I finally tried Banu, the Iranian restaurant on Queen West (south side, about a block from trinity bellwoods park), and have become an instant fan. Not sure when they opened, but I think it's a relatively new place on the strip. Very nicely designed, stylish without being pretentious or overly stuffy. I think the owners really want you to hang out - there are hukkah (shisha or nergilah to some) on the tables and backgammon sets available. Having just come back from Istanbul, those two things signify instant comraderie and laid back attitude to me now.
About the food: I only had lunch there - the dinner menu is more extensive. We shared three dishes: chicken wings marinated in citrus juices, cow tongue served with a tomato, saffron and cardamom sauce, and the potato salad. The first two came with very thin flat bread (almost paper-like), while the salad was served with a thicker sesame flat bread. The wings were listed with kebab plates and so also came with grilled tomato, fresh basil, mint etc. Everything was delicious! the wings were juicy, the tongue was perfectly cooked - soft, slightly spongy, but not overcooked. the salad was similar to polish-style potato salad - very small cubes of potato, mixed with pickles, green peas, carrots and other things, in a mayo/mustard dressing. it was tangy and crunchy and refreshing, and perfect on the warm fresh bread. in fact, the freshness of ingredients impressed me most.
the restaurant bills itself as a vodka bar, and the vodka selection is impressive. there is a small beer and wine list as well, which includes mill street beer. the desert list included 5 items, but we didn't try any so can't speak to it.
if i have a criticism, it's that it's meat heavy. there are a couple of mains for fish/seafood eaters, and some of the appetizers are vegetarian, but most dishes are organized around meat. but if you are a meat lover, and not squeamish, there are some interesting choices. i think this is also a great hang out place, perfect for drinks and snacks.
definitely worth a try!
there is a website (i think it's just www.banu.com) but the menu listed seems incomplete - does not include the lunch choices at all. it too has links to the reviews, and yes franz ferdinand looms large in all of them.
btw, in terms of my caution to vegetarians, a friend of mine told me that they are very happy to accomodate vegetarians and make special dishes not on the menu.
was there for dinner on friday night and thought the meal was ok overall. had the beef heart over the thin "flat bread" that was mildly tortilla like. the beef heart was simple and fairly good but the bread didn't do a single thing for me. the heart was served with a mix of pickles that were good but i found the vinegary-ness wasn't complimentary to the heart. the dish was $11.
my friend had the beef tenderloin skewer and it was served with a vinegared "salad" of sorts of diced cucumber, tomato, etc. the tenderloin was absolutely tasty and quite tender. it was quite a good dish overall but the price was also double at $25.
we started off with their honeydew juice, which was quite sweet but very good and refreshing. we also shared the naan and paneer appetizer which was good but not great. the "naan" was more like a puffed whole wheat bread covered with sesame seeds, it was very tasty although did not live up to the name. it was served with long "sticks" of paneer, a couple of spicy radishes and lots of fresh mint and other herb leaves. i ended up sandwiching all the bits and the whole is much better than the sum of the parts. i can't recall how much this cost but it was definitely under $10.
dessert, we finished off with the pomegranate sorbet and the pistachio saffron ice cream. the sorbet was icy and had a flavour that i would consider bordering mild of pomegranate. it did retain the nice tartness characteristic of it but arrived in a very pale pink with tiny bits of fruit. the ice cream was interesting and something i'd more than happily eat again. the ice cream itself was saffron flavoured and dotted with pieces of pistachio. good flavour but only an ok texture. we each received one large scoop and they each cost about $5.
i'd like to try the "fries" another time out of curiousity, but overall it was an ok meal with very friendly service. we were one of two groups dining but a few groups of people came in to smoke some hukka during the evening.
what you are calling "naan" is just the persian word for bread. do not confuse it with the indian naan. maybe that is why you were disappointed that it did not live up to its name. it is a completely different type of bread. what you had was naan-e barbari, which basically means barbari bread. it is not the indian naan.
