February 27, 2020

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ABOVE THE FOLD

That's a wrap!

Shawarma just one of the standouts at downtown Lebanese café

Opinion

You don’t go for the atmosphere at Altanour, which is a bare-bones venue in the Downtown East neighbourhood. You go for the Lebanese food, which is fresh, flavour-packed and terrific.

Restaurant review

Altanour Restaurant
587 Notre Dame Ave.
204-414-1887; altanourrestaurant.ca

Go for: Delicious Lebanese food
Best bet: Standout shawarma
Apps: $3-$10; mains: $11.99-$15.99

Altanour Restaurant 
587 Notre Dame Ave. 
204-414-1887; altanourrestaurant.ca

Go for: Delicious Lebanese food
Best bet: Standout shawarma
Apps: $3-$10; mains: $11.99-$15.99

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m.- 11 p.m.; Sunday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Licensed: No
Reservations: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes

★★★★ out of five

This family-run café is a new venture from the former owners of Shawarma Time, and they’ve expanded their menu.

You can, of course, get excellent shawarma wraps, either for eat-in or to grab and go, as well as casual foods like calzone. But there are also more elaborate supper dishes on offer, such as roast chicken biryani or grilled whole fish.

Sampled apps are really good, and you could easily make a meal just from them. Baba ghanouj is silky with a smoky, edgy undertow, and it’s served with glugs of olive oil and a scattering of pomegranate seeds. Garlicky hummus is also finished with olive oil and served with tender, stretchy pita bread, which comes to the table warm and wrapped in a bag.

The shawarma wraps are filled with well-seasoned meat and lots of messy accompaniments.

The shawarma wraps are filled with well-seasoned meat and lots of messy accompaniments.

There’s a tasty tomato, spinach and onion pie, its savoury filling sandwiched between a delicate thin crust, and the stuffed grape leaves are rich and very lemony.

Tabbouleh is packed with parsley and chopped tomato, with just a touch of very fine bulgur and lots of fresh lime to finish.

The fatoush salad combines greens and lots of chopped vegetables with thin, crisp shards of fried bread.

The shawarma wraps are jammed with a generous amount of juicy, well-seasoned meat and lots of good, messy accompaniments like pickled veg, tahini and garlic sauce. Chicken shawarma was delicious, as was a wrap made with chunks of brown-burnished lamb.

Altanour’s menu offers skewers of chicken and beef, hummus and pita bread, lentil soup and fatoush salad.

Altanour’s menu offers skewers of chicken and beef, hummus and pita bread, lentil soup and fatoush salad.

Platters include a chicken biryani, which comes with the miracle of good garlic sauce, fluffy, light and pure white. This sauce could make even cardboard taste good, so when paired with tender roasted chicken and aromatic rice, flecked with vermicelli and vegetables, it’s just heaven.

A whole small grilled tilapia is simple but flavourful. The lightly salted skin is scored and super-crisped, and underneath are strips of flakey white meat.

You can also order up a big family-style meal of rice, salad, dips and pita, served alongside skewers of meat measured by the half-kilogram. This is good value for the money at $44.99, but even ordering à la carte at Altanour delivers a lot of great food at bargain prices.

If you’re sampling a few different things, you’ll almost certainly end up taking food home in a container.

Most of the tableware is basic, including cheap and cheerful melamine dishes and those disposable red Solo cups seen in university-student selfies.

The very good, intensely dark Turkish coffee, however, is poured from an intricate metal dallah into lovely china cups. This makes a very nice finish to a meal, as does the exceptional baklava. Baklava can be tricky, sometimes too dry and sometimes overly sweet and gooey, and Altanour’s home-baked version is just right, keeping the focus on buttery layers of phyllo pastry and the substantial walnut filling.

Portions are large enough that diners may end up taking food home with them.

Portions are large enough that diners may end up taking food home with them.

There is no alcohol, but Altanour also functions as a hookah lounge, especially in the late-night hours.

The welcome is warm and friendly, though table service can be a bit slow, as sometimes happens in family-run operations with a few people doing everything. That didn’t bother me: This is the kind of food that should be savoured.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

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