Having just come back from a trip to Morocco, I was a little hesitant to try a new restaurant that serves Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Moroccan food. How authentic could it be, or how ambitious would the kitchen be? Well, Bar Sybanne, located at 229 Ossington in Toronto, surpassed all my expectations.
The 62 seat restaurant has a warm and inviting atmosphere, with terrazzo floors, lattice designed walls, seating in the back that looks like every home in Morocco, complete with a multitude of throw pillows, Moroccan light fixtures hanging over the long attractive bar, and a garage door up front that will open in pleasant weather.
Bar Sybanne got its name from Howard Dubrovsky, owner and chef. It is named after his two grandmothers, who taught him the art of cooking, one who is from Poland and one who is from the Lithuania. Thus, the cuisine has a balance of sweet and spicy. The chef explores flavours from a few cultures, and he delivers it surprisingly well, with a great interplay of textures and tastes.
Under the devoted management of Marissa Kelly, there is a focus on hospitality. I found the staff engaging, friendly, and informative. Our server James went to great lengths to give us highly personal service. Prior to our reservation, Marissa herself sent me a very nice email complimenting the blog and welcoming our visit.
The small menu offers lots of good choices in four sections – dips, hot dishes, cold dishes and desserts. It was recommended to order about five or so small plates between the two of us, and of course, we ordered eight. It was too much food but everything sounded so good, I could have ordered the whole menu. We went on an aromatic taste journey, starting with some homemade flatbread to go along with a topnotch beet and yogurt dip and a hummus with tahini, sumac, and zaatar. As good as this was, my advice is not to fill up on the bread, but leave room for the artfully-plated, creative, multidimensionally flavoured reasonably priced dishes they serve. From the Instagram worthy fish crudo, which is picked fresh each day in the market, to the juicy lamb kafta with pomegranate molasses and harissa. Everything is truly amazing. If I had to pick out a standout, I would say the fried Brussel sprout leaves that are painstakingly sliced thinly and served up with dates and almonds. My husband was groaning in ecstasy with that dish. The roasted carrots are beautifully contrasted with the perfect balance of sweet, salty and spicy. I love grilled Halloumi cheese, but I have never had it with an orange marmalade before – it set it apart from all the others. It is also served with edible flowers, a detail of their artful plating. Another standout is the fried chicken. If you are going to indulge, at least let it be as palate pleasing as this one. It was drizzled with an orange blossom honey. Everything in Morocco had orange blossom on it, but nothing tasted this good over there.
I need to go back next time with more people so I can try more of the small shareable plates, like the meatballs, the daily fish, the saffron rice, grilled mushrooms and so on, because each dish has so many wonderful components.
For dessert, we had an apple cake that tasted caramelized and is topped with a spiced ice cream, flowers and pomegranates.
The drink menu, a tight and focused list, by Marissa Kelly, had a lot of choices by the glass or bottle, from Canada, Spain, France, Greece, Lebanon, Portugal, and Morocco. I would have liked to see some more Moroccan wines which are surprisingly good. Bottles are half price every Tuesday. There is also a nicely curated craft cocktail list designed by Sandy De Almeida, of the Drake. I had the English Basillica, made with Tanqueray gin, Lillet Blanc, lime juice, orange blossom, basil, and egg whites. It reminded me of a Pisco Sour, only better.
The restaurant is open every night except Mondays.
I enjoyed my dinner from beginning to end. Recommended!!