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Lunch at Diwan in the Aga Khan Museum Is a Delight for the Eyes As Well As the Stomach

Getting to the Aga Khan Museum is not easy if you don't drive so let's get that out of the way right now. It's tucked away on Wynford Drive (basically Don Mills and Eglinton), a stone's throw from the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and there is ample parking available on site. The last thing you would expect to see here, on the outskirts of the city proper, is a large, ultra modern building with a shimmering white granite top. The grounds are huge, with gardens and reflecting pools and I cannot wait for summer so that I can return and explore them. 

The interior of the restaurant itself is a lovely mix of modern, clean white walls and gleaming wood floors and ornately carved, painted wooden panels that evoke the luxury of an early 19th century Syrian home. Sumptuous and rich but modern and airy at the same time, soaring windows flood the room with bright sunlight, prompting a handful of diners to don their sunglasses indoors but I am okay with that during the cold of February. I am curious about how they deal with that in mid August but, for now, I love it.

Chef Mark McEwan and Chef de Cuisine John Kovac have taken the reigns at Diwan, the beautiful restaurant housed inside the Aga Khan museum here in North Toronto. In fact, Mr McEwan is responsible for all of the food and drink at the museum, including catering. 

Up until now, the kitchen was on shaky ground and people complained that it lacked focus and I get that. Trying to represent the foods from the entire Muslim world, in an authentic way, is daunting. The cuisine of Iran is world's away from the food of, say, Turkey even though many of the spices and ingredients are shared. 

I loved this octopus to the moon and back

A more exciting approach is to use these spices and ingredients and come up with a menu that those flavours inspire instead. In fact, off all the dishes we ate, the least exciting was the straight up plate of beef shish kebab, hummus and pita. Compared to my appetizer of grilled Octopus with chick pea salad, Moroccan olives, sweet peppers, sujuk and and Aleppo pepper aioli, it fell a bit flat. The octopus, at $17, was the kind of dish that would bring me back to the restaurant on a regular basis. It was hearty enough to be my main dish, the octopus was so perfectly cooked that it brought a tear to my eye and if they would have let me take off my clothes and roll around in the aioli, I would have gladly done so.

While my lunch date was  underwhelmed with his shish kebab, I was very happy with my Chermoula Marinated Prawns, although at $24 it felt more like a starter. A huge portion of arugula tossed in a tasty orange cumin vinaigrette sat on top of addictive roasted carrot with a scattering of about 6 plump shrimp. It was all very delicious but not as filling as the Octopus - I would order it again but I would share it, as an app, with a friend.

Because we were quite full after our starters and mains we almost skipped dessert and coffee but instead we chose to share something and I am sooooo glad we did. A scoop of fig gelato sits perched on top of two, large walnut and pistachio filo rolls and the whole thing is covered in a honey lavender syrup. My date thought he would just take a taste but, by the next thing I knew, I was hitting his greedy fingers with my fork, demanding he STEP OFF MY DESSERT. By the next day, I was already dreaming of going back for the Octopus and that dessert again. I wanted a Turkish Coffee but tried a Moroccan coffee instead and I loved it. Dark, thick coffee full of not just cardamom, but cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and black pepper served with a sugar encrusted stick to sweeten if that's your thing.
All in all, I really enjoyed my lunch and I loved the atmosphere and decor of the restaurant. We didn't have time to tour the museum after lunch this time but I will absolutely return as soon as the weather warms up to have more octopus, stroll the grounds and explore the museum.

I was asked to come in for a complimentary lunch but my opinions are very much my own. When I don't like a restaurant that I have been invited to try out, I simply do not write about it.

Roasted Beet Salad with fennel, orange, labneh in a citrus vinaigrette was as beautiful as it was delicious

I started the lunch of with a delicious mango lassi - tart, creamy and delicious

a well executed but kind of neither here nor there shish kebab plate

Although the restaurant is only open for lunch on a regular basis, the museum offers a pretty interesting performing arts program and many of these events also offer a prix fix dinner menu ($75, not including price of tickets) on those evenings. For example, this is the menu for a performance this Saturday. 

Aga Khan Museum
77 Wynford Drive

open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30am to 2:30pm
reservations: 416-646-4670 or book online

Diwan offers private dining, weddings, corporate events etc contact or 416.646.4677 ext. 7733 for details.

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