Pukka
By YP Contributor

Wine with Dinner

Harsh Chawla wants to throw some water —or perhaps wine—on what he feels is the erroneous assumption that beer is the best beverage to pair with Indian cuisine. “I am a firm believer of not having beer with Indian food,” says Harsh, sitting at the bar of his popular St. Clair West restaurant, Pukka. “Beer before Indian food, great. Beer after Indian food, awesome. But not with.”

One of Pukka’s specialties is pairing a diverse array of wines with its Indian dishes. “Typically Indian food is perceived as a heavy food that you cannot have wine with,” explains Harsh, “but what happens is Indian food is really complex…and beer bloats you.”

We wanted to make people realize that Indian food isn’t just heavy curries and other dishes. Our take on Indian food is lighter, with local ingredients to the extent we can use local. As a result, we keep the menu pretty fresh with the season. - Harsh Chawla, owner
Pukka, Indian cuisine, appetizers, wine

Lighter Indian Cuisine

That’s why Pukka’s menu focus is on a lightness that the restaurant’s website describes as “elevating the typical Indian curry into clean, modern bites that wow both the eyes and the taste buds.”

“The key is to find the wines that have more floral qualities, perhaps a lower alcohol level,” says Harsh. “High alcohol wines, when you mix with the spices, tend to burn you.”

It’s a take on Indian cuisine that while new to Toronto, has become quite successful in London and elsewhere in the U.K. Harsh and his business partner, Derek Valleau, knew there was a market for this fresh take on Indian cuisine in Toronto and felt St. Clair West was the best place for it. Together, they hired noted sommelier Peter Boyd as their wine director when they opened late in 2013. “He’s been the sommelier for more than 20 years for Scaramouche,” Harsh says. “We hand-choose wines that match perfectly with specific dishes. But as I said, the food is really complex, so it takes a really refined palate to match those wines.”

Harsh says if there’s a customer favourite so far, it’s the beef short ribs and lamb lollipops—spiced with black cumin and a hint of cinnamon. “We have a white wine called Pinot Auxerrois and it’s a perfect match for those dishes,” he says.

“Our kale salad has become one of our signature items too and that’s good because we wanted to make people realize that Indian food isn’t just heavy curries and other dishes,” Harsh notes. “We wanted to showcase all Indian food. Another thing we do is a New York strip streak with a vindaloo sauce.

“Our take on Indian food is lighter, with local ingredients to the extent we can use local. As a result, we keep the menu pretty fresh with the season.”

Pukka, Indian cuisine, appetizers, wine

Dinner or Cocktails (or Both)

The ambiance of Pukka is modern and sleek, and Harsh stresses that while the wine program is a big part of the restaurant’s success, they also have an extensive cocktail list and a long line of craft beers. Whether customers are stopping in for a drink after work or coming in for dinner or even a wine-tasting, all the bases are covered.

Harsh loves St. Clair West and knows it’s an up-and-coming Toronto neighbourhood. “Especially now with streetcar lanes done, its proximity to downtown, proximity to midtown, access to the highway. It’s right in the middle of the city,” he says.

“Where else would we want to be?”

Pukka, Indian cuisine, appetizers, wine
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