It’s exciting when a new restaurant opens! There’s always some early buzz followed by, most likely, an opening dinner (like this one!), and usually afterwards, questions about how the restaurant is or was during that night. This time around, I’m talking about a new Turkish restaurant on Laurier called Barbounya. The name derives from a small red mullet fish commonly found in the Mediterranean sea. When I first heard about Restaurant Barbounya, I was intrigued by the idea of Turkish cuisine. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had it…actually I never have! Walking into this lovely place on a beautiful summer evening, seeing all the other food bloggers, media, and friends I’ve made over the last few years, I immediately knew this meal will be great.
Before I dove into the plates, I did a little research since my knowledge of Turkish food is limited. The logical place to go to was a map. I know where Turkey is, but I never realized what was around it. Just by looking at the geographical location, you can get a sense of where the influences come from. Turkey is surrounded by Middle-Eastern and European countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Georgia, Armenia, Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania, while also being nestled between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. Just from that, you can tell the food will be made up of all different herbs, spices, fish, and generally Mediterranean vegetables.
Barbounya is the second restaurant for chef and c0-owner Fisun Ercan who heads up the other Turkish restaurant in Verdun called Su. The other owner, Edward Zaki, is proud to add Barbounya to his other restaurants Confusion Tapas du Monde and Chez Victoire. The concept for Barbounya is meze style, or small plates which are meant to be shared. This is nice because you get to taste several dishes, and not feel too guilty about it. The decor is modern and comfortable. The seating is bar-style with high wooden tables and elevated floors so your feet aren’t dangling, and sort of communal. I love the view of the bar with all the wine bottles at the back, and the big open window into the kitchen. Pretty cool looking place. Now onto the food.
Our first service began with barley salad, fresh herbs (parsley and dill) and zereshk, which is a small red berry similar to a currant. This salad was light, fresh, and tasty! Next we had Quebec salicornia (a.k.a. “sea beans”) with toasted almonds and verjus, which is juice from unripened grapes. A nice little salty crunch from the sea beans mixed with the sweetness of the verjus created one of my favorite dishes of the night. And so soon! The last dish of the first course was probably the least Turkish, but delicious nonetheless: smoked foie gras terrine, figs, and walnuts. The figs fit the style here, and the rest of the dish was nice as well.
The second service was the fish portion of the evening. The little piece of salmon crusted in a middle-eastern spice mix served atop a fennel slaw with dill tasted great. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the spice mix was, but I enjoyed the flavor of the salmon, and fennel together in one bite. Then came the signature dish, the barbounya: seared filets of that little red mullet, garnished with a light olive relish, served on a pistachio and fava bean purée and perched over the little fish bones, which were purely used for presentation of course. However, the tiny cheeks were intact, which in my opinion is usually the best part of the fish. If you can get the head, take it just for the cheeks. The fish alone was good. When mixed with the purée and a little bite of the olive relish it had a more complete flavor.
The third course involved a couple meat dishes and and one veggie dish. What they called a phyllo cigar with friulano cheese and pastirma (a salt-cured meat, spiced with cumin and paprika), resembled a little spring roll. The cheese was definitely there, and the spices from the meat melded well, but I would have liked to taste the meat itself a little more. The braised soft artichokes with peas and carrots were spiked with a pleasant vinegary taste, and the fresh peas brightened everything up a bit. By far the best dish of the night was the spicy Kamouraska lamb tartare. Ok, so Kamouraska is in Quebec, and although it’s not Turkish meat, kudos for using a provincial product. The tender and well-chopped(!) lamb was spiced wonderfully. Bursting with spicy paprika, cumin and lots of other wonderful spices, I seriously couldn’t get enough of this dish.
To begin the fourth course, I really enjoyed munching on little nuggets of lamb sweetbreads also from Kamouraska. If sweetbreads are your thing, get this. Also, the Izmir balls with potatoes and a very light tomato sauce was something I’ve been waiting for all night. Izmir is a city in Turkey where these little football-shaped meatballs originate. It’s traditional to serve them with a light tomato sauce, which this version included. The taste: tender and well-spiced as expected. Solid Turkish meatballs.
And of course for dessert: baklava with walnuts. Sweet and sticky, and drizzled with a little honey, these little morsels were the perfect sweet bites to end a pretty long and overall a good meal.
Barbounya is wonderful new restaurant that fits right in the Laurier scene. As Turkish food is a relatively undiscovered cuisine in Montreal, save for restaurant Su, Barbounya is a great introduction to it. I’ll have to try Su in the near future to get the full Turkish experience, but for now, I can definitely say Barbounya is quite delicious.
Barbounya: 234 avenue Laurier Ouest, Montreal, Quebec H2V 4J8 ; (514) 439-8858
Note: This meal was comped by Restaurant Barbounya, and yes, I left a tip as I always do