Friday, March 23, 2018

Peter Pan Bistro: A Queen Street Icon Reborn

A Queen Street West landmark since the 1930s, Peter Pan has been reborn under chef Noah Goldberg, serving bistro-style French and Canadian comfort food in a newly restored space. Thankfully, many of original elements were kept: the wood banquettes, vintage tin ceiling, 20-foot marbletop bar, the façade’s stained-glass windows and iconic pendant lights — and of course they kept the name. Some new elements were introduced to modernize the space, with wall sconces salvaged from Toronto’s defunct Captain John’s seafood restaurant and funky wall tapestries created by London-based English multimedia artist Debbie Lawson, depicting heads of deer, moose and bear fashioned from resin and sandwiched between pieces of carpet. 
Goldberg describes his cuisine as "contemporary Canadiana," with dishes such as Croque Madame, French Onion Soup, Duck Cassoulet with duck confit, pulled pork, toulouse sausage and white beans, and Salt Spring Island Mussel Bouillabaisse with tomato, fennel and sea asparagus. Brunch is served daily on the lunch menu featuring the usual suspects with a twist: Eggs Benedict with Lox, hollandaise, potato latke and salad greens, Roasted Beet Salad with za'atar spiced goats yogurt, puffed rice, watercress, beet chips, Leek Omelette with goat cheese and tomato, and Shakshuka with eggs, tomato, roasted peppers, labne and za'atar. Of course, there's also a burger — The Pan Burger with cheddar cheese, tomato chutney, carmelized onion, worcestershire mayo and frites, and British stalwart, Fish and Chips with beer battered cod served with mushy peas and housemade tartare sauce. With a terrific wine list featuring 'Women Winemakers' and friendly efficient staff, arriving for an early lunch before heading to the AGO to see the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors installation, a quick bite at Peter Pan hit the spot.

Peter Pan Lunch on Queen Street in the 1950s

Many of the original design details of the original Peter Pan were retained during the restoration such as the tin ceilings, polished oak booths, the marble bar top and the gorgeous glass entry

A vase of beautiful yellow forsythia on the marble bar is a sign 
that Spring is just around the corner

Wall hanging shaped like a deer head complete with antlers made from Persian rugs
by English artist Debbie Lawson

Bistro-style table setting with Laguiole knife and dish towel napkin

Wine list with wines by the glass features women winemakers 

Tiberio Trebbiano d'Abruzzo was one of the wines featured on the Women Winemakers menu

A delicious crisp clean wine with a lovely aroma and flavours of flavors of green apple, 
anise and almond

Brussels Sprout Caesar Salad with raw and roasted brussels sprouts, caesar dressing, 
bacon lardons and croutons

Bacon lardons served on the side for the Caesar

Goat Cheese, Tomato and Leek Omelette with potato latke and greens

Eggs Benedict with lox, hollandaise, potato latke and green salad

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Cavatelli with Wild Mushroom & Brandy Cream Sauce

Watching an episode of L'Arte di Cucinare with Chef Gianni Ceschia on Italian TV one evening, I was spellbound as he prepared homemade cavatelli using Fante's 'Cousin Elisa's' Cavatelli Maker, a small device with wooden rollers that clamps easily to a tabletop, and makes perfectly formed cavatelli every time. I was so captivated by the machine that I immediately ordered it online, and have been using it with great delight ever since. A foolproof pasta dough recipe that I learned from Chef Massimo Bruno which uses just three simple ingredients, is also key to making perfect cavatelli. The kneading of the pasta dough takes about 15 minutes, but making the cavatelli takes just seconds using the machine — it's so easy, it makes no sense to buy store-bought pasta ever again. 

The next step is preparing the Wild Mushroom Brandy Cream Sauce. Simple and delicious, the sauce can be prepared in about half and hour, by simply sautéeing the shallots and mushrooms until they're lovely and soft, followed with a splash of brandy and cream, some grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a jar of salsa tartufata — a dark, flavourful and decadent mushroom and truffle sauce sold throughout Italy. Tossed with the cooked cavatelli and served in warm dinner bowls, the pasta is perfect garnished with a few drops of white truffle oil, fresh thyme or parsley, a little black pepper and some Maldon salt, with a bowl of grated cheese on the side for guests to help themselves. Absolute heaven!