You can't make this stuff up. Sadly, it's true, and probably one of the worst restaurant experiences I've ever had.
A bunch of us went to Banu. We knew the food is ridiculously overpriced, but we thought it would be worthwhile. Oh how wrong were we! A friend of mine asked for a diet coke with his order. The coke didn't arrive, and after 20 minutes my friend asked the waitress what happened to the coke. Another 5 minutes passed only for the waitress to come back and say that they're out of diet coke. My friend, very politely but firmly, then said why it took them so long to tell him they don't have diet coke? And in minutes, the 2nd waitress came to the table, pulled a chair and sat down, with a regular coke in her hands and looked at my friend and told him that diet coke is bad for him, why would he want diet coke? After some push and shove, the told us that who the hell we think we are, that this is not a restaurant in china town, and that she can kick all of us out if she wants to!!! What the hell???
To make it worse, I think those waitresses are the owners (sisters actually ... one of them is just horrid and plain arrogant)!!! Unbelievable.
Service aside, the food isn't anything special... but prices are waaaaaaay too high, just because it's a "trendy" place.
Horrible experience. Avoid the place and save yourself some stress. If you want Persian food, go to North Restaurant (Shomal) or Zaffaron in North York, or to Tempus (Darvish) south of Yonge and Wellesley. Better prices, better food (especially shomal with its delicious appetizers). Atmosphere is not as "trendy" but what the hell, you'll enjoy it more!
terms of the prices, i think it is important to remember that banu buys meat from healthy butcher, organic shop with higher prices than meat from conventional sources. this higher cost is, i'm sure, passed on to the consumers through higher prices. seems fair to me. from my experience, many other iranian places use a lot of rice and cheaper herbs in their dishes which, along with the cheaper cost of non-organic meat, allows for cheaper prices at these prices. and there is the cost of rent - my guess is that queen street is much more expensive to rent than north york locations.
i'm not saying that other iranian places are not as good as banu, but all of the above reasons don't make them equivalent. prices are not simply indicative of the 'trendiness' of the place.
I have to say that I literally got back from Banu 10 minutes ago. My wife and I live in the neighbourhood and we were out for something new - the usual Friday night hover of Swan, Oysterboy, Terroni blah blah, was boring us to tears. Noce or new Banu?! We've walked past this place for a while now and wondered. We went for the Banu and I must say that it was spectacular!
Right from the get go, it is beautifully designed, there's amazing contemporary Iranian pop music playing, and the place was filled with a very lively ambiance.
The service was very prompt, friendly and knowledgeable. The aperitifs (vodka and pomegranate) were out of the ordinary, the appetizers (an olive plate and a cucumber, tomato, ontion salad with a citrus dressing) were tasty. And then...the meat. I cannot express what a treat the kebabs were. We had an amazing ground beef, a steak and a chicken kebab. All Cumbrae's organic meat, all very well prepared.
The meal was just excellent. I would agree with Kasia above - it really does seem like the place is conducive to hanging out and has a lovely Friday night vibrancy to it. The place was filled with a mix of Queen Street hipsters (though not the kind of Chehoski's set) and older, what I might guess would be, Iranian families.
As my wife put it, Pomegranate (on College) and the likes admirably attempt to create a genuine atmosphere but end up feeling like a transplant. Banu, on the other hand, feels lively, contemporary and authentic - the opposite of overly trendy or stuffy.
Anyways. Service, good! Atmosphere, excellent. Food - charcoal, really great meat, fabulous preparation, and I live around the corner - I can't be more excited!
Glad to hear that Banu seems to be going strong, I worry about smaller family run places like this during these challenging economic times...
Re. Cumbrae's, is that correct? Have they changed their meat supplier? (they've been using Healthy Butcher since they opened)
The last time I was there I tried their house-made vodka with saffron. It was wonderful. Have to return soon to see if they still make it...