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Amal means “hope” in Arabic.
According to Amal’s Executive Chef Rony Ghaleb, “Amal aims to feed and provoke your soul, but above all, nourish it with hope, and that is the inspiration behind the name Amal.” The inspiration for the restaurant came from the Lebanese roots of the Founder and CEO of INK Entertainment Group, Charles Khabouth, an iconic figure in Toronto’s hospitality and nightlife scene. Khabouth, along with his business partner Danny Soberano, wanted to create an authentic dining experience that would spotlight and celebrate Lebanese culture, people and food.
“We want our guests to be taken on an exciting cultural journey from the minute they enter the door, with great food and bold flavours, Lebanese music, family-style platters and excellent service within a beautiful atmosphere,” says Chef Ghaleb.
As such, every detail, from the decor to the food and entertainment, was carefully selected to ensure an authentic Lebanese culinary journey and experience. With a stellar interior designed by Toronto’s award-winning Studio Munge, you’ll be instantly transported to a palatial fine dining experience. In summer, a walk up a curved flight of stairs takes you to a lush patio adorned with greenery, and as the evening turns to night, fairy lights place a flattering glow on the food and the diners. This is the land of beautiful people, after all, dressed to the nines and as perfectly presented as the food in front of them is plated. Plush banquettes provide a comfortable cushion for date nights or after work lounging sessions. As inviting -- or intimidating -- as this may be for a first-time visitor, the real show is inside.
An opulent combination of white and gold frames a dining area decorated with plants, and a myriad of textures and earth tones. Looking skyward, a majestic hand-painted tapestry details the ceiling, while a downward glance reveals traditional mosaic tiles underfoot. Studio Munge’s Spalla bar & counter stools surround the lengthy bar area, and the green velvet hues of the modern seating provide a comfortable perch for a cocktail hour under soft lighting.
About those cocktails, I opted for two. The Lebanese Knight a concoction of buffalo trace bourbon, coriander, chickpea puree, lemon dilmah black tea, turmeric, maple syrup and aromatic bitters, almost sounds like a meal. However, this is a pretty regal liquid lunch. A first sip reveals a herbaceous kick, tangy, with a hint of chickpea essence. The chickpea flavour takes down the herbiness of the drink, and is actually, despite what you may think of pureed chickpea in a cocktail, quite good. Of course, its high-class presentation doesn’t hurt either.
The Phoenician Connection brings together 1800 tequila, sombra mezcal, arak jalapeno coriander and lime, pistachio, and Tajin. The connection here feels like a marriage of Mexican and Lebanese flavours that is representative of a cosmopolitan city. These flavours just work. The Tajin and salt give you the spicy and savoury hit here, while mezcal provides the smoke. There’s a slight anise-licorice to the drink but in no way overpowering or unpleasant. These are expensive libations, but the care and assembly of them actually make them worth it.
On the more traditional end, you have the Grape Leaves, a very welcome sharing platter of rice stuffed grape leaves with mint, pistachios and honey. Flavours like citrus lime are balanced out by roasted garlic, and a smattering of pomegranate on a bed of crisp red cabbage feeds the eyes as much as anything else.
Truffle Rakakat veers off the beaten path. Traditionally made with phyllo dough filled with Lebanese cheeses and deep fried, the modern version adds truffle paste and oil to the stuffing and dips the edges in honey and pistachio. It’s presented with a crown of red grapes and is a favourite of diners according to our server, and now, me. Crispy pastry gives way to a creamy cheese filling. Drizzled honey with a hint of truffle -- and with real truffle, a hint is enough -- is sweet and savoury. Pistachio offers a little nuttiness if you’re into it, which I am.
The Seared Halloumi, drizzled in a basil emulsion and resting on a bed of tomatoes and cucumbers, is uncomplicated and incredibly good. It’s an example of how oftentimes, really good food doesn’t need too much to make it better. Everything is fresh, the halloumi is perfectly seared, and my table is happy.
As our mains, the Pistachio Kabab, skewers of beef and lamb made with a special house blend of spices, and Chicken Tawok, charbroiled cubes of chicken breast and toum -- a traditional Lebanese garlic sauce -- enter the chat.
Served with a bevy of grilled vegetables and a pita wrap, the pistachio kabab meat isn’t tough or stringy, instead, melting in your mouth.
The chicken offers up some charbroiled smokiness that pairs well with the mixture of fresh mint leaves and parsley. This could be spicy for some tastes, if not for the toum which tempers the heat and elevates the flavours.
Sticky Date Cake, which is exactly what it sounds like, comes sprinkled with slivers of walnut next to a side of vanilla ice cream drizzled in a butterscotch sauce. It’s cloudlike and airy, caramel-sweet without being cloying.
Rice Pudding is a custard-like pool of crushed walnut, rice, cinnamon and rose water. It’s served chilled, which might be surprising to the unsuspecting, mildly nutty, with a floral presence on the tongue.
According to Chef Ghaleb, his goal as a chef is to stay true to Lebanese flavours and to create an exciting and authentic dining experience for any guest that enters Amal.
“For me and the entire team, the experience is very personal, and we will always strive to offer the same culinary experience to our guests every time they visit us.”
If you’re prepared to expand your palate and be open to tasting mouthwatering flavour combinations you’re maybe not used to, you will be in your happy place at Amal. This is Beirut, Yorkville style. Modern, sleek, sexy, and rooted in a love for Lebanese culture and contemporary cool.