hink back to Queen West ten years ago - clubs, bars and alternative clothing stores crowded the area. Sure it was unique, but also a bit rough around the edges. Now, the street bustles with restaurants of every cuisine, artisan coffee shops, and trendy, high-end boutiques.
What a difference a decade makes.
Iranian restaurant Banu, one of the longest-standing businesses in the ‘hood – clocking in at 11 years and counting - has evolved over the years as well (buh-bye hookah pipes). But the important foundation has remained: phenomenal food, friendly service, and a bright, modern setting.
The restaurant that launched in 2006, began as an idea that Amir Mohyeddin had at age 11 or 12, when he declared, “We should open a restaurant,” to his mom.
Mohyeddin’s parents came to Canada from Iran in 1979.
“My Mom always had people over at our house, just for the hell of it,” Amir says. "She would always be cleaning and cooking dinner – sometimes for refugees.”
His mother and grandmother's cooking, along with watching a lot of The Food Network, influenced his decision to become a chef. After being enrolled at George Brown College Chef School for two years, he came across the space that would soon hold the restaurant - a former furniture and housewares store.
The renovations took a year-and-a-half to complete but were worth the wait. While the open kitchen is small (just two burners on the stove), the room is cozy without feeling crowded, and an upstairs loft provides a space for private dining (25 sit down, 40 stand up), as well as monthly salon series.
But it’s the food that keeps people coming back.
A taste of Iran
Chef Amir and his sisters, Samira and Salome, have kept the family business true to its roots – authentic Iranian fare using only the very best ingredients.
The large menu has remained comparable to the early days. “The kabobs are still the same,” Amir says, while ribs, shrimp, and a burger have been added.
Amir heads to The Food Terminal for herbs and tomatoes (his roasted tomatoes are drool-inducing), and strives to shop daily for other ingredients. He gets all local, high-quality meat three times a week from Sanagan’s, Eddystone Meats, and Beretta. Fragrant dishes are highlighted with fresh, aromatic ingredients including saffron from Iran, and delicate mounds of fresh sumac to dip into or sprinkle across your plate.
Choose from a wide selection of enticing fare including ten mazzeh (starters), five salads, 11 kabobs, three polo khotresht (stews), as well as an array of sides and desserts.
The menu also features a range of offal – cow tongue, cow heart, and lamb testicles. But it turns out koobideh, an Iranian meat kebob made with ground sirloin, “is the hardest to make,” says Amir. He watched a previous chef make it for a year and a half before attempting to do it on his own.
And while dishes are designed for sharing, don’t expect teeny, tapas-sized plates. The portions are sizeable and pretty, too. Along with the modern setting, the authentic fare is served in a similar fashion, making it not just attractive while dining, but ideal for Insta posts.
Tea is taken very seriously as well, with an elaborate and lavish tea station. Two pots are used tableside to pour your cuppa – one filled with concentrated tea, and the other with water. Floral and fragrant, it will become one of the many features you look forward to.
The small bar set in the middle is home to a host of signature cocktails, wine, bubbles and beer.
Banu isn’t your typical Iranian restaurant, even when it comes to décor. The bright 1,500 sq. ft. space filled with white furniture and aqua-tiled tabletops is a breath of fresh air, compared to the dark wood and industrial trends of years past.
And you won’t find any rugs on the wall or plastic coverings the tables, popular features in many traditional Iranian restaurants.
Amir says, “We wanted to create something really nice so you can bring people here; where you can come and relax and enjoy the vibe.”
There are subtle nods to Iranian culture throughout the space, but the family, who did all the renovating and decorating themselves, made a concerted effort not to make it too typical.
They play only Iranian music made prior to 1979. And if you head down to the washroom, you’ll notice a wall of pictures of current prisoners in Iran. The family is known for voicing their political beliefs, but this and a note on the menu regarding why there’s no Iranian beer and wine available, are the only suggestions of this throughout the space.
The Mohyeddins are here every day - Samira and Salome often venture into the kitchen to help Amir. They have been here for 11 years, while businesses came and went, and Queen West drastically changed to suit the times and crowd.
And still, Banu is one of the best restaurants in the city. After all these years.
Come and see for yourself.
Banu (777 Queen St. W.) is open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner.
Check out our Facebook page for more photos.