I have been a little fascinated by the Aga Khan Museum ever since it’s first graceful appearance on the edge of the DVP in 2014. The building is exquisite, and I know piteously little about Islamic art & culture so I thought an visit was in order. Then I discovered it had a spectacular restaurant on site helmed by Mark McEwan, and my fate was sealed. Yes, it is true: as lofty as my ambitions may be, food will trump culture every time.
Long and I made our way up to the museum on a chilly day. The grounds are quite remarkable. The museum was designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Fumihiko Maki and shares the park-like setting, complete with formal gardens and a black reflecting pool, with the stunning Ismaili Centre. (The Centre is open for tours but none were available when we were there).
The mission statement for the museum is as follows:
The aim of the Aga Khan Museum will be to offer unique insights and new perspectives into Islamic civilizations and the cultural threads that weave through history binding us all together. My hope is that the Museum will also be a centre of education and of learning, and that it will act as a catalyst for mutual understanding and tolerance.
In this troubled day and age this is a sentiment I think we should all get behind. But first … to eat.
The lovely little restaurant, Diwan, was tucked in to the right of the entrance and was beautifully decorated with wood carvings and tapestries. It promised to give McEwan the ability to show off his skills and promised a blend of Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian cuisine.
We decided to order a bunch of appetizers and split a Chicken Tikka Masala sandwich. (Both Long and I share a passion for Indian flavours). We each picked one thing that the other was neutral about. I love octopus, so ordered up a grilled appetizer while long opted for lamb meatballs that would not have been my first choice and we shared some sumac frites, sweet onion bhaji and a gorgeous Lahana Salata. The food was delicious and beautiful to look at. We ate ourselves to bursting then, naturally, ordered desserts. Long ordered an orange semolina cake which I thought would be dry and bland but was out of this world, and I tucked in to some walnut and pistachio filo rolls topped with a spectacular fig gelato.
Full beyond belief, we waddled in to the blissfully compact museum.
As I mentioned before, my knowledge of Islamic art is extremely limited. Te museum was small but had an impressive collection of manuscripts, drawings, paintings, decorated ceramics, metalwork, and textiles, all housed in quiet rooms with an easy flow. There were ceramics:
Beautiful tile works:
And some impressive trinkets and textiles.
The thing that blew me away were the pages of the manuscripts they had on display. Intricately painted with vibrant colours and splashed of gold, I could not believe these pages were from ancient texts. My textbooks barely survived college, and this fragile leaves were hundreds of years old.
Whenever I visit a new museum I like to play a little game with myself called “What Would You Steal?” Basically the rules are if you could make off with a single item, regardless of size, to keep in your house (and not to fence for profit, this game is about personal aesthetics, not filthy lucre), what would it be? This museum had a host of things that I think would look lovely in my home. I was quite amazed by this carpet – the photo does not do it justice but the colours were incredibly intense and it was shot with shimmering gold thread
The aforementioned manuscripts were glorious to look at (and unlike the carpet, would not have taken up eery square inch of my humble abode)
Upon reflection, I would actually like to have the actual museum itself. It was a calm oasis, borne from a mission of peace and tolerance.
The kickass restaurant doesn’t hurt either. Food AND culture – what could be better?