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Voyages: Lemon Tree Restaurant

Voyages: Lemon Tree Restaurant

Tucked away on Queen Street just a few steps from the Central Library, you’ll find Lemon Tree, a charming and lovable Turkish casual dining restaurant. Gino and Muli, husband and wife and owners of the quaint restaurant, moved to Canada about 15 years ago from their native Turkey. Likewise, the name of the restaurant also originated in Turkey, having been inspired by a small lemon tree that stood outside their home overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. This exemplifies the vibe and business philosophy of the restaurant – Gino and Muli are very much focused on connecting with the community and providing customers with an authentic and wholesome Turkish dining experience.

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The Lemon Tree’s cuisine is an extension of the homey feel of the restaurant and entire dining experience, highlighting a clear reflection of Turkish culture. The authenticity stems from the menu being composed of the food Gino and Muli would prepare and eat at home, with several traditional recipes having been passed down from their grandparents.

The bright and summery feel of the restaurant is showcased right from the very beginning of the dining experience, as Muli brings out a pitcher of freshly-squeezed, homemade lemonade to the table instead of plain old water. This fresh start is followed by a small plate of freshly baked Kurabiye, a kind of tiny shortbread cookies dusted in icing sugar (Dessert first? Yes plz). While waiting for what I know will be an amazing assortment of plates, I take some time to observe the open and welcoming dining space around me.

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The first thing I notice about the food when it is brought to the table is the vibrant colours, which resemble summer on a plate. One of the beautiful things about Turkish food is the variety that each plate has to offer. First, our lovely waitress Sunny brings the vegetarian combo ($15) to the table, followed by the mix kebab plate ($17) and the yogurt kofte ($14). The dishes present an array of authentic Turkish flavours, each of which Sunny explains in the context of the cultural roots of the cuisine.

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The veggie combo comes with 4 different mezze and includes a fresh garden salad with chunks of fresh tomato, cucumber, onion, and bell peppers in a house-made lemon vinaigrette; a light carrot coleslaw-esque salad, piyaz white bean salad with onion, vinegar, and parsley; muchver zucchini cake, spinach/feta borek, pita bread, dolma, roasted pepper, hummus, pita bread, and rice. Each component of the platter is portioned respectively, creating a well-balanced and diverse dish.

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The mixed kebab plate includes chicken, beef and lamb kebab, rice, grilled vegetables, and carrot salad. The carrot salad accompanies each item on the menu, and is a fresh twist on traditional coleslaw.

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The yogurt kofte is composed of Turkish-style meatballs covered in creamy yogurt and topped with spicy tomato paste, making for a complex combination of spicy, sweet, savoury, and subtly sour. I personally have never tried anything quite like this before, and am pleasantly surprised by the unique mix of flavours.

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Sitting down after the meal, I get a chance to talk to Gino and am moved as he explains that Lemon Tree is actually their retirement business. Instead of being motivated by profits, the pair see the restaurant as a way to invest in their community and their customers (which they refer to lovingly as their guests).

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So Haligonians – if you are looking for a truly authentic, refreshing and down-to-earth Turkish dining experience, stop by Lemon Tree today. They even have live belly dancers every Friday night, so come ready to party!

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