I recently attended an event in West Vancouver. Overestimating how long it would take me to get there in rush hour traffic, I arrived way too early. To kill some time, I popped into the nearby Squarerigger Pub for a quick pint.
In all my years on the North Shore, I had not visited that pub. In fact, I only knew where it was because some years ago I reviewed The Ambleside Café, now long shuttered, and remarked that for whatever reason neighbouring business Squarerigger had escaped my radar.
While exiting from the pub, I paused to take in the ambience of the quaint courtyard along which it sits, recessed enough from the mayhem of post-workday Marine Drive to offer a respite to the weary. And then I saw it, a sign bearing words I have encountered in this combination before, but in a much different context from the one presumably intended here. A sandwich board bore the name Delhi Belly and pointed to a restaurant at the top of the courtyard’s steps. Enticing smells filled the air and I noted a smattering of outdoor tables under the trees. It all seemed quite promising, save the name. Now Reader, I must confess, the temptation is strong to lapse into a series of sophomoric quips about the notion of Delhi Belly, a term that most often issues from a set of smirking lips that have condescended to engage in base scatological humour.
I will refrain from such obvious and juvenile high jinks, not out of haughtiness but out of respect not only for the high calibre of food that comes from the newly opened Delhi Belly, but also for the welcoming, earnest and easygoing kitchen and front of house team that run the place, a team that showed me warm hospitality on my visit. I will instead choose to believe that Delhi Belly, in the context of this restaurant, refers to the inclination of diners to stuff themselves to capacity on the bold and complex flavours on offer here.
I sat outside and sipped a cold Tiger beer as I awaited my takeout order on a sunny weeknight. I sat and basked in the warm breeze subtly marked by notes of roasted garlic, cumin, coriander and turmeric, and nibbled on a complimentary basket of poppadum with a surprisingly, welcomingly fierce mint chutney loaded with chillies and cilantro.
Soon armed with seven dishes, plus naan, roti, rice and raita, I headed for home to tuck into a family-style meal. First up was a pleasingly delicate, generously stuffed and exceedingly fresh vegetable samosa that boasted fragrant notes of coriander seed and thin golden dough. Next I loaded a plate with steamed rice and topped that with what turned out to be my favourite dish of the evening, Fish Korma, which featured generous chunks of tender, very mild white fish in a lush and spicy gravy made round and silken with yogurt and ghee. I asked for the dish to be “hot” on the spice scale and Delhi delivered, making me glad for the side of tangy raita to temper the spice.
A dish of Prawn Vindaloo, a traditional Portuguese-influenced Goan recipe, was similarly spicy, but this time revealed signature notes of vinegar and ginger, with fiery chillies, potatoes and at least a dozen meaty prawns.
Saag Paneer, a personal favourite, was expertly made here with a spinach base that had a seemingly impossible depth of flavour and big, creamy morsels of paneer. Aloo Gobi followed, another staple of my Indian takeaway repertoire, prepared here in a drier style, with just enough tomato-based gravy to coat the cauliflower and potatoes. I also ordered the mac and cheese of Indian cooking, Butter Chicken, as it is a favourite of the kids. Delhi’s version had a tangy, creamy tomato sauce that was mild and velvety and the dish was adequately portioned, but I have discovered most places provide way more sauce than necessary for the amount of chicken they supply, so a good trick with this dish is to throw in some cubed thigh meat from the grocery store and gently simmer it to cooked in order to extend your butter chicken order into a second meal on another night.
I was pleased to learn that Delhi Belly also offers thali lunches seven days a week. For the uninitiated, a thali (which refers to the plate upon which it is traditionally served) is like Indian tapas, a meal of multiple smaller portions of several different dishes. Commonly, a thali has little recesses across it like a painter’s palette, in order to separate each dish in the meal. Dishes vary based on what the chef has prepared and often include both sweet and savoury items.
Delhi Belly. 205-1425 Marine Drive in West Vancouver. Delhibelly.ca. 604-926-8664.