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Magdala / Mekdala Ethiopian Resto Lounge.

Have you ever asked yourself whatit would be like if your favourite hole in the wall mom & pop restaurant was turned into a trendy resto-lounge? Me neither, until today.

The good news:
The food of Messob D'Or is back, and just as good as ever. Actually, there is a little more variety on Magdala's menu than was ever at Messob D'Or, but the purpose of my trip was to see if one of my favourite restos had indeed risen from the dead, so we ordered only dishes that used to be on Messob's menu.
The chef is indeed the same as at the old resto, (he recognized me, and came over to say hi.) though I'm not sure if he's owner or even part owner of this new venture. One dish, the tibs, was very different than it's equivalent at Messob, but was still quite tasty. The shiro wat was exactly the same, which made me quite happy, as it was my favourite dish. The doro wat was a little milder than I would have liked, but was still very flavourful, and in all other respects just like Messob's. The decor was very nice, beautiful, in fact. Lots of wood, and you have the choice of sitting around a messob on low hand carved stools, or at a normal table with comfy leather chairs.
Service was very friendly, if a little bit intrusive. Which brings me to...

The bad news:
Service was very friendly, but very casual. We knew a good chunk of the waitress' life story by the time we left. For me and my friends, all in our mid-late 20s, it was fine, but I could see how some would be put off by it. The real problem was that our server didn't really know anything about Ethiopian food. We knew what we wanted, so not a problem, but it easily could have been. We were all expecting to have Ethiopian style coffee to finish off our meal, but were informed that it was only really available Fri-Sat-Sun when they do a full coffee ceremony / show. We were told that we could still have a pot, but that it wouldn't be fresh roasted, just regular coffee beans. We were warned, but still ordered, and were only mildly disappointed. One last little gripe: No Wet Naps were provided at the end of the meal, and they were skimpy with the napkins. A small detail, but kind of important when you've been eating with your hands.

All in all I'd say I came away with a favourable impression, and probably would have "really" liked the place if I wasn't still pining for Messob D'or. A lot of their little issues will probably get worked out over time. I'm a little dissapointed, but this place definitely beats the pants off Nil Bleu.

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  1. Thanks for the info. I was disappointed that I never got to try Messob, so I'll be checking this place out soon.

    1. This the place?

      Magdala Restaurant Lounge
      1222, rue Bishop, Montréal, QC H3G 2E3
      Telephone : 514-866-7667

      I'm still pining for the Messob d'or too. Good to hear the chef's still around.

      1 Reply
      1. re: carswell

        Oops, yeah, I forgot to include the address. Thanks Carswell.

        P.S. They use two different spellings of the name. One on the sign outside, a different one on the menu.

      2. This is great news! I was completely addicted to the Messob (so much so that I formed a Facebook group about it: can't paste the link here so just search for Messob d'or on Facebook and you will find it). I managed to stay faithful to the Belachew's amazing food and haven't gone to the Nile Bleu in the interim but I was seriously experiencing withdrawal. I will go check out the new place tomorrow and let you know how it compares to the old place.

        Thank you so much for posting this :-D

        1. So my DH and I checked out the restaurant yesterday and the Teshome Belachew's food is still absolutely amazing!!!

          The restaurant still has to tweak stuff a bit, notably the name of the restaurant which appears on different items as Magdala, Meqdella and Mekdella. They still don't have a sign outside so you need to know the address (1222 Bishop) and the wait staff, as Moosemeat reported, is so far clueless about the food (or how to operate a Visa machine) but hopefully that will change in time.

          The menu will also change in the coming month so we have to wait a bit for things to reach equilibrium. For example Bouticha (the chick pea salad which looks like egg salas) is absent though Teshome says it will be added soon. Also the Lega Tibs on the menu only appears as being made with beef when lamb is also available upon request. Basically I would not be afraid to ask if you want something that used to be on the Messob's menu but appears differently here.

          There are a lot of new items that did not exist on the Messob's menu, notably apetizers. We tried the fitfit which is an injera based salad (injera, tomatoes, peppers, some type of vinegar and spices). We didn't try anything else new because we were too desperate to have the usual favorites after nearly a year of severe withdrawal.

          In addition to the fitfit apetizer, we had the following dishes which were all up to the Messob's standards:

          Kitfo, Key (Sega) Wat, (Ye)messer Wat, Azifa, Bouticha, Minchet'Abish, Gomen, Lega tibs (lamb version), the yellow pea stew and the mixed veggies.

          They now have very interesting combination dishes which are perfect when you go only 1 or 2 people and want to sample a bit of everything.

