What’s on the menu at Arbequina, a new halal, alcohol-free restaurant on Roncesvalles

What’s on the menu at Arbequina, a new halal, alcohol-free restaurant on Roncesvalles

Including many thoughtful zero-proof cocktails

Chef Moeen Abuzaid's non-traditional take on muhammara

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Name: Arbequina
Contact: 325 Roncesvalles Ave., arbequinato.com, @arbequina_restaurant
Neighbourhood: Roncesvalles
Owners: Moeen Abuzaid, Asma Syed-Abuzaid
Chef: Moeen Abuzaid
Accessibility: Fully accessible

Before opening Arbequina with his wife, Asma Syed-Abuzaid, Moeen Abuzaid cooked in several Michelin-starred restaurants and operated a successful New York pop-up called the Broken English. But his story begins in an unlikely place: an UNRWA refugee camp in Jordan. His first culinary venture was selling fresh herbs when he was just four years old. He saved up his earnings to buy mushabak, a syrupy semolina-based fritter sold by street vendors, a version of which is now on his menu.

Chef Moeen Abuzaid and his wife and business partner, Asma Syed-Abuzaid
Chef Moeen Abuzaid with his wife and business partner, Asma Syed-Abuzaid

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His career began in earnest when the kitchen at his school was short a cook, and a young Abuzaid volunteered. His talent for the craft quickly made itself known, and he moved up the ranks, eventually cooking in restaurants and hotels from the Red Sea to Amman and intermittently travelling to Europe to stage in Michelin-starred kitchens. In 2009, he moved to New York with few resources and the broken English he would eventually name a pop-up after. But he networked, got a foot in the door at WD-50—Wylie Dufresne’s now-closed molecular gastronomy restaurant—and spent the next 10 years cooking around the Big Apple.

He met Asma—who’s from Toronto but was in New York with her UN peacekeeping job—in 2017. They got married three months later, and she brought him back to her hometown, where after a slew of Covid delays, the pair finally opened Arbequina earlier this year. Named after a type of olive native to Palestine, Arbequina reflects their shared vision: blending Palestinian and Jordanian culinary traditions with global influences.

Grape leaves, destined to top sea bass, getting a good char on the flat top
Grape leaves, destined to top sea bass, get a good char on the flat top

 

The food

At Arbequina, Abuzaid reimagines his culinary heritage. There’s sea bass, flaky and seared to crisp-skinned perfection, topped with grilled grape leaves, grilled shishito pepper and preserved lemon sauce. He makes muhammara, the classic Levantine dip, with fermented tomato and red pepper, spreading it on wafer-thin flatbread crackers. Oil made of arbequina olives is everywhere on the menu, while many of the spices come from his family’s market in Abu Nseir, Jordan. It’s important to note that this menu is fully halal; recently, Arbequina offered a prix fixe Iftar dinner for Ramadan.

A version of mutabbaq stuffed with truffles, and porcini and maitake mushrooms, and topped with Arbequina olive oil, parmesan and Aleppo white truffles
Abuzaid’s version of mutabbaq—a stuffed flatbread sold by street vendors in the refugee camp where he was raised—is stuffed with truffles, porcini and maitake. It’s topped with more of that arbequina olive oil, parmesan and Aleppo white truffles. $29

 

Oven-crisped kale hides a medley of bulgur, kohlrabi, and black and watermelon radish seasoned with a dressing of lemon, lime, and honey
This isn’t your average kale salad. Hiding beneath these oven-crisped leaves is a medley of bulgur, kohlrabi, and black and watermelon radishes seasoned with a dressing of lemon, lime and honey. Each bite is a textural marvel. $22

 

Blanched and sautéed broccolini seasoned with lemon juice sits on a pool of jameed and is topped with watercress, arugula and sumac
Blanched and sautéed broccolini seasoned with lemon juice sits on a pool of jameed—a hard, dry, funky yogurt that Abuzaid dilutes to yield his take on a cheese sauce. The greens are topped with watercress, arugula and sumac from a Middle Eastern spice market run by Abuzaid’s family. $26

 

Chef Moeen Abuzaid puts the finishing touches on his muhammara at Arbequina
Muhammara, a red pepper dip, is traditionally served with bread. Here, it’s made with house-fermented peppers and tomatoes and layered on thin, crisp flatbread. It’s all topped with frisée, radish, and a mix of walnuts and pecans for crunch. $18

 

Chef Moeen Abuzaid's non-traditional take on muhammara
Here’s the finished dish

 

Roasted butternut squash and Jerusalem artichoke blended with a bechamel infused with squash juice are baked and topped with a house-made cashew-based tahini, crispy Jerusalem artichoke chips and spoonfuls of salsa made from squash seeds combined with Arbequina olive oil, lemon zest and tarragon
Roasted butternut squash and Jerusalem artichoke are first blended with a Béchamel infused with squash juice, then baked to yield a soufflé-like texture. The dish is topped with a house-made cashew-based tahini, crispy Jerusalem artichoke chips, and salsa made from squash seeds, Arbequina olive oil, lemon zest and tarragon. Like all Arbequina’s dishes, this plate embraces a zero-waste ethos. $27

