I can’t say I had ever tried South African food until last night, which, as I quickly discovered, has been a deplorable loss on my part. I’ve been completely missing out.
Narayanni’s, a Whyte Avenue staple since 2010, serves up some of the finest curry I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. While the food is primarily Indian cuisine (as a result of immigration in the late 19th/early 20th centuries), it comes with a delightful South African twist: fewer dairy-based items, roti instead of naan bread, and a subtle European spin on items like the braised kale and cabbage. It’s the kind of cuisine that will leave you feeling content and full–warm and fuzzy–without weighing down your stomach with starches.
The restaurant itself is really hard to miss, once you know where you’re going. Just head one block south of Whyte at 101 Street and you’ll find yourself in front of a bright red door and panel, with a huge sign right above it. Inside, Narayanni’s is homey and comforting, with relaxed ambient lighting and the friendly murmur of other guests filling the spacious room. The buffet stands at the centre, with dishes lined in a circle around a barista used to make their signature hot chai drinks.
They have a neat selection of South African wines by the bottle, giving diners the authentic cuisine experience. We were recommended a bottle of the Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon (2010) by daughter and Front of House manager Youmashni Naidoo; to our delight, it was amazing. Similar to a full bodied malbec but with less powerful tannins, this wine paired beautifully with the spicy curries on the menu. The only danger lies in the wine’s drinkability–we had polished off the bottle before we knew it.
The food–oh, the food–was delightful. It’s strange to enjoy a meal that’s both hearty and filling and yet not feel sluggish afterwards. The majority of Narayanni’s menu is dairy free, many items are gluten free, and vegan options are abundant (they even offer a vegan buffet on Tuesday nights). My favourites were the chicken curry (moderately spicy), the grilled masala chicken (tender and flavourful), and the braised kale and cabbage (surprisingly spicy).
While Narayanni’s has only opened for dinner in the past, Old Strathcona residents and employees can now rejoice in the fact that the restaurant will be open for lunch Tuesday to Friday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The lunch buffet features four gourmet South African Indian courses: home-cooked soup, salad, chicken curry (local, free-range, hormone/antibiotic-free), and three vegan entrées for only $12 a person. If I worked anywhere near Narayanni’s, I’d make this lunch buffet a weekly routine. For the quality of food you’re getting at that price, you’ve really got no excuse.
One of the things that makes Narayanni’s such a genuinely friendly restaurant is that it’s completely family owned and run. The Naidoo family, also the proprietors of Whyte’s Block 1912, are the brains behind Narayanni’s South African Indian cuisine. In one of my tweets during the visit, I likened the restaurant’s chicken curry to my own mother’s excellent curry–unsurprising, really, since the curry at Narayanni’s was cooked by the mother of the Naidoo family and co-founder of the restaurant, Selva Naidoo. We also finished off the meal with some cinnamon-infused rice pudding, prepared by Narayanni’s dessert master and father, Daya Naidoo, as well as cups of regular chai and pistachio chai.
Along with their new lunch buffet ($12), vegan nights on Tuesdays ($15), and lamb items in the buffet on Saturdays ($25), Narayanni’s is currently also holding a spring special on Wednesday nights, offering the dinner buffet at $15 a person, rather than $20. To be honest, even $20 a person for an all-you-can-eat buffet of this quality is extremely reasonably-priced. You’ll be hard pressed to find the same quality of food at a better price at any other Indian restaurant in the city. At $15 a person, it’s a bargain!
My experience at Narayanni’s was excellent and beyond expectations. The friendly, welcoming atmosphere, the unbelievable food, the clear passion each member of the family has for the business they’ve created–every aspect of this restaurant appealed to me. They’ve made it very easy for me to give a rave review because, quite simply, Narayanni’s is wonderful. And I cannot wait to go back.
10131 81 Avenue