Other venues in Toronto may offer plusher surroundings, but I opt for a place where the food is the focus, surroundings are comfortable and where I'm not distracted by the touristy pageantry of amateur belly dancers coming up to my table every few minutes.
Claudia and I cozy up to one another on a cushiony banquette and bob our heads along to the beat of the soft Rai music playing in the background. The atmosphere here is laid-back; the perfect environment to spend an evening smoking hookah and catching up with close friends.
A rich orange, red and indigo palette gives off a warm soothing glow. The eclectic interior is cluttered with trinkets: Ornamental teapots, wrought iron lanterns, woven tapestries and mosaic fountains adorn the entrance.
Mohammed, the owner, graciously welcomes us with a classic service of mint tea ($5). We watch in awe as he somehow manages to pour the tea from high above our heads into teensy glasses, without spilling a single drop. There's a medicinal smell, but the strong green tea is beautifully matched with the sweetness of the sugar and the fresh mint.
At Walima Cafe, all dishes are reasonably priced with starters ranging from $3.75 to $5 and mains around $13. Beet salad ($3.75) with pita is light and refreshing. Cubed beets, Kalamata olives, diced red onions and parsley are tossed in a mild citrus dressing with cumin and cinnamon.
Our half portion of vegetarian couscous ($12.25 for full portion) is a bit bland, but a welcome palette-toner for the spice infused meal to come.
Chicken Bastilla ($13.25) arrives fresh out of the oven. Crispy phyllo pastry crackles upon contact, exposing the warm savoury interior of shredded chicken marinated in sweet spices, toasted almonds and parsley. The savoury treat is dusted with confectioners sugar, cinnamon, and then drizzled in honey, resulting in a sensory overload. Each bite evokes a different taste bud, at times salty, then sweet.
Steaming-hot Lamb Tagine ($13.25) is accompanied with a trio of scented rice with raisins a dish of mixed olives and tongue-numbing harissa chili sauce. The lamb is tender and marinated to perfection in a blend of exotic spices, with raisins, onions and parsley.
We manage to resist the lineup of sweets tempting us from their glass domes, since we're both stuffed to the brim at just $40.
I'll definitely head to Walima Café when I'm in need of a break from the mundane. Afterall what could be better than a touch of exoticism on the cheap?
Photos by Claudia Lama