Longing for a little bit of spice to escape from the bitter cold, this week I went on a whim and stopped by Empress of India, located on King Street North in uptown Waterloo. I was a little dubious at first; its massive sign outsideis fairly similar to the Tim Hortons sign beside it, unfortunately having the effect of visually cheapening the establishment. However, all is not what it seems — when you walk in it’s instant class, with neatly set tables accented by a tasteful stencil of the Taj Mahal in the background of the surprisingly intimate space (half the restaurant is dedicated solely to takeout, a wise decision given Waterloo’s large student population). I suddenly felt the urge to hush my voice due to how quiet the restaurant was, even with Indian music lightly playing in the background.</p>
Mango lassis and complimentary papadums (thin, crispy, disc-shaped pieces of seasoned dough) arrived to us first. The mango lassi was lovely, a deliciously rich and creamy mango beverage served with a cute little maraschino cherry on top. Even though a light sheen of oil coated them, the papadums were light, crispy, and tasty: perfect for stimulating our palettes especially when served with mint and tamarind chutney. This was followed by vegetable pakoras, mixed vegetable fritters that featured a lovely blend of cauliflower, potato, and onion; however, although there was the obligatory layer of crispy breading, the pakoras unfortunately turned out a bit too dense for my liking.
To be honest, I have the worst FOMO when it comes to choosing curries and given that I have zero dietary restrictions, this makes my decision all the more harder, something that my vegetarian friend and I laughed over. Deciding to move away from the “safe” choice of butter chicken that I always order, I went for the waitress-recommended chicken korma instead. Although fairly decent, the chicken was regrettably a hair overcooked, a factor that only got worse the longer it sat in the sauce. Another point against this dish was that the sauce, although listed as containing ginger and cashews, delivered no such trace of either of these ingredients I’d hoped to find. On the other hand, my companion’s shahi kofta was delicious; soft, homemade vegetable balls that crumbled apart in your mouth, perfectly accented by steaming hot and mildly spiced tomato sauce. This dish was everything I’d been missing, a certain level of comfort that I’d long associated with Indian food cooked right. I would gladly return for my own bowl of shahi kofta. Finally, the garlic naan that accompanied both our dishes was delicious, delicately charred bread cooked with liberally sprinkled minced garlic.
To end our meal, I chose ras malai, fresh milk dumplings coated in delicately spiced milk and flavoured with saffron and pistachios, for our send off. Often described as “cheesecake without the crust,” the dumplings in question had a cottage cheese-like consistency that was sweet but not intensely so, and wonderfully coated by ever-so-flavourful milk with obvious hints of pistachio. Overall our meal had been decent enough, but considering the moderately expensive prices (their cheapest curry is $15 and that’s without any rice or bread) and the fact that the chicken korma and vegetable pakoras had both been a tad overcooked.
I’m not sure that this establishment is worth the price. On that note, have a very happy holidays everyone! Whether it’s with friends and family, be sure to share a lot of food with people that you love.
Rating: 3/5 stars