          The manager said that they hope to open for lunch to in a couple of months and basically be open from noon to midnight from Tuesday to Sunday (yes it seems that once again it will be closed on Sundays). They are also hoping to get the bar/lounge thing going. Take out is available and they are also working on getting some kind of delivery going too.

          The setting is much more upscale than the Messob was. Over half the restaurant has Messobs and comfy armchairs that come directly from Ethiopia although there are also regular Western tables for those who prefer that. The bathrooms are quite funky with glass sink and frosted glass stalls. They were also spotless when we visited.

          The kitchen is an open kitchen toward the back. If you stand on the stairs to the second floor you can easily see them preparing the food which is quite neat.

          All in all a very positive experience!

          2 Replies
          1. re: Topaz3333

            Very excellent report Topaz3333! I will have to visit soon!

            Can I get a rough idea of the cost for 2 people?

            1. re: moh

              I would estimate cost at around $15 per person, you could probably eat a little cheaper, or spend a little more, depending on what you ordered. Like Messob D'Or they had a few "combo plates" , probably enough for two people, and only around $15 (so $7pp).

          2. We tried the place a few nights ago and had a mixed experience. Most of the vegetable dishes lacked some complexity, but the doro wat was pretty good. Like Moosemeat, I would have preferred it a little hotter, but other than that it was very satisfying. The injera looked a much lighter than what I have previously had (many many times if you are wondering, I am an Ethiopian food junkie) perhaps the ratio of teff to other types of flours were reduced?

            Service was odd. One minute they would be all around us, another they would disappear for 15 minutes, with us desperately trying to find someone to ask for more injera. The server (perhaps the same one that Moosemeat had), was clueless. He kept messing things up and even asked whether we liked their food better than Nil Bleu (umm, first the question is inappropriate, second it is presumptuous: why would one assume that we have also gone there?). He looked very inexperienced but it wasn't a nightmare for us; however perhaps one shouldn't rely on a rookie when they have just opened. I think it was a bad move for a restaurant. The owner was also around too, he was very busy correcting the messups of the server. He was very nice and I hope that he can overcome these glitches.

            Overall, not a bad experience, but having eaten Ethiopian food in the DC area, I don't think I will crave for this version. But I need to be realistic, this is Montreal and it is not known for Ethiopian food; and to be fair Magdala one of the better Ethiopian restaurants I have tried elsewhere (just don't compare it with cab driver joints in DC). So once in a while, I will have some; on the other hand my partner is too spoiled with the DC area working-class Ethiopian food scene, so he is just looking forward to his next trip down the border.

            1 Reply
            1. re: emerilcantcook

              Went there again with a bunch of friends last week. This time it was much better. Although I'd still prefer it a little bit spicier, the food was much more complex.

              They also have new staff that are much pleasant and know what they are talking about.

            2. I went here with a friend Sunday night, and it was quite good - for Ethiopian food in Montreal. Not as spicy as I'd've liked, and as was mentioned before the service was friendly but perhaps a little too informal.

              Our waitress also didn't really know much about what was on the menu, though she was at least spot-on about quantities / how much food would be enough for the 2 of us. We had shiro wat and doro wat, and some vegetable platters including a good collard greens dish. I found the injera to be as good or better than anywhere else I've tried in Montreal (though my favorite non-DC Ethiopian so far still has to be this place in Ottawa on Rideau street whose name I can't remember right now).

              The decor was nice and I liked the touch of the African music videos playing on the screens, a welcome change from the hockey games in most other joints I've been dining at lately... Thing is, I didn't find the layout of the messob's to be that comfortable - I found the (beautiful) chairs too high in relation to the table, so we were always leaning over the edge of the table trying to get our drinks or scoop in some more food over the injera. Next time I'd probably just get a regular table.

              I will go back and I'd recommend it for someone who's just getting acquainted with Ethiopian food. I'd like to see a few more spicier options and maybe a slightly more formal wait staff attitude, but another "thumbs up" from me.

              1. Oh my God! The same chef? Really?? Where is it, where is it??????


                Do they still have y'doro wat? My heart is racing!

                2 Replies
                1. re: bomobob

                  They have pretty much all the dishes that messob had, plus a few others. I'm thinking that one might just have to ask if they want their food spicier. Maybe they consciously toned it down for the downtown location.

                  1. re: Moosemeat

                    We should walk them over to Tapioca The.

                2. We tried it last week, and I have to agree with the assessment that the service needs quite a bit of work. I had a confusing exchange with the waiter when he brought the gin martini I'd ordered from the menu:

                  "Oh, may I have an olive please?"
                  "We haven't got any. It's supposed to come with a cherry, actually."
                  "A gin martini with a cherry in it?"
                  "Oh, this is vodka, actually."

