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1559 Bank St.,
Open: Weekdays 1 to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 1 to 10 p.m.
Prices: mains $19.95 and $26.95, platters from $42.95 to $89.95
Admiration for a certain $20,000 New Year’s Eve dinner notwithstanding, I’m all for meals that provide tasty, belly-filling satisfaction and still leave a few dollars in your wallet.
After all, inflation has made us even more sensitive (and irate) about the cost of everything, and food is a big wedge of everyone’s pie chart of expenses. If we have any disposable income at all after buying groceries, we ought to spend on restaurant meals that deliver bangs for our bucks.
You might have noticed that my reviews this month have focused on more budget-friendly eateries. It’s more than a coincidence that these reviews required visits to more modest restaurants, usually run by new Canadians, often in locations outside the city’s core. Economizing was part of my thinking for seeking out Thai food near Greely and Chinese food in Nepean industrial parks. This week’s review extends that focus on parsimonious feasting.
Great value is on the menu at Yemen Gate, a tiny takeout-only place that opened last July in a Bank Street strip mall a bit north of Heron Road. The specialty here is mandi, a dish of meat (chicken or lamb at Yemen Gate) and rice, which originated in Yemen but has spread across the Arabian Peninsula.
The arrival of mandi in Ottawa is relatively recent, I believe, certainly compared to other Middle Eastern dishes that expats and locals alike have grown accustomed to. Before last week, I’ve only had mandi twice, both times in 2020, at the then-new Yemeni restaurant Bukhari, a Carling Avenue business that has since closed, and then at Saudi-owned House of Mandi, still a going concern in Ottawa’s east end. Now, I see more mandi offered in the city, at the Bank Street restaurant Al-Halabi and the Carling Avenue eatery Sheikh Almandi, both yet to be visited by me.
The veteran Lebanese restaurant Les Grillades, a long-time favourite of mine, also serves mandi. The question of who makes the best mandi in Ottawa now springs to my mind. The answer will have to wait for quite a few more research meals.
Now back to the task (meal) at hand. A tiny place with two tables of two and a counter by its window, Yemen Gate specializes in mandi and serves little else. The menu includes chicken mandi, lamb mandi, and lamb and chicken mandi, all of which place their meat on a bed of fluffy, deeply flavoured, turmeric-stained rice. We ordered a “family mix mandi,” which was billed as enough lamb, chicken and rice for two to three people, for just $42.95.
First off, those who judge their meals in terms of quantity should let out a cheer for Yemen Gate’s mandi. It fed three of us at dinner, and generated more rice-centred meals for days after. Indeed, the top-notch, alluringly flavoured rice, topped with fried onions and studded with almonds and raisins, was arguably the star of the mandi.
Meat-wise, our heaping tray contained a half-chicken, boosted in flavour thanks to its marinade, and assorted pieces of lamb, mostly bone-in, which also lent their juices to flavour the rice. Smaller side orders rounded out our meal. Salad was humble but fresh, a vegetable stew was basic but good, and oat soup was like a savory, spiced porridge.
For dessert, we split a small tray of the traditional Yemeni dessert ma’asoub, which is like a bread pudding of sorts, combining over-ripe bananas, ground flat bread, and cream. A drizzle of honey finished this homey dish.
The only glaring problem with our order was that it missed the containers of Yemeni hot sauce that should have come with the mandi. But given how generous Yemen Gate is with its mandi, it would be churlish to raise a fuss about a missing condiment.
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