified and slightly gloomy air of the mahoots who, long ago, took care of the elephant herds of the Great Nabob of Bengal. But he briefly lost his composure when, as I was leaving his restaurant, having paid the bill for my most recent repast, I confessed that I had come on a secret mission for Le Devoir. "Are you pulling my leg?" he exclaimed with that wonderful accent Indians use when they try to imitate Peter Sellers in the movie The Party. No, my good Mr. Kapoor, I really was on duty.
Le Taj is worth a visit for several reasons. For example, even if it's not the main reason to go, the decor is a nice break from the tacky artefacts that many other Indian restaurants proudly display. The owner has always attached great importance to the quality of his restaurant's decor and shown considerable taste in his choices. The walls are adorned with magnificent pieces that guests will be tempted to take home with them after their meal. Friezes, carved wood-work from some lost temple in the jungle... M. Kapoor even managed to save a huge mural that was prominently displayed in the India Pavilion at Expo 67.

At lunch, Le Taj serves an extraordinarily generous buffet which is one of the best buys downtown. For $8.95 (!), you can use and abuse samosas, chicken tandoori, lamb curry, vegetable or lentil dishes, and even (over)indulge yourself with a few desserts of the day, including the famous gulab jamuns, milk pastry balls served in a cardamom-perfumed syrup.

top of pageIn the evening, the chef offers Davaat, a feast which calls on the patron's creativity.Guests choose one dish from each section of the menu (soups and salads, appetizers, curries and tandooris, vegetarian dishes and desserts). Nan bread, basmati rice and cardamom tea or coffee are also included. We strongly recommend that you bring a gargantuan appetite.

Supposing that you are more reasonable or that you recently tried out a tiny new swimsuit you want to buy for next summer, you will undoubtedly wish to show more moderation when you order. To begin, I recommend the samosas and pakoras that the chef makes better than anyone else in town. The herb-flavoured batter wrapping the finely chopped vegetables is incredibly fine, light and perfumed.

The use of the tandoor, the traditional Indian clay oven, is also remarkable. The chicken and lamb cooked in this oven are sufficiently marinated before hand so as to come out tender and juicy to perfection. Delicate fragrances of nutmeg, cardamom, coriander, saffron and tamarind hang in the restaurant air. One feels an atmosphere of well-being setting in and the imminence of pleasures of the palate.

If you envisage losing weight for the small swimsuit mentioned above, keep a healthy distance from the Makhani, a butter chicken dish that, while delicious, seems dangerously rich to me. Only Michel-a highly voracious friend whom I take particular pleasure in inviting because of his bottomless stomach-is able to finish his plate by dipping large strips of nan in the sauce. I am always impressed and reassured by his subsequent poor performances on the squash court. I like to win and will stop at nothing to weaken an unsuspecting adversary.

Le Taj is, in my opinion, the only Indian restaurant in Montreal where meticulous attention is given to all aspects of the culinary experience that patrons are invited to enjoy, and this has been so ever since it opened in 1985. It is also one of the few Indian restaurants that does not promote the myth that Indian cuisine is perfectly matched with English beer. "An amusing colonial claim!" maintains Mr. Kapoor, who prefers savouring his curries with carefully chosen wines, his personal preference being white Alsatian wine. Even newcomers will feel at home at Le Taj, as the service is provided with utmost professionalism. Bon appétit!