Diwan unveils an enticing new menu inside the Aga Khan Museum
Sri Lankan-born chef Shen Ousmand infuses each dish with the flavours of Colombo
The tender braised lamb shank rests on a bed of hummus ($24)
The striking angular facade of the Aga Khan Museum houses treasures and exhibits that highlight the history and influence of Islam, as well as the McEwan Group’s restaurant Diwan. Now helmed by Sri Lankan–born chef Shen Ousmand, the restaurant has a new menu featuring Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian-inspired dishes.
For the past two years, Shen headed up the museum’s catering business. Before that he was the Executive Chef at McEwan, where he ran the grocery store’s kitchen and oversaw the catering division. Now, in his new posting at Diwan, he brings his not only his mastery of classical French and North American cooking techniques, but also his Sri Lankan upbringing to his dishes; he infused the menu with the flavours of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital and one of South Asia’s most diverse cities.
Chef Shen Ousmand
“In Sri Lanka, we always eat family style, with everything on the table and everyone sharing and getting a bit of each dish,” he says. “It fosters that social interaction you want when you’re at the table, even when you’re an invited guest rather than a family member.”
The menu is packed with enticing flavours and fragrances, so sharing is indeed the best way to get a sampling of everything, from the spicy sides to the meaty main courses.
The chef fatoush salad ($17) boasts a variety of textures and flavours that somehow all work together. The Ontario grapes are a sweet addition to the crunchy Colombo carrots and cilantro cucumber, flavoured by mint yogurt and a tamarind reduction. “The garnish is inspired by a carrot curry my mother makes,” adds Shen.
This isn't the place to skimp on the side, the perfectly-roasted saffron potatoes ($6) have a crisp exterior that gives way to the soft potato within, all delicately flavoured with the sought-after yellow spice.
The rice pulao ($6) is the perfect addition to mop up any extra sauces and round out your meal.
The sizzling tikka platter arrives piping hot, with the option of chicken breast ($20) or shrimp ($22), mixed with yellow, green, and red peppers, onions, cilantro, and ginger lemon juice.
The tender braised lamb shank ($24) falls right off the bone. It rests on a bed of hummus and eggplant relish with a lamb reduction and coconut kale sambol. “One of the most popular dishes on the new menu, with my signature fusion sambol,” remarks Shen.
The beef short ribs ($16) also arrive on top of rich and creamy hummus. Roasted for eight hours, the ribs are presented with preserved chili and eggplant two ways.
The whole Mediterranean sea bass ($28) comes conveniently deboned, and is accented by tomato chraimeh and mint lemon tapenade.
For dessert, there’s the wahtalappam ($8): a coconut custard pudding made of coconut milk, jaggery, cashew nuts, eggs and spices such as cardamom.
The mahalabia ($8) is a delicate Middle Eastern milk-based pudding flavoured with rosewater.
Diwan is now open Wednesday nights for dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. starting August 15th. Order a la carte, or pre-book the $35 prix-fixe menu option (also available Tuesdays for lunch). Catch the Aga Khan’s new exhibit Emperors and Jewels: Treasures of the Indian Courts from the al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait starting August 18.
(Diwan 77 Wynford Dr., 416-646-4670)