The Bar Begonia space has been transformed into a bright, buzzy spot with a street market-inspired menu
Fet Zun (252 Dupont, at Spadina, 647-352-3337, fetzun.com) is Anthony Rose’s newest restaurant on the Dupont strip, opening in place of Bar Begonia. That might come as news to a few of you plenty of folks – this writer included – weren’t even aware Begonia had shut down until the new spot had already taken its place.
As Rose puts it: “It happened slowly, and then all at once.”
Bar Begonia, an intimate, burgundy-painted wine bar that somehow managed to transform what was once a blocky, Brutalist eyesore into a genuinely romantic destination for tartare and oysters, had its fair share of fans over its three-year run – Rose himself among them. “Bar Begonia we were extremely proud of… we put our hearts and souls into it, and it was fuckin’ awesome,” Rose says.
“But the one thing missing from Bar Begonia was the history of myself or Rob (Wilder, Rose’s business partner). With every restaurant that we do, we’ve got a story. We’ve got something that’s very meaningful to us. We didn’t close Bar Begonia because it wasn’t successful, but we thought we could do better. We thought we could do something that was more us.”
So they decided to circle back to territory they’d already begun exploring, with great success, at Rose’s 2014 smash hit Fat Pasha: Middle Eastern food. “We wanted that Middle East market vibe, to dive deeper into that world,” Rose explains, adding that in contrast to the hot ‘n’ heavy vibe at Begonia, they wanted something “lighter, airier, more eclectic, louder, more raucous.”
After a quick five-week changeover and a few cosmetic tweaks (including a layer of vintage wallpaper from Smash and the creation of what Rose calls “the hookah room” in the back), Begonia had a new look and the new name Fet Zun (which, by the way, is Yiddish for “fat son” and pronounced similarly.)
The menu is largely made up of a mishmash of mezes and dips, the kind of thing best enjoyed with several friends and multiple orders of balloon-like housemade pita (79 cents, or $2.99 for a flatbread version topped with za’atar).
Most things will set you back $6, from labneh with mahammara to intensely smoky baba ghanouj and “Spicy Things” (actually a plate festooned with big pools of schug and harif hot sauces). There’s no hummus – they saved that for Pasha – but there is massabaha, a chunkier chickpea-based dip that’s probably 50 per cent tahini by volume.
Those with larger appetites can also grab platters of crispy turkey schnitzel ($19) or Jerusalem mixed grill ($17) – chicken thighs, hearts and livers – served with dollops of tahini, amba and schug (which Rose refers to as the “holy trinity” of the menu).
It’s more pan-Middle Eastern than fusion, though Rose’s team does take a couple liberties, like using chickpeas to beef up the chirshi, a squash-sweet potato dip topped with a blob of labneh and drizzled with pomegranate molasses.
“There are so many versions of all these things – it really depends on what country you’re in,” Rose says. “It’s very hard, especially when some folks will come in and go ‘Well, that’s not how my grandmother made it!’ or ‘That’s not how I had it in Tel Aviv!’ Like… okay!”
Some restaurateurs might be wary of opening a Middle Eastern restaurant four blocks from their other Middle Eastern restaurant – but with six restaurants thriving on one strip, it’s safe to say Rose’s businesses are pretty much immune from self-cannibalization. And on a more creative note, he says, having Fet Zun holding down the more casual end of things actually gives Pasha more room to evolve.
“When Fat Pasha first opened, it was very much Middle Eastern Ashkenazi – flavours of chopped chicken livers and brisket, stuff like that. That’s not here at all,” he says.
“Fat Pasha is great if you’re going on a second date or third date, or you want to celebrate something. Here it’s a little more unapologetic, it’s dirtier. You eat with your fingers. It’s a little more ‘in and out’ style. The atmosphere, service, food are all different.”
Though Fat Pasha favourites like the roasted cauliflower won’t be going anywhere, Rose says he’s already chatting with the Pasha team about where to take things next. And though Madame Boeuf, the backyard burger joint and outdoor market previously held on the Bar Begonia patio in the summer, will likely return, they just might start selling kebabs on a pita instead.
“With the Middle East, here’s so much more to investigate,” Rose says. “We’re just diving deeper and deeper.”
firstname.lastname@example.org | @nataliamanzocco