Cavatelli with Wild Mushrooms & Brandy Cream Sauce
Serves 2

1 cup Semola Di Grano Duro Rimaninata (remilled durum wheat semolina)

1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, for adding to boiling the pasta

Wild Mushrooms & Brandy Cream Sauce:

3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 french shallot, peeled and minced
8 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
8 oz shiitake mushroom, thinly sliced
5 oz brown beech mushrooms, ends trimmed
5 oz oyster mushrooms, ends trimmed and cut in half if large
1 1/2 oz Salsa Tartufata 
2/3 cup 10% cream
1/4 cup Brandy, or to taste
1 tsp white truffle oil
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino
1 tbsp fresh thyme sprigs or chopped parsley
Kosher salt and black pepper
Maldon salt for garnish

Place the flour in a large bowl and make a hole in the centre. Pour in some warm water and olive oil and mix together slowly with a fork until the dough comes together, is no longer sticky and becomes hard to mix with the fork. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a clean surface. Massage the dough by pulling and stretching it out until it becomes soft, smooth and elastic, about 10-20 minutes. Slice into 6 pieces and using your hands, roll each piece into long snake-like cylinders about the thickness of a cigarette. Once all the dough has been rolled out, sprinkle some semolina onto a clean surface, and slowly feed one end into the cavatelli maker rollers and turn the crank. It will grab the dough, and cut it while simultaneously making impressions on the outside. Repeat until all pasta is formed, and place on a semolina floured baking sheet. 

In a large frying pan, heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat. Once the butter has melted, add the shallot and sauté for about 8-10 minutes, until the onion is translucent and tender. Add the sliced cremini and shiitake mushrooms and sauté 3-4 minutes, until the mushrooms are lightly browned. Then add the beech and oyster mushrooms and sauté for about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/4 cup of brandy and cook for 3-4 minutes allowing the mixture to reduce. Then stir in the cream and salsa tartufata. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook the sauce for another 10 minutes or so, stirring frequently. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

While the sauce is cooking, add the fresh pasta a pot of boiling water and cook for only about 5 minutes — the pasta will be done when it float to the top. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the pasta, along with any pasta water that's attached, to the sauce. Using a wooden spoon, gently toss the pasta and sauce so the mixture becomes well incorporated. Add a handful of Parmigiano to the sauce and stir to combine. If the sauce is too thick, add some additional hot pasta water. Serve the cavatelli in warmed dinner bowls and garnish with a few drops of white truffle oil, sprigs of fresh thyme or chopped parsley, a grind of black pepper and a sprinkle of Maldon salt, with some extra grated cheese on the side for guests to serve themselves, as desired. One of my favourite all-time pastas!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Roast Chicken Breast with Sumac, Za'atar & Lemon

Inspired by a sensational recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, this is a simplified version of the traditional Palestinian dish M'Sakhan, in which chicken is spiced with a fragrant combination of allspice, cinnamon, paprika, sumac, minced garlic and olive oil with sliced onion and lemon, then marinated a few hours to allow the heavenly flavours to work their magic. Before placing the marinated chicken in the oven, a heaping tablespoon of za'atar is sprinkled over the whole dish then is roasted for about 45 minutes until the breasts are nicely coloured and cooked through. Traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven called a taboon over a bed of chicken broth soaked pita, the gorgeous combination of aromatic spices, tangy red onion and tart lemon work wonderfully well and is absolutely delicious. Served with a garlicky yogurt sauce, this memorable dish is completely addictive.

The chicken breasts, sliced onions and lemon combined and massaged well with the marinade

Covered and marinated for 4 hours, the chicken is then sprinkled with za'atar and baked 
at 400°F for 40-45 minutes

Roast Chicken Breast with Sumac, Za'atar & Lemon
Serves 2
Adapted from a recipe of Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi

2 chicken breasts, bone in, skin off

1 1/2 tbsp Za’atar, divided
1/2 tbsp toasted pine nuts, optional
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp sumac
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp salt and pepper
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken stock or water 
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly 
1/4 large lemon, sliced

In a large bowl, combine the the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken breasts and massage with the marinade, then cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Transfer the chicken breasts and marinade to a baking dish. Sprinkle the most of the za'atar over the chicken and onions and roast for 40-45 minutes, until the chicken is coloured and just cooked through.
 Remove from the heat, then sprinkle with a little more sumac and the remaining za’atar if you like. Garnish with the toasted nuts and fresh parsley.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Puffed Rice

David Chang's original Asian-Inspired Brussels Sprouts recipe in his 2009 Momofuku cookbook calls for pan-frying sprouts in batches until they have ''sizzled, shrunk, popped and browned" then roasting until crisp and serving with Vietnamese nuoc cham, fried coriander leaves, chopped mint and puffed rice with a sprinkle of Togarashi, the popular Japanese seven-spice seasoning. "It's a funky thing, the sprout," Chang says. "Sautéed or roasted, it takes on a bitter, burnt element really well." Similar to the Brussels Sprouts with fish sauce, puffed rice and mint that used to be served at Daisho in Toronto, this is a tasty addition to any cooks 'sprout' repertoire.

