SKYLARK (1433 Gerrard East, at Hiawatha, 416-469-1500) Complete meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and an imported beer. Average main $11. Open daily 11 am to 10:30 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
Nobody has embraced sneeze-guard cuisine like Toronto's South Asian restaurateurs. Skylark is one of Little India's most popular buffet spots, a state of affairs that will only be enhanced by recent grandiose renovations.
Buffets are as much about when as what: an old vegetable pakora is a limp vegetable pakora.
Hitting the fritter bin immediately after a reload yields a serviceable starter, light on spicing but nicely textured.
Also falling prey to that absence of spice is rogan josh, which has lots of bony goat pieces but little of the flavour punch you expect. The mixed vegetable aloo gobi is also pretty bland, but that's offset by a good, slow-building chili heat.
Sugar is one ingredient that makes its presence felt. The butter chicken is breakfast-cereal sweet, but some balance is obtained through the penetrating, smoky quality of the tandoor. Chili chicken is more sweet than heat but satisfies with lots of peppers and onions in a tomato-based sauce. The side of pickle-like corn chutney adds some tang.
Things perk up a bit with methi beef, which benefits from a deft application of cardamom. If anything, this dish could linger longer in the pot, as the beef is still chewy.
The chicken jalfrezi, which combines clove and cinnamon flavours with some chili heat in a dark sauce, is the steam table standout, delivering complexity and depth.
For dessert, the always charming gulab jamun is present and accounted for, but in future I'd spend more time at the ice cream cooler, a very apt closer.
The whole show runs smoothly, with an eye to detail: hot crisp naan is served at the table. Skylark has a full menu, but the buffet's a good deal that allows you to thoroughly explore the concept of "all you can eat."