Formerly, for years, this was San Remo, a popular Mediterranean restaurant occupying a rather run-down almost shack with a sneaky one-way parking lot behind and ramshackle steps leading up to a slappy old screen-door back entrance. Briefly, it was Pluto’s, painted pink. The back steps remain, but the screen door is locked, forcing us to walk halfway around the building in the rain. Inside is a quirky procession of spaces showing ample signs of a succession of past renovations, some of which amount to nothing more than plywood slapped up and whitewashed. A couple of thin Grecian columns stand out as memorials.
Grey and white is the colour scheme, but with red-toned hardwood floors and table tops. A diamond motif decorates the long wall, and starry grey skies are painted elsewhere: a calming effect. There’s a private little nook tucked above the railing, beyond which is the spacious, sunken, back room added on decades ago.
|Biryani Palace. (Allan Reid)|
Biryani Palace is Victoria’s first Pakistani restaurant. India is well represented within Victoria’s culinary scene, and Pakistani food is not that different. Here we have naan bread, samosas, paneer, masala and, of course, biryani, which I had to order. It is a dish originating among the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent, closely associated with the south-central Indian city of Hyderabad, and is now a popular dish throughout various regions of Pakistan. Biryani Palace offers chicken, goat and vegetarian options, from which I chose the chicken dum biryani ($16.99). Biryani is a long-grain rice dish flavoured with caramelized onions and spices, which may include bay laurel, star anise, cardamom and cloves. The chicken is seasoned with red chili powder, turmeric, green chilies and plain yoghurt. It is traditionally cooked in a process called dum pukht, meaning cooking on slow fire, in a round clay pot called a handi, with the rice layered over the chicken and the pot sealed tightly to allow the whole thing to cook in its own steam. It came to our table in a copper-clad metal dish with two pieces of chicken buried in the rice and a sprinkling of cilantro on top. Out of respect for my friend, Larry, with whom I shared, we ordered it with mild-to-medium spice, which I found perfectly palatable. The flavours are complex and satisfying, and the chicken is moist and delicious.
In addition, we shared the rogan josh ($19.99), which is lamb stewed soft in a rich tomato and onion curry. It is served with buttery naan that is quite elastic, and essential for sopping up all the left over sauce. It too was delivered in a copper-clad mental bowl with ornate handles shaped in a South Asian style. Alas, Biryani Palace does not offer alcohol. To drink, I was drawn to the brilliant orange colour of the mango lassi ($3.99), which is a thick, creamy, yoghurt and milk drink with a bold mango flavour. This milkshake-consistency drink could easily serve as dessert.
I am sure there are regional influences that an expert would notice and identify as Pakistani, rather than Indian: I cannot say. But Biryani Palace is putting out flavourful South Asian cuisine, served in beautiful, decorative metal bowls by very helpful, courteous, friendly South Asian staff who understand what they are serving, and all this at a very reasonable price. Biryani Palace does not take reservations, and the parking lot is small, but there was no line to get in. And if there ever is such a line, I will happily wait in the rain for knowing what awaits inside.
Biryani Palace – (250) 385-4747
2709 Quadra St.