When I asked chef Miheer Shete, owner and founder of Curryish Tavern, how he created the coconut upama fries stacked neatly on the plate in front of me — a crispy twist on an Indian porridge-style dish — his lips immediately curled into a cheeky grin. “The upama is the ‘Curry’, frying it is the ‘ish,’” he responded, a coy reference to the name of his restaurant.

It’s the perfect summary of the ethos behind Curryish Tavern, Shete's former pandemic meal kit service-turned-full-fledged-restaurant. The Mumbai-born chef’s menu reimagines traditional Indian dishes by welding them together with seasonal Canadian ingredients. The classics are all here (like butter chicken, beef curry and biryani), but arrive on your plate nearly unrecognizable.

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Steps from Trinity Bellwoods, Curryish Tavern already seems to be a hit for the West Queen West crowd. Minutes after I arrive (on a Wednesday, no less), tables fill up quickly. I shuffle into my seat and turn my eyes to the kitchen, which is on full display to the dining room. It's excellent entertainment while I wait for my meal. I’m an avid audience to the synchronous movements of the kitchen staff — they remind me of line dancers, and I'm tempted to join in on their jig.

After a few minutes, my food’s here — and it’s nothing like I imagined.

Curryish Tavern: What’s on the menu?

The upama fries were just the beginning. I'm not ready for some of the (bold? genius? ludicrous?) "ish" menu items that chef Shete whisks out of the kitchen. Canadian oysters are complemented with tamarind chutney and crispy sev (a crunchy noodle-type snack). Coconut vatan stuffed branzino is lathered in a vibrant lemon butter turmeric sauce. Aloo gnocchi does the backstroke in a roasted cauliflower curry. Finally, the beloved butter chicken is coated in a creamy pumpkin spice sauce that, to my surprise and pleasure, is actually delicious.

Curryish Tavern | Chef Miheer Shete is the owner of Curryish Tavern on Queen West

Chef Shete’s out-of-the-box ideas don’t stop there. With the flourish of a magician unveiling a bouquet of flowers from his cap, Shete presents me with something spectacular: his lamb and pineapple upside-down biryani. If it wasn't for the fried egg perched neatly on top, I’d be fooled into thinking I’d just been served a cake for dinner. Digging in, I’m once again pleasantly surprised to find the tender lamb, sweet pineapple and traditional biryani spices set aside their differences and work together for a cohesive and bright flavour, against all odds.

While the zany contemporary twists and seasonal local ingredients do transform traditional dishes, it’s evident Curryish Tavern’s menu wields a deep love and respect for classic Indian cuisine. These dishes are expansions on established classics, unlikely marriages that might make you scratch your head at first — but give them a chance, and their flavours will dispel any doubts.

Curryish Tavern: What else?

Beyond the spotless creamy white exterior and lemon cursive lettering on the sign outside, Curryish Tavern is approachable, friendly and laid-back. It’s not a huge restaurant, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in warmth.

Curryish Tavern | The exterior of Curryish Tavern on Queen West

During my visit, I spot chef Shete regularly buzzing around the dining room, greeting guests with his signature broad grin and answering questions about dishes with vigour. His passion for his menu is clear and infectious: Before long, I'm grinning along with him, immersed in the whimsy of my curried gnocchi and Montreal bagel style paratha (which was incredible, by the way).

I leave belly full, taste buds impressed and mind effectively boggled. I can't wait to see (and taste) what chef Shete cooks up next.

Dinner and drinks for two: Around $100, before tax and gratuity.

Curryish Tavern, 783 Queen St. W., curryishtavern.ca