Ayla’s Social Kitchen
Address: 338 Preston St, Ottawa
Hours: 5 – 11pm (Tue – Sun); closed Monday (hours may vary during/after pandemic)
Ayla’s Social Kitchen is one of the handful of Ottawa restaurants that opened just before or in the early days of the pandemic, and the adjustments for a nice restaurant like this were surely even more pronounced than some.
My first time trying their food was back in the takeout-only days last year, with a generous spread of food that was borderline gluttonous for two people. Naturally, there were a lot of leftovers.
Note that not all these items are on the current iteration of Ayla’s menu and/or prices may have changed since.
The pistachio and feta dip ($14) was a verdant green, and pleasantly salty with an undertone of the subtle flavour of pistachios. A mix of crostini and pita gave some textural options for spread-to-mouth delivery systems.
Despite the fact that you don’t win friends with salad, I was very impressed with the orange and date salad ($17). This massive portion of kale, goat cheese, mixed seeds, red onion, mint, the namesake toppings, and a honey lime vinaigrette was so beautifully presented in the takeout container that I felt bad scooping it out and messing it up! Beyond its aesthetic appeal, its big flavours were also wonderfully balanced between the mix of sweet, savoury, and acidic.
Our meaty mains were just as impressively executed as our starters.
My Persian-style kebab ($19) was tender and herby, without a hint of being over-cooked, even with its time in a takeout container. Its side sauces were equally notable, with a bright, dill-forward tzatziki, and a green tahini dressing for the side salad. The rice was buttery and perfectly cooked, with a floral note from the saffron-infused rice.
The Mediterranean-style chicken kebab ($19) was also masterfully cooked on the grill, and I appreciated that the tomatoey Spanish rice was a change from the path of least resistance of having the same rice with every dish. The lively charred-corn salad made this a tri-continent inspired dish.
Visita número dos
On our second visit in the fall, we ate indoors since we had unfortunately missed out dining on their lovely patio.
This time around, we stuck to a mix of their cold and hot mezze dishes.
The house-made, loaded labneh ($14) was a light, but flavour-packed way to start our meal. Unsurprisingly, the za’atar, mint and pomegranate seeds all paired well with the tangy labneh. It’s a small observation, but I appreciated that there was an appropriate amount of dipping implements. Take note from Ayla’s, restaurants that cheap out on the bread!
The best dish of the evening was likely the saffron arancini ($16). Wonderfully crisp on the outside, and a rich, creamy interior, with added flavour from a white wine and parm sauce, Ayla’s arancini are a must when they’re on the menu.
While I liked the idea and flavour profile of the Mediterranean fries ($16) – topped with feta, tomato, onion, sumac, dried mint, and a green tahini sauce – all the toppings quickly made the fries soggy. However, it might work better in a larger group that hasn’t already had a couple dishes and can down them in short order.
The baked feta ($17) was a simple but delicious dish, as the bright, sharp flavours of the tomato, red onion and olives complemented those of the salty feta and plentiful olive oil and za’atar.
It’s never easy for any restaurant starting out, and when a family-run spot like Ayla’s Social Kitchen is putting out delicious, well-executed food, you want them to succeed even more. Judging by the healthy crowd there on a mid-week evening, the word is out, and you owe it to yourself and your taste buds to give them a try.