Couscous Chez Ali Baba
By Valérie Guerriat

Arabian Nights

Nestled between two residential addresses on Amherst Street is Couscoussière d’Ali Baba, whose eccentric décor of spills out onto the sidewalk for all to see. The exotic designs continue inside the restaurant: all surfaces from floor to ceiling are covered with a generous layer of impasto stucco either in a sensuous colour or in copper. Skillfully crafted stalactites and stalagmites evoking a Berber cave are decked out with an array of Maghreb ornaments and coloured lanterns. If there is a place in Montreal that elicits the romance of ​​the Arabian Nights, this is it.

Couscoussière d’Ali-Baba is the work of Béchir Bhire Benkalifa, aka Mr. Béchir. This restaurateur, with his unique vision, loves everything about creating fantasy and dreams.

You have to approach this restaurant like you would the theatre. I want to offer my guests a total experience. - Béchir Bhire Benkalifa, owner
Béchir Bhire Benkalifa, owner of Couscoussière d'Ali Baba, compares dining to theatre.
Béchir Bhire Benkalifa, owner of Couscoussière d'Ali Baba, compares dining to theatre.

Oriental Fragrance

The décor at the Couscoussière is something to be seen, and brought fame to the restaurant when it opened in 1998. And while the restaurant's delicious tagines are not to be missed, it is the belly dancing that really draw crowds.

Every Friday and Saturday night the restaurant features oriental dance and inevitably, a party breaks out. "People love it a lot. They loosen up pretty quickly!" laughs the friendly entrepreneur. Mr. Béchir, a versatile businessman and the former owner of the Méditérania on Saint-Denis Street, likes to draw crowds by surrounding himself with talented artists. Many of his diners arrive in groups. "We have a lot of birthdays and weddings, people who want to party. I know how to attract customers and keep them coming back!"

A favoured dish at Couscoussière d'Ali Baba: lamb tagine and seasonal vegetables.
Photo credit: courtesy Couscoussière d'Ali Baba

A Versatile and Friendly Owner

Mr. Béchir was born in Tunisia, and while he didn't study hospitality, he learned everything he knows from his father, a chef in Sousse. He had his first restaurant in the '80s and then fell in love with a woman from Quebec. "I first came to Quebec for a woman. It was love at first sight. I left my family there and I followed my heart to Montreal," he says.

Each day, this lively and kind man oversees the efficient running of the restaurant, from developing the menu to managing group bookings. At a time when everything is computerized, Mr. Béchir still focuses on interpersonal relationships and invests his energies in achieving his dream. It is meaningful for him to invite his guests to share his romantic vision over the course of an evening, and encourages them escape into the magic of Couscoussière d’Ali Baba.

The well-dressed facade of the Couscoussière d'Ali Baba is reminiscent of a Berber cave.
The well-dressed facade of the Couscoussière d'Ali Baba is reminiscent of a Berber cave.
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