Review: Cafe Shafali

308 Dalhousie Street, Ottawa – (613) 789-9188 – Website 

Date of Visit: July 25, 2012

My wife and I visited this place some 6 years ago and really enjoyed a couple of Thali platters together. On this most recent visit to Ottawa, I wanted to try them again but, after perusing the online menu and the dinner menu at the restaurant, I found no mention of Thali plates at all and started to think I had maybe confused this restaurant with another. I soon discovered, however, that Thalis are only available on the lunch menu and, though being a little disappointed, I stayed and happily ended up enjoying a very good dinner indeed …

Ambience and Service

Shafali seats about 50 people and is pleasantly but simply appointed with some nice artwork on the walls. When I arrived at about 5 pm I was the only customer but others began to arrive quite soon after and by the time I was done my meal the place was about a third full.

There was only a single waiter at first and I was initially unimpressed by the fact that he was rather distant and seemed more interested in attending to other tasks than taking my order.  I soon realized, however, that some sort of a problem with the cash register computer was distracting him and, when he eventually resolved this, he was much more focused on service. Later, when I complimented the quality of my first selection, he seemed genuinely pleased and was thereafter quite chatty and friendly.

The Dishes

Mussel Ka Surwa

This dish was a genuine delight. It consisted of 6 very large mussels of top quality (possibly New Zealand in origin) bathed in a copious yoghurt based curry sauce. The sauce was hot enough to make my sinuses water and it was so complex and well balanced that I was unable to differentiate all the spices used, other than the obvious addition of cumin. It was very tangy from the yoghurt and, though I found it just a little bit too sweet, I have no hesitation in rating at a respectable 5 out of 5.

Chapati

I was rather expecting two or three small flatbreads when I ordered this but, instead, I got one very large one. When I tried it I was very surprised at how flaky it was and I thought that I must have been given a Paratha by mistake. I asked the waiter but he assured me it was a Chapati and said it was flaky because they use butter making it. I didn’t quibble, but that actually sounds pretty much like a plain version of Paratha to me. In any event, the bread was very good and was  very slightly burned in just a couple of spots which actually added to the taste. Rating 4 out of 5.

Onion Bhaji

These were very slightly overcooked but still turned out to be the best I have ever had.  They were only mildly hot and had a nice crunch from the ends of the deep-fried onion and some seed fragments in the spice blend. The taste of the Besan used to make the batter came through nicely and the only definite notes in the complex spiciness was turmeric and coriander seed. The sauce for dipping was not easy to identify and was a bit like a thin Chinese plum sauce. It was okay but, really, the Bhajis didn’t need anything else to interfere with the lovely flavor. There was a salad of sorts served along side and consisted of lettuce with a sauce that tasted rather like a curried mayonnaise. I didn’t dislike it but I didn’t eat more than a mouthful or so. All in all, this was a great choice and I rated it at 5 out of 5.

Sheek Kabab

This was basically ground beef that mixed and beaten into a very smooth paste before being mixed with a variety of spices. It was obviously cooked on a skewer as the oblique slices all had a hole through them. The meat was just a little dry but the taste was very pleasant and I was able to detect cumin and coriander along with a faint hint of cardamom and, maybe, a little nutmeg. They were mildly hot but I think that may have come from black pepper rather than chili. The sauce was yoghurt based and mainly flavored with mint. I like yoghurt cooked, as in a sauce, but I am not keen on it raw and there was also a bit of cilantro in the blend so I didn’t much enjoy this at all. The salad was the same as the one with the Bhajis and, again, I didn’t eat it. All in all, despite the dryness of the meat, I thought this dish was very nice and I rated it at a 3 out of 5.

Overall

Given the sweetness of the Mussel curry and the dipping sauce for the Bhajis, I have a general sense that Shafali has deviated from its roots somewhat in order to appeal to western palates. I don’t think they can be too harshly criticized for that, however and, ultimately, I was impressed with the place and enjoyed a good dinner. It is definitely worth trying.

Shafali Restaurant on Urbanspoon

6 thoughts on “Review: Cafe Shafali”

  1. Been going to Shafali’s since they opened at least once a year. Been reading some recent reviews that indicate a change in the quality and food. Planing on a trip soon and I really hope things have not gone down hill.

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