Taste of Hillcrest Village – The Minds behind Pukka and Concession Road By Stacia Carlton
What happens when you combine shared common goals for providing exceptional restaurant experiences and an unbridled enthusiasm for a particular neighbourhood? You wind up with not only one but two remarkable restaurants in Hillcrest Village.
Something almost magical happens as you cross Bathurst along this stretch of St. Clair. There is a certain intangible quality in the air that lets you know that you are entering an area that is both eclectic and edgy.
It was this exciting quality that Harsh Chawla and Derek Valleau saw that made them want to open Pukka at 778 St. Clair Avenue West in 2013. They followed up by opening their globally inspired French restaurant Concession Road just down the street at 760 St. Clair Avenue West a mere 18 months later. It seems abundantly clear that these business men are deeply committed to this fun and funky area.
After a profound culinary experience at Vij Vickram’s restaurant in Vancouver, Derek Valleau knew that finding the right time, and more importantly, the right location to introduce modern Indian food to Toronto was an opportunity he couldn’t allow to pass. It was at this same time that Derek and Harsh met and found themselves with a similar idea of the Indian food revolution in Toronto and indeed perhaps North America.
What is happening with Indian food in Toronto today is similar to the wave of modernity in Italian food 25 years ago, according to Valleau. The difference is not only in the taste, but also in the quality of ingredients and overall restaurant experience. From the interior design, the exemplary service, the decided lack of grease, food colouring and taste-bud-numbing-over-seasoning you are presented with a sophisticated modern look at what real Indian food is all about.
The sincerity and passion at both Pukka and Concession road makes a dining experience unforgettable. Derek and Harsh lead with an upbeat attitude and positive energy to ensure their teams reflect their positivity. What they bring to the Toronto dining scene is the idea that a great restaurant with exceptional service and a well thought out wine and cocktail program is what we deserve and should expect. They help to bring this to fruition with the inclusion of Peter Boyd, who has been wine director and sommelier at the iconic Scaramouche for the past 25 years, and the classically French trained head chef, Masayuki Tamaru, at Concession Road.
What both Harsh and Derek saw during their years leading up to the partnership was an opportunity in this rapidly growing neighbourhood. They saw the promise in the area because of its connectivity to so many important neighbourhoods. They saw the changes that were happening and continue to take place in this eclectic and creatively supportive neighbourhood.
Pukka and Concession Road are certainly a part of that inclusive attitude in the area choosing to get many of their quality ingredients from nearby Roast Butcher and even showcasing some work by local artists.
The quality is evident in the final product that comes out of the kitchens at both restaurants and is not simply an “of-the-moment” attitude. They are both adamant that they won’t jump on a popular bandwagon but rather that they are here for the long haul. That attitude is shared by Masayuki Tamaru, who states firmly that quality takes time. As a team they believe that their clientele can taste the difference and deserve the best quality possible.
So, as an admirer of not only really great restaurants but also of interesting and up-and-coming neighbourhoods, I loudly applaud what these men have set out to do. I also strongly encourage you to make a beeline for Hillcrest Village and check out the many wonderful qualities the neighbourhood has to offer, Pukka and Concession Road among them.
Stacia Carlton is a culinary school graduate and food writer with a true fondness for that vibe she gets every single time she crosses Bathurst. Find her at www.bestillandeat.com weekly