Azhar Kitchen & Bar (Toronto)

Azhar Kitchen & Bar is one of the many restaurants that forms the Gusto 54 chain, and it is no less inviting and delicious. After attending an event in Ossington, we were peckish and in search for a satisfying dinner before calling it a night. After being turned away from other Ossington establishments, it was Azhar that took us in and welcomed us onto comfortable seats at the bar.

Famished, we opted for shared starters, and I was excited to find zucchini flowers ($15) on the menu. The delicate flora is stuffed with a smooth cheese filling, which the menu describes as feta based but I tasted a faint blue cheese element as well, and deep fried giving the flower petals a light crunchiness, the centre a heat that blends with the creamy cheese, and the stem that zucchini texture and taste. Now these are the kind of flowers I like getting.

The babaganoush ($12) could easily satisfy four people, a huge mound of the roasted eggplant with a tart hit of date and molasses syrup and added crunchiness from a sprinkle of seeds. I appreciate Azhar’s use of vibrant high-quality olive oil that can blend with the eggplant or shine on its own. Either goes so wonderfully with the hot-from-the-oven pita that so soft and chewy. We thought one pita would do but after the first glorious bite, we immediately wanted another. The second arrived in no time and was equally piping hot… like singe your fingertips type of hot.

Being a weekday vegetarian, I appreciate the host of meatless options on Azhar’s menu. Although, I found they are generally a series of dishes (a side, a plant-based protein, etc.) that need to be ordered together, rather than having one dish that works as a complete meal. Accordingly, unless others at the table also want to go meatless it would be too much for one person.

In the end, I thought the Mujadara rice ($21) would be the best bet for a main, albeit a tad heavy for one (there were leftovers to bring home). The fragrant stewed lentils and caramelized combined nicely with the basmati rice studded with raisins and spices to create a flavour-packed dish. Generally, I’m not a fan of fruit with rice, but when combined with the creamy labneh, the raisin’s sweetness helped tone down the yoghurt’s acid. I wish there was the option to add another vegetarian protein to really round out the dish, a handful of roasted mushrooms might be great with the rice.

Service was top notch even sitting at the bar. The bartender was by to make sure we were satisfied and taken care of whenever he had a chance, and despite also having to man the bar was engaging and welcoming. In fact, if I had to describe Azhar with one word it would be ‘welcoming’, from interactions with staff members to the dishes that draw you in for another bite - Azhar would be one big welcome mat.  

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 96 Ossington Avenue

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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