On any given day, I dream of being transported to another corner of the world… I long to discover exotic destinations just as much as I long to return to some of my favourite European spots. My bucket list is rather extensive and maybe a teeny weenie bit too ambitious for the reality of my wallet. Nevertheless, it is good to dream of places we yearn to visit; some locals may earn a pin on my world map of places I’ve been and others will remain a dream, an illusion, only to be discovered and explored through the lenses of some well-known travel guru. Until I am able to set foot «for real» in any of my most coveted landing places, I can always play the imaginary traveler by immersing myself in “world infused” culinary voyages right here in my own home town… Luckily for us, the Ottawa eatery scene offers quite the panoply of world cuisines so if embarking on a jet plane is not in the plans for you at the moment, then treating yourself to another culture’s gastronomy may be the next best thing!
Walking into Fairouz, a subtle exotic vibe instantly draws you in, tantalizing your senses before you have even taken a peek at the menu. The decor is such that you already know you will be spending an ethereal moment in a bubble, in a sort of Middle East vacation illusion. As if your only chance to experience the Silk Road’s cuisine is by lieu of this culinary interlude. Fairouz is a cultural tease evoking beautiful imagery, a feast for both the eyes and the palate of a «yet to be discovered» corner of the world. Those who have been to the Middle East or have roots there may disagree with my interpretation yet since I have never had the opportunity to travel much past Istanbul, I can only offer my personal opinion of Fairouz as I experienced it. I feel no shame in telling you that I am not, by far, an expert on this type of cuisine yet my ignorance could prove to be a blessing when experiencing the true flavours proposed by Chef Walid El-Tawel and his team. A clean virgin slate opened to endless possibilities of flavours, textures and fragrances!
The menu alone is a test to one’s ability to feel comfortable in a completely new and foreign environment. Other than a few keywords such as hummus, baba ghannoush and chickpeas for instance, nothing sounds familiar. The ride though, is well worth stepping out of the comfort zone! For me, this change of scenery is always exciting and I was thrilled to see my companions felt the same way. The current trend of small sharing plates is enthusiastically approached at Fairouz yet the option to select a traditional meal not to be shared is not discouraged either. There is a dining formula for everyone. Side note on the sharing plates: although this way of breaking bread may come across as a novel idea in our neck of the woods, and while some critics have gone as far as accusing restaurateurs of abusing this «in vogue» dining style, let us all remember that in many, many other parts of the world, sharing plates is a normal way of communing at the dinner table. Tapas, Meze, Picada, Dim Sum are examples of small sharing plate rituals that have stood the test of time and are still being enjoyed in many parts of the world. When it comes to revelling in the magic of experiencing delectable cuisines, you bet I will opt for sharing plates with every occasion that presents itself. A unique and different flavour explosion with each bite: that is the promise of the small plates.
On that last note, Fairouz delivers from beginning to end and the experience lives up to the anticipation! While some notes may agree more with certain palates than others, all that was savoured was absolutely delicious, from beginning to end. Each offering was a testimony to Chef Walid’s culinary knowledge, savoir-faire and passion. We have recently visited Fairouz on two separate occasions this winter: a family birthday dinner organized for a group of 17 and an intimate dinner for 4. The large event was served sofra style: a beautiful pre-set menu of dips, appetizers, mains and desserts served on sharing platters. The entire feast was enjoyed by all and even the least adventurous of our group devoured his meal. Although Fairouz catered with gusto and excellence to this larger group, our second (and more intimate) visit was more conducive to the true discovery of Chef Walid El-Tawel’s fare. Having the freedom to choose menu items as one pleases always delivers a far superior experience and the intimate affair is the best way to explore Fairouz’s delicacies. I encourage seekers of great food to go and taste blindly, to discover without any pre-conceived expectations, to expose themselves to a new range of flavours as we did. And to do so, any extensive description of what we ate would not serve you right. I will however share with you the highlights of our meals which may guide you to your own starting point.
- Baba ghannoush, an elevated tribute to this old stand-by. Roasted aubergines impart a subtle yet addictive “smokyness”
- Silky Halloumi, sourced from an artisanal and local cheese maker
- Falafels that are crispy, and punchy, and so not like the average street food one is accustomed to
- Chicken livers that will definitely wow! And have the ability to convert most liver haters into lovers!
- Salmon Pastourma: don’t ask, I really have no idea exactly what Pastourma is but my guess is a Middle East’s equivalent to cured salmon? One guest who supposedly dislikes fish actually enjoyed (yes, enjoyed not tolerated) this dish. It’s that good.
- Soft, warm, pillowy, handcrafted mini pitas
Let me simply rephrase that the list above is limited to the highlights of our dining experiences. This review is meant to nudge you to make that call and reserve your very own table at Fairouz…
Disclaimer and confession: I am a tiny wee bit biased here. I am the proud mama of a newly graduated young chef. My first-born Prince started working as garde-manger at Fairouz in late November, his first grand experience under the tutelage of an extremely talented chef. But bias aside, we were genuinely enthralled with both our dining experiences. And yes, maybe we were treated to a little extra touch of magic simply because we are related to one of the kitchen help… Whatever the reason for eating more good stuff that evening, favoritism and all, it was extremely sweet for us to get to enjoy more of Chef El-Tawel’s impressive culinary portfolio.
343 Somerset Street West, Ottawa • 613.422.7700 •