Ayla Mediterranean restaurant opens in Montreal through the COVID-19 disaster

While many restaurants in Montreal have remained closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, Sud-Ouest is welcoming a new dining option.

New restaurant Ayla opens Thursday (May 21) in Griffintown, moves into a new space at the foot of the Se7t housing estate on Richmond Street and offers pick-up and delivery service at launch.

It comes from the owners of the Ryú sushi restaurant (with locations in Westmount and Downtown), but don’t expect sashimi or maki here: owner David Dayan has turned away from Japanese cuisine and focuses on the Mediterranean.

As the restaurant is named after the Turkish word for “moonlight”, Dayan shares that it will focus more on the cuisines of the eastern Mediterranean – countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Israel and Syria – although it has influences from parts of the world Mediterranean further west, like Spain, Italy and Morocco.

Much of the menu focuses on family style options shared in a sociable way. “The concept is a bit like a Friday dinner in a Jewish family or a Sunday evening in an Italian family,” says Dayan.

And Dayan says Ayla’s head chef, Yohai Rubin, is a very good fit – he’s new to Montreal’s food scene, but with plenty of experience from Tel Aviv restaurants.

“I couldn’t have found a better person for the job,” says Dayan.

His experience includes working with Israeli top chef Haim Cohen at the Yaffo in Tel Aviv, as well as founding the renowned casual restaurant Santa Katarina in the same city; Rubin’s résumé also includes Michelin-starred New York restaurants Marea and Atera.

Roast chicken in Aylas Taboon Two Food Photographers / Ayla

At Ayla, Rubin works with a taboon, a clay oven common in the Middle East – while it is usually used to bake bread (pita and Turkish pides appear on the menu), Aylas Taboon will provide double service, roasting vegetables and a juicy whole chicken for four people, one of the heart of the menu.

Given the current circumstances, Rubin’s menu has been recalibrated to focus on dishes that taste good: dips like hummus (with the lamb option on top) and labneh with zaatar as a starter, alongside some classic salads like tabouleh and fattoush .

Then for bigger dishes, expect options like a juicy lamb kebab, homemade vegetarian couscous, and grilled prawns. Most of the menu costs less than $ 20, with the exception of a few larger dishes like short ribs or fried chicken.

Lamb from the grill Two food photographers / Ayla

When Ayla finally opens for seated service, seafood will become more prominent: dishes like grilled octopus and a Middle Eastern version of paella were planned, but Dayan and his team decided these weren’t suitable for takeout.

A wine list and craft cocktails are also in the works when the dining rooms can be opened – for wines, Dayan expects more classic options from France and Italy, as well as some from countries like Israel and Lebanon that are slightly leaning towards more red options. There are some macerations on the list (a fermentation style that tends to produce light reds with less tannin) and “funky” options, but natural wines won’t be the focus. (Although takeaway wine could be an option in the future, Ayla doesn’t currently offer it.)

Ayla wasn’t the only restaurant with plans for a spring opening thwarted by COVID-19 – however, most of the others on the same boat chose to wait for the dining rooms to open. So why open now?

“That’s the million dollar question,” says Dayan. “This restaurant was ready to go, we were just waiting for our liquor license and we were ready … then our lives were turned upside down. I had just hired 80 percent of the staff and had to fire them before they even started – how sad is that? “

Dayan says a Ryu customer base is likely to help the business – but he also says that in the current chaos, people might say hello to a new restaurant.

“People are looking for a sense of normality right now, and when people see that a new restaurant is opening in these conditions and I think they might be drawn to it,” he says.

And if restaurants can open their dining rooms, Ayla’s customers can look forward to a bold space from the Gauley Brothers (who also designed Foiegwa and Café St-Henri HQ in Villeray). Expect expressive colors and textures with terracotta surfaces reminiscent of a country villa, with velvety benches and bar seats in an open kitchen.

“I wish I could have put tendrils on the wall everywhere,” says Dayan.

STATUS – Ayla opens at 386 Richmond on May 21 (Thursday). The opening times are Wednesday to Sunday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Call for takeaway orders or use Uber Eats or Doordash for deliveries.

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