Introducing: House of Moments, a new art gallery and fusion restaurant in Leslieville
In May 2011, when businessman Hamid Kouchak took over a massive, 12,000-square-foot space on Carlaw Avenue—formerly Dragon Heir Design—he was thinking art gallery, reality TV show and event space. The reality show didn’t pan out, and after five months it became clear that House of Moments needed to bring in more of an audience for Kouchak’s artists and a richer revenue stream for himself. The place needed a broader appeal, so he teamed up with restaurateur Henry Kim and chef Daniel Park (lately of Tomo in Richmond Hill), and introduced a menu of Eastern fusion. Not East-West fusion, but rather Far East-meets-Middle East fusion, i.e., Japan meets Kouchak’s native Iran, which he left in 1980.
After a couple of decades of building a telecommunications business in Canada, Kouchak sold it all off and spent the next four years living his own version of Eat. Pray. Love. “I took four years off and just travelled the world,” he tells us. “I started in Central and South America, then made my way to Asia and India.” An art collector, and a lover of Asian art in particular, he bought dozens of antique carved Buddhas in Thailand, Cambodia and India. “That’s one of my favourites,” he beams, pointing to a sleeping Buddha bas-relief carved out of a huge teak log that hangs over the bar. “It’s 250 years old.” And soon, also behind the long metal bar, flair bartender Andrew Shcherbyna will be showing off while pouring exotic house cocktails and wines from a 500-bottle cellar that Kouchak is planning (for those who over-indulge, Moments’ valet parking service includes a drive home in your own car).
While the vast space could have easily ended up feeling cold and cavernous, the industrial concrete box is surprisingly warm, even cozy, with rearrangeable room dividers, intimate seating areas and glowing pink and red lighting. Sixteen hand-carved 17th-century doors from Jaipur create passageways through the space. There’s also a rail running through the floor—a vestige of its industrial past—and everything is on wheels: custom tables and comfortable chairs all roll smoothly over the bare cement floor. The Japanese-Persian menu includes all manner of unlikely combinations: orange blossom water scents an avocado salad with spring mix and pumpkin seeds ($10); a tuna sashimi is crusted with poppy seeds instead of sesame seeds ($7). About the name, Kouchak explains, “I’m a preacher of right now, of living in the moment. I don’t even wear a watch. I’ve seen too many people suffer because they are living in the past or worrying about the future. The best time is right now!”