Everyone knows that Parc Ex is home to a cluster of great Indian restaurants, places that people across Montreal trek to regularly for high quality, relatively low-cost meals. Bombay Mahal, Mahli Sweets, India Beau Village and Punjab Palace are just some of the spots where (in better days) people would file in en masse for a rich, spicy, vegetarian-friendly nosh on a Thursday or Friday night, or perhaps a weekday-lunch thali deal. But just a few minutes away from the glut of Indian restaurants on Jean-Talon is Classic India. It’s pretty tiny, and not very glamorous (though judging its interior aesthetic during the pandemic isn’t exactly fair), but it’s the kind of hole-in-the-wall spot where the next-level quality of the food has driven word-of-mouth to raving levels, creating a loyal clientele.
I have to admit that I had never heard of paneer bhurji before literally catching wind of it and ordered it immediately at Classic India last summer. I’ve since tried it from two other restaurants, only to be disappointed. This dish, combining crumbled paneer, onion, peas, peppers and a tomato onion masala gravy, is a perfect example of how Classic India gets it right: the spicing, the textures and the flavours suggest that not only is there a chef with superior skills in the kitchen, but they don’t skimp on ingredients. (Their quantities and ratio of dishes in a thali are pretty impressive, too.)
Speaking of paneer, Classic India’s palak paneer — a dish that, in my experience, seems hard to get wrong (even at restaurants that fail in other respects) — is so exceptional that I avoid ordering it every time in case it spoils my taste for palak anywhere else. Paneer aside, the spinach puree that makes up the dish is rich with ghee and spiced a little on the hot side — you’ll want to specify your spice levels if you’re sensitive in that area.
Loyal clients of Bombay Mahal or Maison Indian Curry may find this controversial, but for butter chicken and fish curry, only Buffet Maharani on Jean-Talon can rival Classic India. How they game their gravies is a mystery I don’t even want to know the answer to; the difference between their sauces and that of their competitors is fairly subtle, but I can assure you that it’s not merely a matter of sugar, salt or fat.
The one and only flaw in the entire Classic India operation is the occasional fruit pit in the biryani — a minor point, and one that signals the use of dried fruit to lend sweetness, rather than straight-up sugar (or something worse). A little natural fructose is a beautiful complement to the meat and/or veg ingredients in the staple rice dish, which too many restaurants serve up as a dull, salty mash.
Without a flashy sign, advertising budget or central location relative to its competitors, Classic India is exactly the kind of mom and pop local restaurant that needs a hand these days. And even if you’ve got that one go-to for Indian cuisine in Montreal, trying this place out will be doing yourself a favour, too.
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