In the summer of 2020, I published an article on the new restaurants that were opening their doors despite the pandemic and the health measures in force. Among them, Ayla. The place had developed a take-out menu, while waiting to be able to welcome customers to its table. Nearly three years later, I wanted to experience it in the dining room at this restaurant located in the Griffintown district. With spring upon us, her Mediterranean-inspired cuisine was particularly appealing to me!

Ayla is the brainchild of David Dayan, restaurateur behind the three branches of Ryu Sushi, Livia Café and Dept. Sushi, a “ghost kitchen” concept. Ayla is located in the same development as Ruy Sushi Griffintown, on the ground floor of the Le SE7T real estate project, led by the Dayan Group. In 2020, Israeli chef Yohai Rubin, freshly arrived in Montreal, was in the kitchen. The latter having left to devote himself to his personal projects, it is the young Greek chef Nicholas Vorias, who has just arrived from Athens, where he had his restaurant Alficon, who has just taken over. The classics on the menu remain, but we can expect new creations in the coming weeks. The place has built a solid and committed team over the past few months, we are told, including Aly El Gohgary and sommelier Reynald Belkacem, who act as managers. Originally from Montpellier, Reynald went through Michelin stars in France and the Atelier Joël Robuchon in Monaco, among others, before landing in Quebec, where he worked at the Hatley Restaurant at Manoir Hovey before migrating to the metropolis. Behind the bar, Malik Gagnon signs the very fine cocktail menu.

I was hoping for spring, but it failed: it was pouring rain when I showed up with my friend at Ayla’s on a dreary Saturday evening in March. Fortunately, a completely different atmosphere opens our arms when we enter the restaurant. The place is warm and lively. We may be in Griffintown, where so-called “hip” addresses abound, but Ayla seems in a class of her own. Around us, a diverse clientele, both in nationality and age; groups of friends, couples, families with young children. Despite its neat setting, the place is also very family-friendly. I like this mix of genres, which gives Ayla its personality.

Initially more focused on Middle Eastern cuisine, Ayla has since broadened her horizons. The menu draws on the culinary traditions of territories surrounding the Mediterranean, more particularly southern European countries such as Italy and Greece, or even the Middle East, such as Israel, Lebanon or Turkey. . Mixed influences, but sharing the same DNA: Turkish bread ekmek, to break for dipping in hummus and other spreads from the mezze platter, roasted whole cauliflower with pistachio dukka, roasted carrots with honey, ricotta gnocchi , lamb kebab…

This is a cuisine that calls for spring with its freshness and its fragrances. The perfect example is in front of me, in the form of a pan-fried squid plate. The very tender rings and tentacles are enhanced by an explosion of flavors and textures: grilled vegetable salad, Kalamata olives, coarsely torn herbs (mint, parsley), all served with a zhoug-style green sauce and tangy yogurt.

I quite liked everything about my evening: the grilled cheese, halloumi style, with its cherry tomatoes, grilled green olives and spiced up with cute little biquinho hot peppers, was all in all simple, but tasty. As a main course, the grilled whole branzino (cod) melted in your mouth; the asparagus was crisp, grilled to perfection. We would have taken more of the creamy tahini sauce that accompanied everything.

The eggplants left me more skeptical. I’m a big fan of the meaty vegetable though; here, it is roasted, presented on the plate with the flesh removed from its membrane, but still firm, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds and herbs. A tahini sauce is served with it. So far, so good. But the creamy eggplant made with the blackened and smoked peel of the vegetable did not convince me. Too powerful, this sauce completely drowns out the delicate taste of eggplant.

That said, the meal ends in a very nice way with the very tasty desserts. On one side, a Queen Elizabeth-style cake with dates and salted butter caramel, topped with pistachio and orange blossom ice cream. On the other, a spongy cake made of filo pastry with orange blossom, and another ice cream, this one Turkish style (dondurma) with coffee, very creamy, topped with a tile of sesame seeds. Either way, it’s a success!

The cocktail menu is very inviting. The integration of typical Mediterranean flavors — saffron, pistachio, rose water — is very interesting and original. The Margarita, made with mezcal and Cointreau, comes with an orange and rosemary syrup. The Pistachio sour, our favourite, is flavored with a pistachio-rose syrup and orange blossom water, without being too sweet.

On the wine side, amateurs and fond of discoveries will be served. The sommelier’s passion is evident; his ambition too, he who has built a map of some 450 references since he has been in office for two years. Natural wines and grand crus are found side by side, mostly from private imports. The choice by the glass is well stocked. There is always, in addition to a dozen choices by the glass that change often, a more upscale selection, thanks to the use of Coravin, a tool to preserve an open bottle of wine longer.

Vegetarians will have several choices here to spoil themselves. Although it is at street level, Ayla is not fully adapted for people with reduced mobility, as the toilets are located in the basement. On sunny days, the flowered and intimate rear terrace with 40 seats will be able to welcome customers.

Ayla is open from Tuesday to Saturday, in the evening. Reservations recommended, especially on weekends.

386 Richmond Street, Montreal