                  The rest of the time the waiter was quite absent. The owner did come by a couple of times and was rather intense. As we were leaving he stood in our path grilling us about which dish we'd liked best. I'm sure he was well-intentioned but it made us a bit uncomfortable.

                  As for the food itself, I think the ingredients were of decent quality and they were well prepared, but we were left somewhat indifferent because every one of the vegetable and legume dishes was served to us tepid. I also felt they would have benefited from more spiciness, so if we go back I will specify that we would like them hot - both in temperature and in spice. Though I am no expert on ethiopian food. Is it supposed to be spicy or not? The lamb dish was tasty but somewhat tough, and the chicken and egg dish was quite good (sorry I didn't keep track of names this time).

                  Overall it was okay, and I will consider going back for lunch, but they definitely need some work.

                  1. Can someone recommend the 'not to be missed' vegetarian dishes? Thanks

                    1. We went there last night. It was my first experience in Ethiopian food and I think they have turned me into an addict. I woke up with a craving for more this morning.

                      I personally highly recommend their vegetarian combo, and their lamb dish was good too (sorry I forget the names of the dishes, but the lamb one has bebere sauce on it).

                      The only ick we had was that the service, although friendly, was slow. The waitress kept apologizing for not checking on us and it took them over a half an hour to get us our bill after we asked for it. But the food, friendliness and the acknowledgement of their less than speedy service more than made up for it.

                      I will definitely be going back soon and hopefully they will have worked out some of the kinks.

                      1. After eating here last night I just wanted to update this thread to say that the service problems mentioned above seem to have been ironed out. Our server was very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu and brought more injera during the meal without our even having to ask. Napkins and wetnaps were also provided.
                        Has anyone else eaten here lately that could comment on the service? Personally I would chalk up the March/April 2008 comments about service to the growing pains of any new restaurant.
                        The food was delicious, the setting nice and the overall experience quite enjoyable though I wish I could have experienced the coffee ceremony (only offered on Fri/Sat/Sun nights).

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Harrisonb

                          What would you recommend for someone who is a carnivore, loves (very) spicy food and this will be his first Ethiopian experience? We are going there tonight and I am not at all familiar with the names of the plates mentioned above. Can you please expand on what the Kitfo, Key (Sega) Wat, (Ye)messer Wat, Azifa, Bouticha, Minchet'Abish, Gomen, Lega tibs, y'doro wat are? What dishes are not to be missed (including a vegetarian dish)? Thanks.

                          1. re: idenon

                            Kitfo is a beef dish, I beleive it is raw, like beef tartare. Yebeg Key Watt is a lovely lamb stew in berbere sauce, really fabulous, one of my favorite dishes. It is supposed to be spicy, and I would agree the version here could be a bit spicier. It is still very flavourful. Doro Watt: chicken and boiled egg stew in berbere sauce, very delicious here. Gommen is the collard green/spinach dish with some mild spices and garlic, also very well done here. Can't completely remember exactly the names of the other dishes, but the menu does a pretty good job of describing the various dishes. The above mentioned dishes are all excellent, and I would strongly recommend them. I also like the stewed lentil dishes, they are very nice too. I think if you get a variety of stuff, you'll be very happy. I really love this place.

                            1. re: idenon

                              In indirect response to harrisonb, all three times I've been to Magdala the service has been friendly, prompt and informed. The waiter who served us all three times was quite adept at providing explanations and making recommendations. I'd suggest giving her some guidelines as to your likes and dislikes and then following her lead.

                              1. re: idenon

                                You can never order enough y'doro wat. That's all I have to say on this.

                                1. re: bomobob

                                  Wise words sir. I truly agree. Ummm, doro watt.... Dang I haven't eaten there in too long!

                            2. Love this place. And yes I agree it's been too long since I've been there...

                              The lamb is amazing! Actually pretty much everything is amazing, and the owner or manager is super friendly and accommodating.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Joel_L

                                We went with a couple of friends about a week ago, the food was delicious! My favourite dishes were the chicken Doro Watt and a beef dish - unfortunately I cannot remember the name (it was definetely not the Kitfo, nor the dry beef though... if I remember correctly, it was #14 on the menu). We requested this beef dish to be "very, very spicy" after reading some of the above comments on (lack of) spiciness; the dish came medium-spicy.
                                On another note, the dried beef dish was my least favourite, I don't think I would order it again. We also had a mixed vegetables dish, with the red lentils being my favourite.
                                The restaurant in itself is really nice, great furniture and atmosphere, and the service was great: attentive, friendly, but not invasive. It is a place I definetely look forward to going back to.