Momofuku Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Mint
Serves 8
Adapted from a recipe of chef David Chang

2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce 
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp finely chopped mint
2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro stems
1 garlic clove, minced
1 fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise, including seeds
1/2 cup crisp rice cereal such as Rice Krispies
1/4 tsp vegetable oil
1/4 tsp togarashi  
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tbsp chopped mint
1 tbsp chopped scallions for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss the Brussels sprouts with oil, then arrange, cut sides down, in a shallow baking pan. Roast, without turning, until the outer leaves are tender and very dark brown, about 20 to 30 minutes. 

Stir together all of the  dressing ingredients until the sugar has dissolved. Add the cilantro and mint. Meanwhile, prepare the puffed rice while the sprouts roast. Set the puffed rice, oil and togarashi in a small frying pan over medium heat, shaking the pan and stirring, until the rice is coated and begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally.

To serve, place the Brussels sprouts in a decorative bowl, then toss with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with the puffed rice and serve remaining dressing on the side with a final garnish of chopped scallions, if desired.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Chicken Bhuna: Moghul Cuisine of North West India

This robust Chicken Bhuna recipe by chef Peter Joseph of Tamarind, one of only nine Michelin-starred Indian restaurants in the world, is incredibly simple to make. "I love spices and I love using different combinations to produce fantastic flavours all within an authentically Indian cooking style. Over the years my cooking knowledge has grown and I have been able to explore new ideas and areas of India that have influenced my dishes. I lean towards more traditional Indian flavours influenced by the northwest, and find the history of Mughal cuisine, biryanis, curries and kebabs fabulous". The origins of the bhuna curry can be traced back to the Bengal area of northeast India and western Bangladesh, and refer to the traditional cooking technique where spices are fried in very hot oil, until they have formed a lovely thick paste. Meat or vegetables are then added to these fried spices and cooked in the curry to bring out its distinguished, deep flavours. Characterized by a thick, deliciously intense sauce with a well spiced and lively heat, Bhunas are perfect for warming the cockles on a chilly winter evening — ideal served with fluffy basmati rice and warm naan.

Chef Peter Joseph of Tamarind in Mayfair

Chicken Bhuna

Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Peter Joseph, Tamarind Mayfair

6 chicken thighs, boneless and skinless, diced into 1 inch chunks

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 green chilli, deseeded and chopped
2 tbsp of ginger, chopped
2 onions, diced
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp chilli powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
5 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp of coriander, chopped
3 tbsp of vegetable oil
1 pinch of salt

Heat the oil in a large deep frying pan or wok, and add the garlic, green chillies and ginger. Mix them for a minute in the hot oil then add the chopped onions. Stir and leave to cook over a medium heat for about 20-25 minutes. Once the onions have turned a golden brown colour, add the turmeric, chilli, cumin, coriander and garam masala powders. Stir and cook for about a minute, then add the chopped tomatoes with 1/2 cup of water and a good pinch of salt. Stir together, cover the pan and allow it to come to a boil. Stir occasionally until the masala becomes lovely and thick, about 15-20 minutes. Add the chicken to the pan and coat the pieces in the masala so it’s all nicely covered. Cook over medium low, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes, or until the chicken is tender and combined with the thick masala sauce, adding a little more water if necessary. Stir in the lemon juice to add a little zing and garnish with coriander to serve. A dollop of plain yogurt on top is the perfect crown for this 'saucy' curry.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Traditional Irish Shepherds Pie: Classic Comfort Food

An Irish comfort food classic, Shepherds Pie is traditionally made from leftover lamb or mutton topped with mashed potato. Perfectly suited for using up leftovers from a Sunday Roast Leg of Lamb, the meat is simply chopped and simmered in a flavourful sauce so that it stays tender before being baked with a pillowy crown of mashed potato until it's golden brown and bubbling up along the edges. Served with a tumble of peas dotted with a knob of butter, this is the perfect meal to warm you up on a cold blustery winter evening or to celebrate the Feast of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland.

