If this is your local curry house, you’re lucky. You might also know about it.
For those from away, it has a challenging location – just off Carling Avenue in a converted corner store beside an empty and endlessly for-lease lot. From street-view, you’d almost expect an eatery that’s a bit grubby, the proverbial hole-in-the-wall.
Not at all. Instead, you’re greeted by a smart-looking place, with no sense of its shop-front beginnings, with rich colours and solid furniture, fresh flowers and dark wood, and by a darling girl in a long white tunic, wearing an exuberant smile. Aahar owner Rupinder Pal is ever-present, his wife in the kitchen, and he is a benevolent host.
Rupinder and his family used to run the convenience store, which used to sell a few edible Indian treats by the cash. They now offer a full menu of mostly Punjabi-style dishes and they are very good.
There’s a nice selection of breads – roti, paratha, kulcha and naan. They have flavoured breads and stuffed breads, and breads that eat like complete meals. I’m more a fan of straight-up naan. It goes so well with everything. Though the missi roti – tandoori flat bread made with a mix of flours, flavoured with onion, cilantro and cumin – is lovely.
The menu is long. There are the usual favourites: samosa, daal and mulligatawny soup, butter chicken, shrimp tandoori, biryanis, and there is an impressive list of vegetarian dishes.
We sample a wide variety at the daily lunch buffet. Beginning with fresh and ungreasy spinach and coriander pakoras, the greens battered in seasoned gram flour, deep fried, and delicious.
And then vegetarian curries – perhaps a dal curry, aloo mattar (peas and potatoes) and mattar paneer, soft chunks of homemade cheese and peas cooked in a creamy, rich tomato sauce studded with Indian spices.
There is tandoori chicken (red-dyed, yogurt-drenched and tandoor-grilled) and a lamb vindaloo (on the mild side of incendiary).
Cumined basmati rice makes the soft bed for all these things and hot naan is delivered to the table. There is raita to cool things down and chutneys – mango, and hot pickles – to sweeten or sour or fire things up.
Most people are in and out in 20 minutes.
We discover a more leisurely pace at dinner. Perhaps my favourite starter is the paneer pakora, cheese squares dredged in fiery-seasoned chick pea flour, fried to brown and settled in a yogurt, onion and mint sauce, studded with chick peas and sprinkled with cilantro.
Lamb madras is very tender meat in a brooding sauce, filled in with tomato, and menacing red chilies, which can be mistaken for the dark fenugreek leaves that also hang about.
The baigan bartha is heaving with mysterious spices, and with eggplant, onion and tomato. Lamb palak is tender chunks of good muttony lamb, cooked with spinach and spices. It’s top-notch.
There is a bit of wine, a better list of beer, and drinks like mango lassi, topped with ground pistachio. It can be dessert if you’re not a fan of Indian sweets.
I love the sweetened cheese in cardamom-scented milk topped with nuts.
Aahar is a pleasant, friendly, family-run place offering good, fresh cooking at prices that deliver good value. If you can find it, I’d suggest you book a table.