I had given up on Ethiopian food. I had been several times to a few places on Commercial Drive. The atmosphere was generally warm and inviting and the staff was always friendly, and the walk score made the choice a no-brainer. The the Ethiopian restaurants on the drive always left me wanting more, but not in a good way. We would always get the share plate sampler and it was never enough food.
The first few times I left one of these places hungry, I sort of chuckled at the thought. “I just went for Ethiopian food and I’m starving, ha!” But, much like the food, the joke was in poor taste. And a hungry person has little time for humour.
“Let’s meet up on the Drive for some… Ethiopian.”
I began to dread that phrase. I would always beg for any other alternative: cheap sushi, pizza slice, Indian, even Italian… anything but Ethiopian.
AXUM IS AMAZING
So, when someone suggested Axum Ethiopian, I was reluctant. But after going just once, I suddenly found myself in love with Ethiopian food. Located on the corner of Clark Drive and East Hastings, Axum is a little out of the way, but it is well worth the trip. And really, there is ample parking and a bunch of different buses go by there.
Axum’s food is fantastic. We usually go about once every month or two. Here are some tips: For two of us we get three veggie dishes: miser wot ($8), shiro ($10), and either tikil gomen ($8) or spinach gomen ($8). It’s really more than enough for two people. I recommend the vegetarian dishes, because they are pretty much the same as the meat options, just without the meat. The meat, for me, does not add much. I’ve learned not to dabble in the sample plates. Yes, you get a variety of things to try, but in the end you get less food and you typically can’t distinguish the blobs you thought were amazing from the mediocre blobs. So, next time you go you’re no better at ordering, and end up with a sample plate again. It’s a vicious cycle of culinary ignorance, and it stops with YOU!
While I can’t say enough good things about the food at Axum, the service is hit and miss. It is a family business and some family members clearly have a better knack for service. During the week a young woman usually serves, and does an excellent job taking care of customers. On the weekend, a man is usually the waiter and he leaves something to be desired: namely beer.
Case in point, I went in with a table of 10 recently. Unfortunately another table of ten had come in just before us. These hip scenesters had no doubt worked up quite an appetite on the culture crawl. There was however only one other table that was finishing up. It wasn’t that busy.
After setting up our own table (despite phoning ahead to ask for a large table) and sitting at the table for about 10 minutes, I went and grabbed the two water glasses sitting on the bar. One was quite dirty. Later they placed some more glasses on the bar and my friend went to get them and bring us water, but the picture didn’t fill all the glasses. So, for our entire meal we had about seven glasses of water to split between 10 of us.
After about 30 minutes, he took our drink order. I made it easy for the waiter by giving my crew the option of Becks or Heineken. He returned to the counter area, but one kid at the other table, one with an asymmetric haircut and an ironic t-shirt, had ordered a tea. The waiter spent 5 minutes preparing the tea rather than delivering our beer. Fair enough. First things first, right? But the reality of the situation is that we would have consumed 3-4 beer each instead of 1 or 2, if the service had been prompt and efficient. The restaurant just lost out on at least $50 worth of beer sales. By this time my friend had already ordered our entire meal directly from the cook. We’ve learned that you need to be proactive at Axum.
I don’t in any way want my critique of the service here to be a comment on the family. They are incredibly nice people. They are always very welcoming and they sport huge thankful smiles when you tell them how amazing the food is. They just are not awesome at waiting tables. A friend of mine once gleefully commented that being at Axum, she felt like she was back in Africa. And I’m thankful for the authenticity in the cuisine, not so much with the service.
The food finally came. And considering the two massive tables it did not take very long. Had we been sufficiently watered and beered to begin with, it would not have felt like such a wait.
The steaming dishes were spooned out onto the injera and a waterfall of saliva begins in my mouth. The aromas wafting about are irresistible. We dig in.
The injera (the sour-dough-esque, bubbly pancake bread) is delightful. Light and fluffy and not too moist. Some other restaurants serve injera that is on the verge of soggy, not at Axum. Even the injera on the plate fairs well, save for areas directly beneath the piles and puddles of amazing sloppy goo.
The tikil gomen is nice, slightly spicy and a lovely golden colour. The spinach gomen is good. It’s not my favourite but it blends so well with the other blobs on the plate. The miser wot is incredible. It’s rich spicy tones invade every corner of my mouth. The shiro. Words can not do it justice. It is smooth and buttery rich, perfectly spiced. I can almost feel my other senses weaken as I place delectable pinches of spongy crêpe and smooth puréed split peas into my mouth.
A friend of mine had reluctantly came along on this latest trip to Axum. Like me, he had made his mind up about Ethiopian food based on other experiences. He had tried it elsewhere, and it failed him. He especially disliked the injera. I was a little shocked. He is an amazing baker and particularly likes sour-dough, which is similar. But Ethiopian was not his cup of tea, until he went to Axum. As the food came, he grabbed a piece of injera and tasted it anxiously. “This is good,” he affirmed with a chuckle and a smile. And we went to work on the plate until only a few scraps of the plate remained.
After the meal we thanked the cook graciously for the amazing food. She replied, “you always tell me how great the food is here. Please go tell others.” And now I have.
Whether you think you dislike Ethiopian, you’re sure you love it, or you’ve never tried it, Axum is the place to go in Vancouver.
The Good: Food
The Bad: Service (especially on the weekend)
The Ugly: Ethiopian food ain’t pretty, but the flavours are beautiful.