Traditional Irish Shepherds Pie
Serves 4-6

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp black pepper
1 lb ground lamb
1 large onion, finely diced
4 large carrots, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas
4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp butter
1 glass red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chicken stock
6 cups warm mashed potatoes
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tbsp chopped parsley for garnish

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Sauté the carrots in the olive oil until starting to become tender, then add the onions and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add the ground lamb and season with black pepper and thyme. Cook until browned then drain the fat. Add the butter and peas. Sprinkle with flour and stir through, then add the tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce. Allow this to reduce slightly then add the chicken stock, and let reduce until it creates a thick meaty gravy. Season to taste and remove from heat. 

Grease a 9x13-inch oven proof casserole dish with butter then add the lamb mixture. Spoon the mashed potatoes over top. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the potato is golden brown and the edges are bubbling. Serve immediately with a garnish of fresh parsley. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Classic French Lemon Madeleines

Soft and moist with a sublime buttery flavour and light, fluffy texture, these little French cakes are universally loved. With a rich history dating back to the Duke of Lorraine and made famous by Proust in his novel 'A La Recherche du Temps Perdu', this classic recipe for Madeleines couldn't be more delicious, or easier to make. Suggestions by chefs Dorie Greenspan and Daniel Boulud provide added insight, for not only do they rest and chill the batter before piping it into the molds, but they chill it in the tin too, before sliding it onto a hot baking sheet. Served straight from the oven, these buttery little sponge cakes have wonderfully crisp edges and are so moist and tender, that they are best enjoyed right away with a light dusting of powdered sugar. After all, who can resist the exquisite pleasures of these “squat plump little cakes which look as though they had been molded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell.” Certainly not Proust.

Makes about 20

1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus 1 tbsp for buttering the mold
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
icing sugar for dusting

Melt the butter and allow to cool. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until creamy. Then add the vanilla, lemon zest and pinch of salt. Mix the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl, and gradually add it to the batter, beating just until blended. Gradually add the cooled melted butter in a steady stream, blending well, then cover and refrigerate until required. 

Liberally brush the ridges of a small Madeleine pan with melted butter. Dust with flour tapping of any excess. Fill the molds not quite to the top, only about to 2/3, then refrigerate again or cook straight away for 10-15 minutes, or until they are puffed up and golden. Remove from the oven, tap out from the pan, dust with icing sugar and serve immediately while still deliciously warm. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Heston Blumenthal's Sunday Roast Leg of Lamb


A recipe with the classic flavours of Provence — lamb, rosemary and anchovies, might seem an odd combination, but they really work well together, insists Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal. "The savouriness of the anchovies brings out the best in the meat, without tasting fishy." As a young boy, he recalls stumbling into a restaurant in Provence, and before him a chef is browning a leg of lamb in a sizzling pan, filling the air with the aroma of delicious meaty juices. He was mesmerized. It was an iconic moment in the chef's extraordinary culinary career. Famous for his experiments with molecular cuisine, he is the proprietor of The Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, one of five restaurants in Great Britain to have three Michelin stars, and was voted #1 in 'The World’s 50 Best Restaurants'. His recipe for Roast Leg of Lamb involves tucking the anchovies into the skin of the browned lamb, along with garlic and a sprig of rosemary. During roasting, the wee little fish simply melt away, leaving a delicate salty tang. Blumenthal uses tinned anchovies in his roast lamb recipe, but they can also be purchased fresh from a fishmonger, packed in salt. The best anchovies come from south-west France and north-west Spain, however, whichever anchovies are used, this wonderfully aromatic and wildly delicious leg of lamb will be a triumph.

Heston's Roast Leg of Lamb

Serves 8
Recipe courtesy of chef Heston Blumenthal

5 lb leg of lamb

Sea salt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
12 anchovies in extra virgin olive oil, drained and sliced in half lengthways
6 garlic cloves, peeled and halved 
8 sprigs fresh rosemary

For the sauce:

1/2 cup dry white wine
3 1/4 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard

Season the lamb with salt. Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan over a high heat. When the oil is smoking hot, sear the lamb until golden brown on all sides, then remove from the pan and place on a chopping board. 
Using a sharp knife, cut slits in the surface of the lamb at regular intervals. Use a small spoon to enlarge the holes and stuff them with the anchovies, garlic and half the rosemary.

