Narayanni’s

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.

Narayanni’s
10131 81 Avenue
Edmonton, AB
(780) 756-7112

5/5

CHEFS, UNCENSORED: MARTIN FLINT, PADMANADI

Padmanadi has been in Edmonton since 2002 and is dedicated to providing delicious vegan dishes to herbivores and carnivores alike. Chef Martin Flint has cooked for the restaurant for several years and now works as the assistant manager and occasional chef.

How would you describe your cooking style?

In a word, my cooking style is vegan. Having been vegetarian for many years and strictly vegan for the last seven years, I will only use vegan ingredients in anything I cook. I try to keep my cooking simple, using as few ingredients as possible to create uncluttered dishes that allow fresh, natural flavours to come through.

What’s your food/restaurant philosophy?

Here at Padmanadi the whole team is dedicated to bringing an awareness of the vegan lifestyle to the people of Edmonton and all who come through our doors. We aim to show everyone that there is an incredibly tasty, wholesome alternative to what I call the SNAD (Standard North American Diet), and it’s available here in the capital of “beef country.”

What inspired you to become a chef?

I have long been dismayed by the sad lack of good vegan food available in restaurants and hotels around the world. I don’t think vegans should have perhaps one or two choices of restaurant or just eat mountains of pasta and tomato sauce or fries and salad! Perhaps it was this that made me want to try to do something positive. When I first came to Padmanadi some eight years ago I was completely captivated by the owner, Kasim, who really inspired me to try my hand at doing something that he could see I was passionate about. With his guidance and expert help from his daughter Maya, I learnt the ropes and am still learning.

What’s the first thing you ate that made you realize food was an important part of culture?

I have always believed that food and the sharing of food is a cornerstone of every culture that has ever been on the earth. There is nothing more fundamental than the preparation of [food], and the “breaking of bread” with your neighbour.

What do you think is Edmonton’s next big innovative ingredient?

It’s really hard to tell. After sun dried tomatoes and balsamic vinegar, who knows? Personally I would like to see an increased interest in the numerous types of fungi now available.

Why should people visit your restaurant and try your food?

People should come to Padmanadi to try something different. I guarantee they will be amazed by the selection of wonderful food on offer; every dish a beautifully cooked and presented explosion of flavour that will leave them counting the days until their next visit. As I say to all our guests, “you come in as a customer but you leave as a friend.”

Padmanadi Vegetarian Restaurant
10740 101 Street
Edmonton, AB T5H 2S3
(780) 428-8899
Tues – Fri: 11am to 2pm; 4pm to 10pm
Sat-Sun: 10am to 2pm; 4pm to 10pm