Neighbourhood: Fort Garry
Address: 1566 Pembina Hwy
Entrees: $8 – $27
Though Winnipeg’s food scene is renowned for diversity, until lately Middle Eastern cuisine has been relatively underrepresented. Al Basha provides an accessible entry point to the cuisine in a welcome oasis on Pembina’s south strip. Despite an uncool address, once inside, bold music, chandeliers, upholstery and wall tile offer a vibrant backdrop to the piquant flavours to come.
Beverages are not an afterthought. Even water for the table arrives in high style, in a grandiose copper pitcher with matching glasses. Mixed tropical drinks are made with fruit purées and milk, and wonderful house blended teas, aromatic of floral and spice, can be enjoyed or purchased to take home.
Small plates and shareable spreads make up the food menu. Standards like tzatziki and hummus are well executed, but try muhamara, mouttabal and labneh for more palate-pushing flavour mash-ups: roasted red peppers rounded out with chili, walnuts, and pomegranates; grilled eggplant, blended smooth with tahini and lemon; and thick cheese-like yogurt dip. Each is drizzled with fruity olive oil and served with fresh warm pita.
Cold and hot mezze can be made into a meal here. An appetizer of warak enob, lemony olive oil- drenched grape leaves stuffed with basmati rice and onions, whets the palate. The mezze plate includes spreads, terrific crisp falafel and a lovely fresh tabbouleh.
Feasts can fit any format. Bowls loaded with fresh and pickled vegetables, grilled meats or fried falafel respond to current food trends, while traditional tagines emphasize nuanced spice blends in familiar tomato stews. Also on offer are big boisterous group dinners of plates concocted from recipes passed down through generations. Mashawi— chargrilled platters of shish kebabs, chicken taouk, kafta, lamb chops or whole chicken served with the favourite sides—offer a luxurious bargain spread. Each dish sings with flavour imparted by ingredients like sumac, pomegranate, harissa and za’atar.
Flaky, housemade pastries laced with honey and nuts should not be missed. The cuisine of the Middle East—and most certainly Al Basha— is worth getting to know.