Debu Saha back in an unlikely venue

Celebrated Indian chef takes over kitchen at the Crown and Tiger

Debu Saha has been a fixture in Toronto’s food scene for years, having opened Indian kitchens in nearly every neighbourhood in town. Though his cooking was roundly praised (including by our own Steven Davey), luck hasn’t been on his side when it comes to locations. Even his most recent venture, Debu’s Biryani House, quietly opened (and shut) last year in the Entertainment District.

He’s back on the scene with a new eatery, Underground Kitchen 16, located in – of all unlikely places – Crown & Tiger Bar, a divey spot quintessentially popular with U of T students and other lovers of budget shots. 

What made Saha (who had a hand in pioneering upscale-Indian in the city) ditch the likes of Mount Pleasant and King West for $10 pitchers?

“In this neighbourhood, the College area, from Bathurst to, you could say, Kensington, there’s not a lot of food – real food,” he says. “Everybody’s selling hamburgers, frozen burgers, all-day breakfast and pizza. It’s not satisfying.”

Saha had known the owner of the pub for years, and their kitchen was sitting unused. “I talked to him, and he said, “‘OK, you’re welcome [to move in]’. I lost a lot of money on King Street, so I said, OK, it’s a small investment, and it’s a good neighbourhood with lots of newcomers.”

If you’re among those hungry for something other than pub food, Saha’s menu sounds mouthwatering: beer-battered masala fish and chips, 11-spice calamari and a complete slate of curries (including some novel creations like jackfruit kofta).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Saha’s banking on delivery doing the biggest business: He’s made his eats available via Just-Eat, Foodora and Grabb. But if you’d like to dine in, Saha says, in-restaurant service will be available in the evening. | @nataliamanzocco

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