Place the remaining sprigs of rosemary in the bottom of a roasting tin and place the lamb on top. Pour 2/3 cup water into the bottom of the pan and cook 25 minutes per pound plus 25 minutes for medium, or to your liking. When cooked, remove the lamb from the oven, wrap it in foil and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.

While the meat is resting, make the sauce. Place the roasting tin over a medium-high heat, allow the lamb juices to come to a boil then reduce by half. Add the wine and use a spatula to scrape all the delicious bits from the bottom of the pan. Allow the liquid to reduce by half. Add the chicken stock and, again, reduce by half. Pour off the excess fat then strain the liquid through a fine sieve into a bowl. Stir in the wholegrain mustard then pour into a warm jug to serve with the lamb.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dorie Greenspan's Apple Cake with Chantilly Cream

A deceptively simple and delicious Apple Cake from Dorie Greenspan's cookbook, "Around My French Table", is full of entertaining stories, memories, and insider tips that she gathered over years of living in France. Inspired by a recipe by her friend Marie-Hélène Brunet-Lhotse, Greenspan watched her in her kitchen, in the hopes of nabbing a recipe by observation, but found it impossible. "Like so many really good cooks, Marie-Hélène starts off with a set of ingredients, but, once she starts mixing, stirring, boiling, baking, or sautéing, she makes so many mid-cooking adjustments that you just have to throw up your hands and content yourself with being the lucky recipient". 

And so it was with this apple cake, which is more apple than cake, rather plain but very appealing in its simplicity: the chunks of apple make a bumpy, golden top, and so satisfying that we all went back for seconds. Despite knowing that it was futile, Greenspan asked for the recipe, and, of course, Marie-Hélène didn't really know. "It's got two eggs, sugar, flour, and melted butter - oh, and rum," she said. "I mix the eggs and sugar together and then I add some flour, some butter, some flour, and some butter." When asked how much flour and butter, Greenspan got a genuinely apologetic shrug, and when asked what kind of apples she used, the answer was, divers, or different kinds. Thank goodness Dorie was so tenacious, for she succeeded in transcribing Marie-Hélène's fabulous recipe for us all to share for evermore.

French Apple Cake
Serves 8
Adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 cups mixed apples, such as Fuji, Golden Delicious, or Gala
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 tbsp dark rum
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
3/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Crème Chantilly:
1 cup whipping cream
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°F and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven.  Using some of the melted butter, brush the inside of a 6 or 8-inch springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.

Whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together in small bowl and set aside. Peel and core the apples, then dice them into 1-inch pieces.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk or electric mixer until they are foamy. Add the sugar, rum, vanilla, cardamom, and lemon zest and whisk to blend.  Add in half the flour and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth batter. Switch to a rubber spatula and fold in the apples, turning the fruit so that it's coated with batter. Scrape the mix into the pan and smooth out the top with the spatula.

Place the cake on a baking sheet and position it on the center rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 60-70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and carefully remove the sides of the cake pan, making sure no apples are stuck to it. Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake onto a serving dish.

Using a whisk or mixer, whip each of the crème chantilly ingredients together until firm peaks are formed. Spoon the cream into a pretty bowl and serve along with the cake.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Diwan at The Aga Khan: Middle Eastern Cuisine

North America’s first museum dedicated to Islamic art and culture, The Aga Khan Museum offers visitors a window into worlds unknown or unfamiliar: the artistic, intellectual, and scientific contributions of Muslim civilizations to world heritage across the centuries. Created as a pillar for global pluralism, the Museum’s permanent collection of more than 1,000 artefacts includes masterpieces that reflect a broad range of artistic styles and materials, including portraits, textiles, miniatures, manuscripts, ceramics, tiles, medical texts, books and musical instruments that represent more than ten centuries of human history from a geographic area stretching from Spain, Sicily, Africa, the Balkans, Central Asia, China, India, and Southeast Asia. Special exhibitions are held throughout the year, such as 'The World of the Fatimids' which bears witness to a remarkable dynasty that built one of the world’s oldest universities, compiled one of its greatest libraries, and fostered a flowering of the arts and sciences. At its height in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Fatimids established one of the greatest civilizations in the world, influencing knowledge and culture throughout the Mediterranean, Europe, and the Near East. 