 

Whole, deboned sea bass with shatteringly crisp skin is served with a fermented green sauce of preserved lemon and shishito pepper
Whole, deboned sea bass with shatteringly crisp skin is served with a fermented green sauce of preserved lemon and shishito pepper. The tender, flaky fish is topped with Brussels sprouts, fennel fronds and crisp charred grape leaves. It’s finished with a squeeze of caramelized lemon for a note of burnt citrus. $50

 

Roasted chicken served with Boston lettuce, pickled radish, white aïoli, shatta, crispy tots made with parsnip and two kinds of potato, and cups of lettuce for DIY wraps
This chicken is a three-day affair: it’s brined, air-chilled, and rubbed with red pepper paste and shawarma spices before a final roast. It’s served with Boston lettuce, pickled radish, white aioli (infused with chicken stock), shatta (a Middle Eastern hot sauce amped up with preserved lemon brine), and crispy tots made with parsnip and two kinds of potato (sweet and russet). Guests are meant to make little lettuce cups that incorporate a bit of everything. $45 for a half chicken, $70 for a whole.

 

Angus AAA rib-eye with a sticky, tangy marmalade of pomegranate juice and date molasses
Here we have 14 ounces of simply seasoned, perfectly cooked Angus AAA rib-eye with a sticky, tangy marmalade of pomegranate juice and date molasses. Not pictured: the fingerling potatoes it comes with. $98

 

A dish of broccolini next to a dish of baked and fried fingerling potatoes
To the right of the herbaceous broccolini are baked and fried fingerling potatoes folded with honey-scented labneh and lemon zest. These come with the steak

 

Chef Moeen Abuzaid’s take on booza, a Middle Eastern ice cream
This is Abuzaid’s take on booza, a Middle Eastern ice cream known for its stretchy texture thanks to the use of salep (orchid tree root powder) as a thickener, which also lends a unique earthy flavour. Here, it’s rolled with pistachio and set on crumbled semolina cookies, rose candy and pistachio nougat, then garnished with crisp filo sticks. $20

 

This is an elaboration on mashabak, a syrupy fritter popular in the Middle East
This is an elaboration on mushabak, a syrupy fritter and a childhood favourite of Abuzaid’s. Here, he incorporates the standard crunchy semolina base by combining it with components from two of his other favourite desserts: milk powder from Indian gulab jamun and the lightness that eggs lend to churros. It’s topped with pistachios, walnuts and agave and served with a house-made cinnamon ice cream inspired by cinnamon tea. $17

 

The drinks

This is a zero-proof establishment, so there’s a list of thoughtful mocktails made with fresh-squeezed juice and Middle Eastern accents like pomegranate molasses and date syrup. There’s a strawberry and lychee concoction jazzed up with pink peppercorn, a savoury blend of cucumber and jalapeno, and a sour made with mint and pomegranate. There are also a few non-alcoholic wines, including a solid sparkling Riesling.

The Green Pristine is a mocktail made with freshly squeezed cucumber juice and jalapeno-infused agave with distilled juniper and tarragon
As a halal establishment, Arbequina does not serve alcohol. Instead, they pour a great deal of love into their mocktail menu, which includes this somewhat savoury sip. The Green Pristine combines freshly squeezed cucumber juice and jalapeno-infused agave with distilled juniper and tarragon. It’s complex and refreshing; its crispness and heat make it a lovely accompaniment for the lamb chops in particular. $15

 

The Lychee Pink is a mocktail that blends strawberry and pink peppercorn–infused agave with lychee, lime and white cranberry juice. It’s finished with soda and house-made lavender extract
This is the Lychee Pink, which blends strawberry and pink peppercorn–infused agave with lychee, lime and white cranberry juice. It’s finished with soda and house-made lavender extract. $16

 

The Pomegranate Lime, another zero-proof drink, is mix of pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses with lime and mint
The Pomegranate Lime, another zero-proof drink, is a mix of pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses with lime and mint. It’s tart but not bracingly so. $12

 

The space

When Abuzaid first set foot in Roncesvalles, its community feel immediately reminded him of his former home in Williamsburg, so it was an easy choice for him. The design marries Middle Eastern warmth with Nordic minimalism—it’s streamlined, but with earth tones, arches and olive branches on every table. In the back, there’s a dining room with moody lighting, black banquettes, and floral wallpaper featuring olive trees and blue-green Palestinian sunbirds. It takes overflow from the main space but is primarily used for private events and special-occasion tasting menus.

Looking from the dining room to the open kitchen at Arbequina, a halal restaurant in Toronto's west end

The dining room at Arbequina, a halal restaurant on Roncesvalles

Banquette seating in the dining room of Arbequina in Toronto

A look into the open kitchen from the dining room at Arbequina

The private dining room at Arbequina, a new halal, alcohol-free restaurant in Toronto