If you’re in the mood for a fun, ethnic dining experience in London, Ontario, Addis Ababa is the place to go. Named after the capital of Ethiopia, the restaurant offers a unique, hands-on dining experience that entails tearing injera, a thin spongey bread, and using it to grab a taste of various dishes. Owner and chef T.G. Haile opened the restaurant 14 years ago with aim to introduce this unique cuisine to the London community.
The restaurant is tucked away in the corner at Dundas and Maitland, and certainly does not catch the eye from the outside. I walked up unsure what to expect, knowing this would either be a tacky attempt at an Ethiopian restaurant or an underground gem that I was about to discover. Spoiler: it was the latter.
I opened the door to an inviting aroma of spices and home-cooked paradise, much like that feeling of excitement you get walking into thanksgiving dinner- but with an ethnic twist. The restaurant was decorated with Ethiopian décor: posters, art, traditional clothing. There was also Ethiopian music playing in the background, which added to the ambiance, not too loud to overpower our chatter.
T.G. herself came to greet us with a warm smile. She welcomed us and asked if we were vegetarian. We told her we were vegan and she directed us to the vegan section of the menu, (it still pleasantly surprises me when people know what vegan means). There were a variety of options ranging $11 to $16, including beef or vegetable dishes, all served and eaten in a similar manner. Considerate of it being our first time, she patiently explained to us how everything worked. I ordered a shared vegetarian platter and coffee, which she warned us would take a half hour to prepare, as they roast the beans from scratch. A couple minutes later, a man came out with a sizzling, smoky pan and let us get a whiff of the roasted coffee beans.
“This is what you do before you drink it,” he said, smiling.
The smell lingered until our food arrived, clouding my head in a coffee trance. The food took only ten short minutes to prepare. Our server described each of the nine dishes, made with lentils, squash, beans, chickpeas, and a fresh salad. Each dish was incredibly flavourful, and distinctly spiced. Some were spicier, some more creamy, and the salad was a fresh, crispy contrast from the other dishes. The injera was thin and spongy, almost like a crepe. I must say, it was not very tasty, but its blandness functioned as a neutral utensil for the main feature: the dishes. I found myself giggling while eating my meal; I felt like a child again. Why can’t I always eat like this?
Finally, the coffee arrived shortly after we finished eating. It was served in a dark wooden pot that sat on a colourful bangle, along with charming little teacups. It was rich without being too bitter, and left a pleasant, smoky aftertaste. My friend and I came to the conclusion that it had officially ruined all other coffee for us, forever.
Once every last drop of our coffee was polished, I left with a happy belly and felt as though I’d just spent the past two hours on an Ethiopian eating retreat.
If you like finger food and are up to try something new, this is the place for you. It caters to just about anyone, especially groups who can share a platter and get a taste of the variety of dishes they offer.
Our server explained this cuisine perfectly, “it’s not new ingredients, but a new way of cooking them.”