Queen of Persia reflects the passion of Lily Khansari, who hails from Tehran and emigrated to Toronto four years ago. Her mission: To introduce Persian food — in all its complexly flavoured glory — and culture to her adopted city.
Mission accomplished. For the food part of the equation, Lily drew on her grandmother’s traditional homestyle recipes. On the plate, that translates to some of the most soulful and vibrant Persian food I’ve had in the city.
Scrambled egg thickens warm eggplant tomato dip that is heavenly scooped up with soft barbari flatbread. Ditto rich and tangy yogurt/shallot dip. On a more exotic note, a dip built on green olives, pomegranate molasses, walnuts and herbs cleverly melds sweet/sour/briny/nutty in each bite.
The kitchen excels at lamb — say, tender, intensely flavoured chops.
But the dish that impresses me most is the morassa polo, a huge platter anchored by impossibly fluffy rice mounded with exquisitely tender shredded chicken, barberries (similar to cranberries), shaved carrots and nuts, all scented with orange zest and cardamom. It’s an intoxicating mix of pillowy rice, crunchy nuts and intense citrus fruit perfumed with fragrant, herbal spice.
Don’t miss dessert, which channels some of Persia’s greatest hits: rich and nutty pistachio ice cream; intensely flavoured saffron ice cream; silky rice pudding; and flaky, properly not-too-sweet house-made baklava.
But Queen of Persia is about more than just the food, thanks to a highly appealing esthetic sensibility at work. Indeed, all of the decor items — vintage crystal chandeliers, tablecloths, velvet cushions, eye-catching modern paintings and replica museum pieces displayed on front and back walls — and even silverware and ornate hammered copper plates and goblets used to present the food, are imported from Tehran. The space is a unique mix of Persian-themed dining room/art gallery.
Enhancing the experience is warm and personable Lily, who’s the consummate host and an enthusiastic ambassador of Persian cuisine and culture.
The 44-seat restaurant is available for group buyout. The kitchen can also cater events of up to 200 people.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,500 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.