LAKEVIEW FISH & CHIPS AUTHENTIC INDIAN CUISINE (2459 Queen East, at Munro Park, 416-694-3056) Complete meals for $25 per person ($15 at lunch), including all taxes, tip and a Kingfisher. Open Tuesday to Sunday noon to 10 pm and Monday 5 to 10 pm. Licensed. Delivery. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
On a recent grand tour of the east side while scoping out new foodie venues, I literally stop in my tracks when I spot the sign hanging from a storefront at the far end of the Beach: Lakeview Fish & Chips Authentic Indian Cuisine. Its takeout flyer gets even more specific, adding "Indian Atlantic" to its claim of culinary authenticity.
Not since stumbling upon offbeat Vicky's Fish & Chips/Sue's Thai Food on Roncesvalles have I encountered such an unlikely collision of cookery. And like Vicky's, Lakeview lives up to its billing.
First off, despite its somewhat awkward handle, Lakeview doesn't do fish and chips per se. When owner-chef Mohammed Ali Akbar took over the floundering chippy 18 months ago, he left the low-rent fast food joint exactly as it was, including the formica-clad lunch counter complete with wobbly stools. He just added the "authentic Indian cuisine" part to the painted placard out front.
His unlikely lineup does feature Indian Fries ($3.95 small/$4.95) that, despite their skinny frozen-spud origins, get skilfully fried to crisp perfection, then sauced with a thick cumin-licked tomato onion curry and garnished with fresh coriander leaf. Kinda like chili fries go Calcutta.
And if you really stretch it, Machee Kalia ($11.95) could be interpreted as a Bengali version of Brit-style fish and chips in which flaky whitefish stands in for cod in a very mild tomato-based gravy sweetened with sugar and swimming with cubed potato.
Because most Indians are Hindu, you rarely see beef on their menus, but since Akbar is a Bangladeshi Muslim, all of the meat dishes on his card are available in halal lamb (all $10.95), chicken ($8.95) and beef ($9.95) versions. We particularly enjoy his rendition of Beef Rezala, tender strips of meat marinated in yogurt and sautéed in butter before being sauced with saffron-scented tomato curry, as well as his Beef Shakooti - take that, chi-chi Xacutti - a spicy Goan specialty here strewn with chewy cassia bark in an almost Italian tomato sauce.
Lakeview goes Goan again with Chicken Vindaloo, a traditionally fiery favourite that, although specified spicy, isn't all that hot, though tasty still. Pink-tinted cubes of boneless tandoor-fired Afghani Chicken ($13.95) luxuriate in a lovely cashew cream and come skewered with great loops of mild Spanish onion and rough cuts of sweet green bell pepper. Positively delish.
We side the meaty mains with Vegetable Biryani ($7.95), a generous portion of beautiful basmati commingled with cumin and cardamom in addition to a confounding toss of frozen corn, beans and carrots. I hate that.
But there's nothing but love for the house's tandoor-baked breads, especially its garlic naan scattered with coriander. Unlike the leaden doughnuts found elsewhere, Lakeview's pakora starter (both $2.95) finds four golden-brown nuggets laced with shredded veggies and paired with two dips, one vinegary mint, the other sweet dark tamarind. And, sure, it's an anomaly, but the Danforth-style Village Salad - tomato, cuke, bell pepper ($5.95) - can be ordered with its usual briny feta replaced by far less pungent paneer.
Of the vegetarian alternatives, Paneer Makhni ($9.95) finds the firm cheese in a creamy peanut-butter-like gravy, while both potato cauliflower Aloo Gobi ($7.95) and eggplant Baigan Bartha ($9.95) come in that by now very familiar tomato onion curry, granted with slight spicing variations.
Dal Makni - a near purée of black lentils and kidney beans in nutty cream ($7.95) - differs from the smoky take found at Dhaba or Debu Saha. Pleasant enough, Celery Dal ($6.95) finds mushy lentils mixed with firm celery and a handful of black nigella onion seed.
Lakeview isn't Akbar's first time in the spotlight. Back in the early 90s, he headed the kitchen of Curry Mary, an upscale Indian eatery that disappeared into the black hole opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario when Babur was still on Dundas. Later, he followed with stints at Anjali on Gerrard East and Mr. Maharaj, the Indian joint on Balmuto that went out of business when the Uptown Theatre unexpectedly landed on it. But I can't help but wonder why Akbar has never bothered to change his restaurant's name.
"I am next month!" the affable restaurateur explains. "My customers suggested Ali's Tandoor and Curry House, and that's what I'm going to call it." Somehow, it doesn't have quite the ring Lakeview Fish & Chips Authentic Indian Atlantic Cuisine has, now does it?