Azhar: What's the vibe
You can smell Azhar before you see it. The steam rising off oven-fresh, herbaceous Iranian-style flatbreads, puffed pitas and sinfully decadent chocolate babka beckons you in, more tempting than a delicious secret you won't be able to keep to yourself.
From two of Toronto’s most celebrated culinary minds, Janet Zuccarini and chef Stuart Cameron, comes a Middle Eastern marketplace and kitchen that serves as a delightful remedy for our screen-fatigued senses. Turns out mezze is the cure for pandemic hangovers — or, at least, makes you forget about the stress as you dip your pocketed pita into pools of creamy hummus, baba ghanoush and tzatziki.
Nestled on the bustling Ossington strip in the Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood, Azhar invites you to leave the busy concrete city behind and be transported into a world of colour, spices and spreads. If you don't feel like attempting another Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, order Azhar for a tasty weeknight treat or post up on their new patio.
At the front of the restaurant, pantry items like za’atar spice, preserved lemons and cooking oils greet you, while the open, mosaic-tiled kitchen in the back could be mistaken for the kitchen in a friend’s really, really nice East Mediterranean or Middle Eastern home. Azhar doesn't feel industrial at all, but rather a place where you could shake off the week, sip Turkish coffee (simmered on hot sand in front of you) and stay forever...
Azhar: What's on the menu
Mezze is an assortment of small sharing plates, but don’t let the “small” confuse you: Mezze can be the whole meal. Azhar sells individual dips, but we recommend getting the full Mezze Box with pitas, marinated olives and your choice of four house-made spreads. Favourites include: hummus (duh); vibrant fire-roasted red pepper muhammara; and labneh, a strained yogurt dip finished with olive oil and za’atar that’s so velvety I want to use it as my new face moisturizer.
Mains like the 14-hour roasted lamb shawarma don’t shy away from bold, aromatic seasoning. This glorious hunk of tender meat is rubbed with fresh Middle Eastern herbs and sauces before it's served on a plate of spiced laffa bread (a thicker and chewier pita), perfect for tearing apart with your hands. You won't miss the meat once you sink your teeth into the oven roasted cauliflower with almond cream and pistachios. For dessert, the indulgent wood-fired white chocolate pavlova with passion fruit and chamomile is a superb sweet treat.
Azhar: What else
If you need a cup of instant coffee, this is not the place. Instead, savour the ritual of finely ground Turkish coffee at the bar. Azhar also has a selection of low-intervention wines and cocktails inspired by Middle Eastern flavours like the rose and saffron mule with floral rose water.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $90
96 Ossington Ave., 647-503-1098; azhartoronto.com