Toronto, ON M5V 1Z4
Azkadenya has officially landed in Toronto. The popular Middle Eastern spot is serving up an array of dishes, from century-old favourites to modern eats, inside its bright Queen West outpost.
The name Azkadenya translates to “delicious world,” and after opening in Jordan in 2011 and expanding with great success in Dubai, the powerhouse couple behind the company wanted to bring a vibrant story of Middle Eastern culture to a Canadian audience.
“What’s key for us,” explains director of marketing Yasmine Al Zaben, “is to really show the playful side of the Middle East. You’ll see it in our food, in our colours, in our art. Joy is one of the stories about the Middle East we want to tell.”
The beauty of Azkadenya is certainly in the meticulous attention to detail involved in every aspect of the experience. Female film stars, belly dancers, and poets from Middle Eastern history coat the walls in a series of pop-art murals with neon lights. Prints of old Arabic newspapers are rolled out onto tables and colourful plates showcase Arabic phrases that speak of family, friendship, love and food. The restaurant makes and bottles their own specialty sauces which sit on each table, and there are spots throughout the restaurant that allow for intimate meals, family-style spreads, and solo diners.
“We worked hard this past year to reformat our brand for Toronto,” says CEO Omar Al Tabba. “Traditionally, you order a lot and share it family-style, but we created individual platters in keeping with our fast-casual experience, and to cater to people who might not know what they want, or for one or two people dining alone.”
But while everything from the prices to the self-serve nature of the space speaks to a fast-casual designation, there’s nothing casual about the flavours that hit the plate. Azkadenya’s food rests in a niche somewhere between sophisticated and playful, between affordable and memorable. The flavours are rich and exciting, and the dine-in option of having tableside shawarma served on an individualized roasting spit makes for fresh, perfectly juicy cuts of meat for each wrap. The falafel is served in a quick-grab cone for convenience.
One of the best ways to try a little of everything is to order the mixed mezza platter ($14.99) — a colourful array of walnut muhammara (complete with feta cheese and pomegranate molasses), mama ganoush (a play on the classic baba ganoush), beetroot tahini, classic tabbouleh and traditional hummus.
The pink hummus ($6.99) is an Azkadenya signature dish, using pomegranates to dye the classic dip.
The cauliflower tahini ($9.99) is served in a hot skillet and is a medley of fried cauliflower, roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, yogurt tahini, almonds, and parsley.
The freekeh avocado ($8.99) is a mixture of freekeh, cucumber, avocado, dill, spring onions, and pomegranates.
When your table is ready to move on to more hearty plates, try the mix grill ($19.99) of shish tawook, lamb kebab, and beef tenderloin skewers served with hummus, tabbouleh, French fries and homemade saj bread.
“I think what will differentiate us the most is our recipes and our story,” says Al Tabba. The tastes are authentic and our space is created to express the happiness of the Middle East. The fun.”