When you think of going for an Indian meal, what image comes to mind? Flocked wallpaper, pungent curry smells, oval stainless steel serving dishes, and sitar music?
You can still find spots like that without even trying, but if that’s your impression then you’re in for a surprise when you walk through Mango Shiva’s doors – this stylish, classy restaurant has an Indian flair that is uniquely its own.
Back in 2002, and inspired by chefs/restaurateurs like Vikram Vij, Kam Dhillon had the idea that Indian restaurants didn’t have to be run of the mill, that they could be exciting and innovative, with cool food in a contemporary setting – that’s the vision he sold his family anyway, and they bought it…
“At the time we did a restaurant makeover on a place in Penny Lane,” Shivahe says. “Friends of mine owned it, and I thought ‘hey, what a great location.’ If only we did a quick fluff and tart on it, we could have a unique restaurant. I painted, dad laid the tile, granny did the upholstery, and the rest provided moral support with splatters of worry and caution.” Ever the optimist, Dhillon continues, “I’m kind of like Sonny in the Grand Marigold Hotel. I feel sorry for my family because my naive optimism can be a force to reckon with sometimes. I can’t imagine it any other way though!”
In 2007, Mango Shiva was displaced by development, and the family relocated to the current location on Stephen Avenue. That’s when Dhillon was really able to let his imagination run wild. “It’s a beautiful room, even when I am away from the space and come back to it, it can be breathtaking, and I’m sorry for my lack of modesty here,” he says. “It has an exotic, timeless quality that really takes you away.” I think we’d all agree with him; the dim lighting, candles on every table, mirrors, padded swivel captain’s chairs at the bar, and plenty of exposed brick and natural wood, all combine to create the sexy, warm and inviting space they occupy now.
Calgary’s food culture has evolved over the last 10 years, and Dhillon believes that social media and the internet are the driving forces behind it. “We have so much inspiration always available,” he says. “So many restaurants and so many celebrity chefs, and even celebrity bartenders and servers. I think over time Mango Shiva has discovered that the best food is simply well prepared, honestly wholesome, and genuinely authentic.”
Mango Shiva’s menus have always been an adventure, and an exploration of Indian subcontinent cuisine withoutbeing pinned down to one area and style. Mainstays like Coconut Curried Calamari (oh yum, it’s making me hungry just thinking about it!), Baked Samosas, and Fenugreek Curried Lamb have been around since the beginning, but Dhillon, his brother Neil, and chef Kirin are constantly creating new menus, balancing experimental dishes with more authentic ones.
“Many dishes aren’t found on other Indian menus in Calgary,” Dhillon explains. “For example, the seafood curries on our menu…or stuffed breast of chicken, or fillet of salmon. Also our entire weekend brunch menu including Masala Dosa (South Indian rice flour crepe), and Butter Chicken Waffles, are a rare find in Indian restaurants.” You’re not likely to find the lip-smacking Curried Duck Bene “deep”, with fenugreek hollandaise and cardamom biscuits, in too many other places either! New menu items that have become very popular include Pakora Fish Tacos, and Pakistani Biryani – a very traditional dish of layered rice, spices, and meat steamed together in a dish sealed with bread, and served with mint yogurt.
Mango Shiva also set themselves apart with a wine list that changes seasonally, and their innovative cocktail list, honed by resident bartender, Prasad, and resident ‘bar star’, brother Neil. Favourites right now are Kama Sutra and Bollywood 75.
Running an Indian restaurant in Calgary isn’t without its challenges, and Dhillon has to consider things that other restaurants might not even think of. “You can’t imagine how hard it can be to find music for a contemporary Indian restaurant! Not too Bollywood, you can’t eat to Bhangra music, not to yogic, not techno music, not Ravi Shankar or anything else that will put you to sleep, not chanting prayer music, not Taylor Swift, not a lot of things,” he laughs. “Its an important part of the overall ambiance, so we play music by contemporary artists that has an Indian or international feel to it – down tempo lounge music at lunch (good for business meetings), and loungey Indian music at dinner, never too loud.”
About the perennial problem of downtown parking, Dhillon says, “Curry and downtown parking – sometimes a hard sell when I’m talking to some people in the city.”But they cleverly get round it with free parking at Banker’s Hall after 6 p.m.!