Chill Cafe, Also Known as House of Bengal
Have you passed by and noticed this crazy upside down sign? It’s Chill Cafe, also referred to as House of Bengal — a shisha lounge that boasts a modern Bangladeshi/Middle Eastern fusion menu on the Danforth.
One Saturday night my brother and I had the pleasure of dining at Chill Cafe, which offers a unique take on South Asian Fusion cuisine. Chill Café, (House of Bengal) has developed a buzz on social media with their live performances and popularity with a more youth oriented crowd.
The only parking available is street parking. I was told there is parking at the back of the building as well, but I couldn’t find it. We went at 7pm on a Saturday evening, and we managed to get a parking spot very easily on the street directly opposite the restaurant (and pay parking is enforced till 6pm there, so parking was free). The restaurant is more easily accessible via public transit, with Woodbine Station being the closest subway stop.
Décor and Ambience
Chill Café wasn’t officially opened when we went, but was having what is known as a soft opening. They were still testing out operations, procedures and facilities, with many of their clientele coming via word of mouth or through targeted Facebook promotions.
Throughout our stay, the owner popped in quite a few times to talk to us, and ask about our meal, and we also met one of his co-owners. The customer service was excellent throughout. I value customer service very highly – you can often eat at home what you are eating out, what makes the difference to me personally, is the customer service and ambience.
The restaurant is decorated very nicely with contemporary tones. There’s a Surface computer on a table (see picture above) if you have to wait during busy times. At 7 pm on a Saturday night, I would estimate the restaurant to be about 40% full, which wasn’t bad for a place that just opened.
The restaurant was split into the general dining section, like any other restaurant, with tables and chairs, but also had a lounge section. A projector displayed Bollywood and Bengali song videos on a wall at the end of the lounge. I was told that this area is also planned for use for live performances in the future.
We dined in the regular section.
What drew us to House of Bengal (now called Chill Cafe) was the promise of Bangladeshi food in a modern setting. We were curious to see what it would be. When we were seated, the owner told us the food was more of a fusion of Bangladeshi food and Arabic style of cooking, since some of the owners were also Middle Eastern.
I should add that shisha is also available at this time at the House of Bengal, but I didn’t see anyone having it while we were there — but likely because it was still early. This might be an issue if you want to bring kids to the restaurant.
Many establishments have special drinks — and House of Bengal was no different. Their beverages, such as the Strawberry Milkshake ($4.99), Masala Tea ($3.50), or the Mango Lassi ($4.99), come super sized; something that I approve of since you often pay a lot for lassi at a regular desi establishment only to get a small glass. Portions here are a huge hit!
We were given a menu, but we were also told since the restaurant was trying out various combinations in the soft opening, the menu wasn’t exactly in sync with what was on offer, and also didn’t match up to the website. I was looking to see if they had some Bangladeshi seafood dish on offer, but on the owner’s recommendation we ordered a kebab platter (see restaurant for info & availability), which comes with a beef skewer and pieces of chicken breast kebab, some chutney and raita, as well as a small plate of white rice.
The kebabs were flavourful without being spicy. I also liked the fact that they didn’t seem too oily, and actually preferred the beef skewer over the chicken.
We also ordered Bangladeshi-style Biryani ($12.99), which was served in a clay pot. It reminded me of a restaurant I had eaten at in Old Dhaka, near Laal Baagh. The biryani carried that Bangladeshi food / Arabic twist fusion concept; it wasn’t spicy, but it was definitely flavorful and tasty, and definitely unique from the usual Indian/Pakistani biryani.
As for the food, if you go to the House of Bengal, you have to try their biryani. It’s what I would call their signature dish, and it is pretty good. The biryani is a bit pricey, but if you order it, I would recommend ordering it with the garnishing (raisins and nuts) as well. It’s just about big enough for two people to share (or one really hungry person!).
We also ordered a side of vegetables to go along with it (again, I missed it on the menu, but went on the owner’s suggestion). And finally, it was time for dessert, and we ordered some rasmalai ($3.99). This was pretty much the best sweet / dessert dish I have eaten in a while, their presentation was pretty awesome as well.
Our whole meal cost us about $15 per person. This isn’t bad at all for weekend dining. If you are bringing a friend to the House of Bengal, I would recommend the biryani, and kebab rolls in paratha (not the platter), and mango lassi for the same cost, all to share.
The House of Bengal made a positive impression. It was clean, more modern/upscale than other desi establishments, and the food was noteworthy. I could definitely see it as becoming a place for youth, to gather.
If I have to suggest anything, it would be to have more Bangladeshi dishes, especially some type of seafood. Being Bangladeshi myself, and wanting this cuisine to grow in Toronto, I’m biased of course. There are many restaurants all over Toronto that have biryani and kebab, much more economical as well. If the House of Bengal has something unique going for it – it’s the Bengaliness of it (is that even a word?!) So I would concentrate on kacchi biryani, ilish (Hilsha, boneless), bhuna chingri and other Bengali treats if they’re looking to expand their menu and focus on more of this type of cuisine. However, looking at how they’ve grown over the past few weeks, I would say that they’ve landed on more of a fusion style vs. exclusively Bangladeshi.
Would I go again? Yes, definitely, but I am older, and have a child – so Chill Café/House of Bengal would be reserved for when it’s just my wife and I, and we are in the mood for Bangladeshi fare. So do definitely go and try it out.
Meat Source: All meat sourced is from Paramount Butcher Shop and Iqbal Halal Meat – all hand slaughtered. ** NOTE: meat was checked (verbal assurance) at time of review and can change at anytime – please check meat sources before eating and let us know if there are any discrepancies **
Mezbauddin Mahtab is an IT professional, photographer, blogger, and a devoted husband and father based in Toronto, Ontario. Mezba also loves to eat and is an avid foodie. He is the author of Teaching Kids the Holy Qur’an – Chapter 18: The Cave, as well as Teaching Kids the Holy Qur’an – Chapter 71: Nuh, both of which tells stories from the Qur’an using LEGO© Bricks and toys. He maintains a personal blog on A Bengali in TO, and is currently planning his third book on Surah Qasas.
Chill Cafe, House of Bengal
2183 Danforth Ave., Toronto