                              2. I went last night with a small group and had a veggie sampler and a meat sampler. All the individual dishes came served on injera (the spongy bread). The individual dishes ranged from very nice (the red lentils and spicy chicken) to a bit disappointing (the yellow lentils). Some needed a bit more salt, which was not available at the table. My final impression of the food is that it is well made, nicely spiced, and satisfying, although it was served a bit cool, the bread especially. I enjoyed the flavors more than at other Ethiopian restaurants that I have visited. I only wish the food was warmer so as to be more aromatic.

                                Normally, I don't care about decor at all and I even prefer a good hole in the wall to some fancy places... but I have to say that I really like the inside of Magdala. It's cozy feeling.

                                The service was friendly and prompt and our food came quickly, which is something I have NEVER experienced in an Ethiopian restaurant before! I'm used to waiting (no joke) 2 hours for food at my old place, which closed unfortunately. Although, the food may have come relatively quickly because we were the only people in the entire place. It was 5 PM on a Sunday, so that may have had something to do with it.

                                In conclusion, I am glad that I tried it out and I was impressed over all, but not enough to make it a regular stop. Also, I paid maybe a few $ more than I would have liked.

                                1. I was in the hospital last Friday and got to talking food with the Doctor. I found out that he, an Ethiopean gentleman, is the owner or partowner (I'm not sure) of Magdala.
                                  I enjoy Ethiopian food and haven't eaten there. After reading this thread and talking to him, I going there on a date this Thursday evening. I'm looking forward to the food!

                                  1. i went there a couple weeks back and it was a great first time experience intro to ethiopian food! the waitress was very helpful in advising us on what to get as we had no idea as to what! we got a mix of one vegetable combo and one meat combo. the meat combo we ordered had ground beef, lamb and some green stewed spinach? the vegetable one had i think was chickpeas, lentils and something else, i forget. they gave us a bowl of little injera rolls to go with our food and it was delish. the lamb was perfectly cooked and nicely flavored and the ground beef was pretty good as well. all the vegetable dishes were great, the lentil being the best and most memorable out of the bunch. overall an affordable and exciting experience!

                                    1. For anyone who's been to both Magdala/Mekdala and Le Nil Bleu - how do the two compare? Thanks!

                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: kpzoo

                                        Kpzoo, I prefer Magdala. There are more dishes available at Magdala that are not present at Le Nil Bleu. I also find the food has more depth and soul and Magdala. The doro wat is an example, something so delicious about the sauce they have at Magdala. It is also very good at Nil Bleu, but not quite as soul-satisfying. I do like Le Nil Bleu just fine. But I have been finding myself making the extra distance trek to Magdala, for me it is worth the extra distance.

                                        1. re: moh

                                          Thanks, Moh! I'll definitely have to try Magdala at some point soon, as I've only been to Le Nil Bleu.

                                          1. re: moh

                                            How about Abiata? I've been once and thoroughly enjoyed it- how does it compare to Nil Bleu and Magdala?

                                            Nil Bleu Restaurant
                                            3706 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2X3L7, CA

                                            3435 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal, QC H2X3L1, CA

                                            1. re: grobi

                                              never mind, went to Magdala last night. It was great!

                                        2. Just had Magdala for the second time. Ordered the Lamb dish, tibs or something like that. This time I asked for it spicy and it was nicely spiced and even spicy. First time I came it lacked in spicyness.It was good, just really dont like their bread, think it called injera or something.. Its basically a dessert crepe that you use to pick up the food with.Its just wrong. Anybody else agree with me?

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: jay_81k

                                            It's a sourdough bread. Totally different from a dessert crepe in that it's not sweet, and it's fermented. If you don't like that taste then I could see how you wouldn't like injera.

                                            Funny - I'm not crazy about regular sourdough bread, but I find injera a nice complement to spicy and rich Ethiopian dishes. Someone in a group I was with recently (at Le nil bleu) described injera as like eating a flat sponge. So I guess it's a matter of texture and taste. Personally, I like it with Ethiopian food but probably wouldn't want to eat it on its own.

                                            1. re: kpzoo

                                              I just feel like a good nan bread or roti skin (or whatever you call it) would compliment the food even better

                                            2. re: jay_81k

                                              It's not "just wrong", it's how it's done. If you don't like eating the food using the bread and your hands, you're not cut out for Ethiopian food. Suggesting naan bread would be better is a little like saying, I like French food, but can we substitute the cream for marinara sauce?

                                              1. re: Shattered

                                                Youre right, just saying I'd like it much better that way

                                                1. re: jay_81k

                                                  Well hey, go open Montreal's first Indo-Ethiopian fusion restaurant. There's a concept!