777 Queen Street West has been reviewed by the likes of Alex Kapranos who is not only the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand but a renowned food critic in the UK. If this doesn't get you there, the interesting menu will. Discovering that Dom balan [read: grilled lamb testicles] was one of our choices, Mr. C and I decided we should take the plunge. I mean, we HAD to...right?
While we waited for our Fear Factor-esque meal, we ordered two appetizers. First up was the Nan O Paneer which was lighvan sheep's milk cheese served with sesame barbari bread, walnuts and fresh herbs. It was the most delightful cheese I've had in quite some time--so much so that I found myself incorporating it into every dish we were served.
We also split the Khaneh salad that included mixed organic greens with grilled artichoke hearts in a tarragon pomegranate dressing which we devoured in mere minutes.
Banu is all about healthy eating and they are adamant about telling you just that on their menu: "PLEASE EAT YOUR GREENS-THEY ARE NOT INTENDED TO MAKE THE PLATE PRETTY." Not only that, all of the certified organic meats are provided by The Healthy Butcher which is just down the street.
Before Mr. C and I could finish our appys the Dom balan was placed in front of me. My facial expression must have alerted Mr. C of my hesitancy for he offered to sample the dish first. No problem. SWITCH!
He made it look effortless as he delved in. He gave it the green light and told me to test the wares. It took me awhile to psych myself up but I did it! I ate the testicles! Marinated in vodka (as Banu is known as a vodka bar) and served with cornichons and "other pickled delights" the meat had an interesting taste and texture. They were a little too mushy for my liking but they weren't as bad as I was expecting. I gave it a good go but I was having mind over matter issues, so Mr. C was the one to finish most of THAT meal. He quite enjoyed it.
The Beldarchin was a whole butterflied saffron quail. This one was easier to stomach, but I couldn't help but say "sorry birdie" as I cut into it. Quails are tiny and as expected there wasn't very much meat. The quail was accompanied with various greens, flat bread, grilled tomato, onion and a radish which thankfully made the meal a little more substantial.
Banu also serves freshly squeezed juices for five dollars each. We decided to share a glass of Honeydew Melon and a glass of Black Cherry. Both were quite tasty but I preferred the Cherry because it had that extra little zip for my taste buds.
To end our meal we tried the Samovar Chai which is bottomless black cardamom tea served with an assortment of house sweets. Along with this we shared a scoop of rosewater and rice noodle sorbet. Mr. C noticed my eyes widen on my first bite and knew this switch up would be a good one. I'm not sure how they figured it out, but noodles WORK in sorbet. Who would have thought?
Finally we were onto the Shisha. This is what we had been waiting for all week. For $17.00 you can choose from a variety of flavours to smoke. We mutually agreed on Blackberry. Curious looks and questions were asked when passerby's saw us smoking the fancy water pipe. The good Samaritan in us assured everyone that what we were doing was completely legal and there wasn't any "funny stuff" inside the bowl.
Unfortunately the weather wasn't working in our favour and cut our smoke session short. Luckily we came prepared with our umbrella so we gave it the ol' college try and stayed outside for as long as we could. To my surprise one of the staff outfitted me with a jacket when they realized the temperature was dropping and I wasn't dressed for the elements. A very sweet gesture indeed.
I've had flavoured Shisha sessions in the U.K. and don't remember it being very expensive--so the price threw me off a little but I guess it's still a novelty here in Canada and they seem to getting away with it. I think if you had a good group of people and you split the cost, it would work out a little better. Regardless, it was a neat experience. Oh and a word to the wise, the patio is small-so if you're in for a smoke reserve your Shisha at the beginning of your meal.
Banu isn't for the frugal diner but if you want a really nice atmosphere, friendly service and an experience that is a little out of the ordinary, I'd say try it out. Heck, it's not everyday you can sample a lamb's "bits and pieces". Fully licensed...with vodka.