Taking advantage of our museum membership, we were able to enjoy a sneak preview of the exhibition before lunch at Diwan, which means 'spiritual room', the museum's elegant and refined signature restaurant, handsomely decorated with original panels from an 18th-century Damascus Mosque bought at auction in London by the Aga Khan. Few museums offer as beautiful a dining space as the one at the Aga Khan Museum, a culinary destination in its own right. Executive Chef Mark McEwan and Chef de Cuisine John Kovac's menu highlights the great cuisines of Turkey, Iran, North Africa, Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent, and includes dishes such as Mercimek Corbasi, a Turkish-inspired red lentil soup with dried mint, Sweet Onion Bhaji with tamarind chutney and Ali Nazik, a smoky eggplant purée with spiced lamb, yogurt and served with flatbread, a specialty of the Gaziantep province of Turkey. Entrées are equally enticing, including Grilled Octopus with Chickpea Salad, Moroccan olives, stewed sweet peppers and Aleppo aioli, and Chicken Biryani with Basmati rice and cashews served with warm naan. In the summer months, the restaurant opens its doors to a sunlit patio with fabulous views of the Aga Khan Park.

Diwan, which means 'spiritual room', is the Aga Khan Museum's signature restaurant

Original ceiling panel and lantern from an 18th-century Damascus Mosque evokes the luxury of a private 19th-century Syrian home, and was purchased at auction in London by the Aga Khan

Diwan's winter lunch menu

A glass of bubbly on a snowy afternoon

Mercimek Corbasi, a Turkish-inspired red lentil soup with dried mint

Sweet Onion Bhaji with tamarind chutney

Diana offers a short wine list including this lovely Argentinian Rosé

Grilled Octopus with Chickpea and Arugula Salad with Moroccan olives, stewed sweet peppers and served with an Aleppo aioli

Chicken Biryani with Basmati rice and cashews served with warm naan

A warm and comforting café au lait, the perfect balm on a cold snowy afternoon

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Honey Streusel and Figs
Serves 4
Recipe courtesy of chef Mark McEwan

3 leaves gelatine
2 cups 35% cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean

Honey Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup cold butter
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp honey
3/4 cup flour

Port wine and fig sauce:
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup red port
1/2 sprig rosemary
1/2 vanilla bean
2 fresh figs, quartered

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 vanilla bean
3 fresh figs, halved lengthwise
1/4 cup sugar

Fold a 12-inch sheet plastic wrap in half. Place a ring mould at its centre, lift the plastic wrap up around the edge, and secure it tautly in place with an elastic band to create a ramekin. Repeat with the remaining ring moulds. Arrange the ring moulds on a small baking sheet.

Submerge the gelatine in a bowl of ice-cold water. Place the cream and the sugar in a saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the cream, and then add the pod. Gently bring to a simmer, stirring so the sugar dissolves. Discard the pod. Pour the mixture into a stainless steel bowl. Remove the gelatine leaves from the water, squeeze gently, and add them to the cream mixture. Whisk until dissolved. Place the bowl over a second, large bowl of ice. Whisk gently until the cream mixture cools and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Divide the mixture among the 4 ring moulds or ramekins, cover with plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Preheat oven to 325ºF. For the streusel, cut the butter into cubes and let it sit on the counter for 10 minutes. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer equipped with a paddle. Add the sugar and honey; mix on low speed. Once smooth, add the flour, mixing just until it attains a crumbly texture (do not mix further to form a dough). Scatter the crumble on a baking sheet, passing it through your fingers to break up any clumps. Bake, stirring now and then with a spatula, until golden and crisp, about 15 minutes.

For the sauce, combine the honey, port, and rosemary in a saucepan. Scrape the vanilla seeds into the pan and add the pod. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the figs. Reduce the liquid by half. Strain through a sieve, pushing with a wooden spoon to force through the figs’ seeds. Set aside at room temperature.

To finish, heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add the vanilla bean. Dredge the cut side of the fig halves in the sugar, and then place them in the pan, once again cut side down. Cook until caramelized on that side, about 4 minutes. Remove from the pan, reserving the vanilla oil. Meanwhile, invert the moulds of panna cotta carefully onto 4 chilled plates. Remove the plastic wrap, pass the blade of a knife around the edge of the moulds, and then lift them away. Scatter a band of streusel across the top of the panna cotta. Halve the figs again, and place 3 segments on each plate. Drizzle lightly with the vanilla oil, follow with a spoonful of the port-fig sauce, and serve.