Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lamb shanks and meatballs and spices, oh my! - Khyber Pass.

It's back to school! Back to endless nights of cramming, countless boxes of take-out and empty cartons or instant noodles. Sigh. But before that, one more trip to the Plateau!

When my friend told me she was craving lamb, my first thought was: 'Oh, we're going to Fat Sheep or Kiss Grill again'. Never in a million years did I expect her to take a group of us to Khyber Pass, a quaint Afghan restaurant situated on Duluth in the Mount Royal region. To be completely honest, I had no idea what Afghan cuisine even consisted of before going to Khyber Pass, and I still can't really say if I do now. I don't know if the Afghan cuisine they serve in this restaurant is authentic or not, but what I can say is that the food is damn good either way.

As my friends and I were being generally very tourist-like by taking pictures of everything in sight, a passerby couple stopped to urge us to go and try Khyber Pass, telling us that the food was delicious and how, no, they weren't being creepy at all. You know it's a good sign when a passerby assures you that they're not being creepy. ;)

As you can see in the picture, the restaurant is very uniquely decorated and has a pleasant ambiance. On the inside, the walls are covered with colourful Middle-Eastern tapestries and ornaments, and some cultural items, such as dresses and jewellery, are put on display. On the terrace, the walls vibrant flowers are painted onto the walls. While the terrace is nice, I strongly recommend sitting indoors (next to a window if you need the occasional breeze) in order to enjoy the full experience.

Accessibility - Grade: B+
It took us a 10 minute walk from Sherbrooke at a slow pace, but since the trajectory wasn't straightforward, I'm giving it a B+.

Service - Grade: C+
Our waiter did seem to have a bit of an attitude. He didn't smile much, and when we asked for a bit more time with the menu, he seemed annoyed. My friend and I told him we'd split a table d'hôte, and he stared at us before telling us we had to pay a minimum of $16.95 per person. He even did that thing where he wordlessly turns over the menu and taps at the part that says 'Minimum $16.95 per person'. Ugh, really? I know a lot of waiters don't like serving younger people because they assume we don't the money to tip them properly, but a customer is a customer regardless of their age, gender or race. He was pretty stuffy throughout our entire meal, but other than him, the rest of the waitstaff seemed nice, and we did get our food at a good pace.

Food - Grade: A-
Bonus Marks: Great first Afghan Cuisine experience.

Complimentary bread and dip

They started off by giving us a complimentary bread basket, as many restaurants do. Unlike most restaurants, the bread they served us was fresh and soft, and is accompanied by three different types of dip. The red dip, which I imagine is a tomato-based dip, is quite sour with a hint of spice. The green dip was salso sour, but had a bit of tangy sweetness to it as well, almost like relish. The white is a yogurt dip, though not quite as thick, and is subtly sour with a bit of the dairy sweetness. All three were quite good, but my favourite has to be the red one, since I'm a sucker for sour stuff. Yup. I can eat a lemon.

House Soup
We started off with the House Soup, described as having red lentils and fresh coriander. The soup was smooth and lightly spiced, and perfectly salted. I've had lentil soups that tasted like the salt shakers decided to commit soupy suicide and just dove into the pot (my taste buds still shrivel at the memory). The difference between those and this is like night and day.
Borani Citrouille
For the appetizer, we chose the pumpkin Borani, described as "pumpkin with curcuma and ginger, served with tomato sauce and garlic yogurt'. The pumpkin pieces were tender and very sweet, while the yogurt and the tomato sauce added a bit of tartness, and the curcuma and spices give it the herby kick it needs to bring it all together. I personally found the dish a bit too sweet, but again, I'm a sour person. In terms of flavour AND in real life. (Badum-chi!)

Borani Aubergines
One of my friends ordered the eggplant Borani, which we all got to try, because sharing is love. This dish consists of sliced eggplants with tomato sauce and garlic yogurt drizzled over it. The eggplant is cooked until it's mushy soft in the center while the skin is still crispy. Since the seeds in the eggplant weren't removed, the tanginess of the tomato sauce and yogurt has a bite of bitterness to it, but not to the point of being unpleasant. This dish is light and refreshing, unlike its pumpkin counterpart, which was richer and sweeter.

Since I was a few dollars short of the mandatory $16.95, I decided to order an appetizer to make up for price the discrepency. The waiter recommended the Mantoo, hopefully not because it was the most expensive dish, but because he actually thought it was good. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

The Mantoo consisted of a plate of ravioli-like pastas stuffed with ground beef and onions, and topped with the customary tomato sauce and garlic yogurt, along with some mixed greens. The different ingredients in the dish all came together quite nicely. The ground beef and onion stuffy was juicy and sweet, the tomato sauce and spices were zesty, and the greens added a nice crunch to the whole thing.

Kofta Chalaw with Basmati rice trio
My friend ordered the Kofta Chalaw, which another friend affectionately dubbed the UFO meatballs. Why? Because the beef meatballs were HUGE and shaped a bit like a flying saucer. The meatballs were all packed with beefy goodness, and the meat was juicy and spiced just enough to give it a kick. I didn't get to try the three types of rice, but my friend said they tasted similar. Bah. Computer scientists and their cup noodles. They should stop eating them before it completely destroys their taste buds.

Kabuli Palaw
The rest of us all ordered the Kabuli Palaw with lamb, which consisted of a braised lamb shank, brown basmati rice tossed with raisons and julienned carrots, and their Afghan salad.

Wow. I don't usually eat lamb shanks because I find the taste of lamb to be too strong if not cooked properly. The lamb shank at Khyber Pass definitely did not have that problem. The meat was tender and juicy, and wasn't overly seasoned to mask the taste of lamb; instead, it's cooked in a manner where the natural taste of lamb is present, but not overwhelmingly so. The rice was nice balance of spiced and sweet, and despite the fact that I don't like raisins, I didn't feel the need to pick out the rainsins from the rice, since it blended in so nicely. The salad was herb-y and refreshing, a nice counterpart to the heavier foods on the plate.

Rosewater Pudding
The table d'hôte also included a dessert of Rosewater Pudding sprinkled with pistachios. The pudding obviously wasn't freshly-made, since it congealed on the sides of the dish, but it was still quite good. The pudding wasn't too sweet or dairy-heavy, like its North-American counterparts, and had a light floral fragrant from the rosewater. I find it a bit weird to say this about a pudding, but it was actually pretty refreshing.

Price - $$$
Since the everyone must pay at least $16.95, you can expect to walk out of the restaurant at least $20 short. Most of the entrées are around $20 before tax, so this restaurant definitely isn't a casual dining spot for students. However, it is a great place for special events or occasional dining.

Final Grade: B+Even though we were a bit miffed at the waiter's attitude, the food more than made up for it. If you're looking to try Afghan cuisine, or even just try something new and immerse yourself in another culture for one evening, Khyber Pass is definitely a good candidate!

Khyber Pass
Khyber Pass Cuisine Afghan on Urbanspoon
(514) 844-7131
506 Ave Duluth E,


  1. ohhhh I went here for my graduation dinner and yes, was very impressed with the food! I also had the mantou and lamb and pudding, and I think their rice is really great too (the three different kinds!). now I'm craving Afghan food all of a sudden. ^.^

  2. Haha, food blogs tend to induce intense cravings in people. I know when I read one, I get hit with a hundred at once. :P Thanks for taking the time to comment! :)