COVID can’t keep Train from running
Despite delays, Indian restaurant opens in Old Chelsea
By Hattie Klotz
Near the end of August, the restaurant Dernier Train pour Delhi Express (Last Train to Delhi Express) opened quietly in Old Chelsea. Offering high-quality progressive Indian food, it’s the little sister of a similarly named eatery on Fourth Avenue in the Glebe, which opened in July 2019.
Both restaurants are owned by Chelsea residents, husband and wife chef-entrepreneurs, Surinda Singh and Christine Fletcher.
The Old Chelsea location, next to The Doozy Candle store, was destined to open at the end of March 2020, but COVID-19 changed those plans. When lockdown began, contractors stopped and the project was delayed six months.
“And then, when they started work again, they had to stretch the build, as then they had other projects that had also been delayed,” explains Singh.
The building, a former fire station and most recently a ski shop, boasts a clean-lined, contemporary design with industrial undertones; high ceilings, refurbished polished concrete floors, exposed brickwork, black pendant lights, an aquamarine-tiled bar front and a floor-to-ceiling wood-panelled wall combine to create a spacious, family-friendly space to enjoy very good food.
“While the food might not be quite as fancy as our Ottawa location, it’s the same butter chicken, the same lamb Rogan Josh, as Surinder makes all the sauces,” explains Fletcher, who makes the desserts in both locations. The menu is inspired by the culinary traditions of Northern India and the food is well-spiced but not conventionally ‘hot.’ A classic butter chicken is deeply savoury, creamy and delicious, perfect to mop up with warm roti bread, while lamb Rogan Josh is more robustly spicy with lovely tomato undertones.
Singh has worked in the restaurant business for over 20 years, both in Sydney, Australia for five years before coming to Canada in 2001. He’s worked at Shafali and Haveli restaurants in the Byward Market, as well as the former Pickwick’s Pub just off Beechwood in the city’s east end.
For 13 years, the couple owned and operated The Tea Party on York street. “We decided to close that down and take a sabbatical,” explains Fletcher. The family, who had children aged 10 months, six and 10 at the time, spent time in Italy and India, where Singh said he explored his Indian heritage and deepened his knowledge of Punjabi flavours. Everything at both restaurants is made by hand, from scratch, and that includes chutneys as well as grinding and roasting their own spices. Fletcher’s background is in business and finance, but she’s worked in restaurants on the service side since high school and says she has always loved to bake.
COVID has left nothing unchanged. While the pandemic delayed the opening of Dernier Train pour Delhi, it has also made it extremely difficult to find staff.
Fletcher, who works nightly at the Chelsea location while her husband works at the Ottawa location, says he has had great difficulty hiring to build a team both in the kitchen and front-of-house.
“We have mostly teenagers and CEGEP kids,” she explains, which means that there have been a few glitches as they all learn the ropes. “But our aim is to produce really good ethnic Indian food and stay in our community for a long time. We want to slowly build a good team and a good business, offering high quality.”
But this, she points out, will take a little time. They’re just not equipped yet to handle big orders for rapid take-out alongside their dine-in clientele.
“Good food takes time,” laughs Fletcher, who notes that more people are opting for take-out these days due to COVID.
An alcohol permit is in the works and the couple has plans for a patio in the garden behind the building for spring 2021.
The restaurant is open Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and closed Sundays and Mondays.