“FatBanker went to bank, went to bank abroad…
Last month business took me to Toronto for a few days banking. Whilst merrily relieving Canadian grannies of their savings, encouraging irresponsible lending, stealing kid’s balloons and generally causing global turmoil – all in a morning’s work us evil bankers, surely? – I built up one heck of a hunger. An exploration of the city’s culinary highlights was in order.
Knowing nothing of the city’s restaurant scene in advance was a refreshing experience (imagine approaching a dinner in London knowing nothing of the legacy of Ramsay, Pierre-White et al). First port of call? Google, Toronto Life and a selection of the active Canadian food blogs.
Whilst perusing various reviews, one name that kept cropping up was that of Chef David Lee, and his two restaurant interests, Splendido and the new Nota Bene. Delving further into the stories and rumours surrounding these two city restaurants it was apparent that Lee (and co-owner Yannick Bigourdan) had taken Splendido to the top of the Toronto culinary tree over the previous 8 years, but were now moving on to concentrate on Nota Bene.
Despite the kind words from both sides, the chatter on the blogs fueled my imagination in casting Lee as the errant husband in this divorce, moving on to pastures new, whilst Splendido, the spurned lover, is left behind to wonder what she did wrong. Indulging the metaphor a little longer, it seemed an apt response on Splendido’s part to tout an eight course tasting menu of Lee’s ‘greatest hits’ – very much the jilted wife flagrantly flaunting the keys to her ex’s most beloved sports car! My dining decision was made.
I can think of only one or two occasions when I’ve eaten properly alone (like, the full on restaurant sit down and order-for-one experience) but I actually quite enjoy it. As a single diner you keep the restaurant on its toes – is he a critic? has he been stood up? Or is he just a fat, greedy, banker looking to gorge himself silly? In addition, whilst I might be mediocre dining company for others, I’m exceptionally good company for myself, so it was in a good frame of mind that I plonked myself at the bar and ordered a Vodka Martini prior to my sitting (aside: am trying to develop as taste for this very ‘grown-up’ drink after being shown how to make them properly on our recent masterclass at Trinity but I still prefer V&T).
Greediness was confirmed with the arrival some short-lived amuse-bouche (the one, dark, photo of which can be found here before I gave up with the camera…that’ll be the martini then…). I have to confess that a tiny nasty dark little parochial part of my warped mind actually wanted the food here to somewhat provincial and lagging that of the top London eateries. After all, Toronto? Canada? No exactly front of the gastro-revolution is it?
I’m happy to say that any foolish delusions in this direction were quickly dismissed; a truffle and Jerusalem artichoke cream tartlet presented the richness of the truffles beautifully whilst retaining a remarkably delicate cream; topped with a light full-taste parmesan-crisp. Heirloom beats with a fine balsamic dressing completed the amuse.
The body of the restaurant itself was a rich warm space with gorgeous deep rosewood floors inlaid with playful golden stars. From my seat I had a sweeping view of the room, a mixture of special occasions and midweek business diners all bathed in a soft glow from the, frankly, beautiful crystal chandeliers.
Even though the tasting menu was a cheffy mish-mash – the dishes being Lee’s, while the execution Victor Barry’s – this was really of little consequence. Some of the dishes from the tasting menu felt a little lost (I’m thinking the pulled pork here in particular, presented as a Mediterranean dish) the overall standard of cooking was equal to the upper end of that from London. Standout dishes on the night (the menu served the while I was there was slightly different to that in the link above) were the Poached Lobster and the Wagu with Sturgeon caviar, the latter a dish displaying the best of impeccable ingredients.
Actually, fantastic ingredients were a feature of the evening. The best dishes were those actually presented in addition to the tasting menu (strike one for them thinking I was critic perhaps!), which included a platter of Duck Prosciutto and, something I’d never had before, Guanciale (cured pig’s cheek/jowl) which was unfathomably-melt-in-the-mouth-good.
The surprise of my evening came with another ‘off-menu’ dish. Entirely unexpected I was served a portion of breaded veal brain with a sauce gribiche. Having never eaten brain (knowingly…I mean, c’mon, I ate supermarket burgers as a kid so probably downed a fair amount of brain) I was a little wary, but threw CJD fears out of the window. Actually, the brain was tender, soft and had a delicate flavour. I was fine with it until I started thinking about it more than I should have, and then had to leave half.
(as another aside, isn’t it funny how sometimes in life you have instances where you come across something that you haven’t had any previously dealings with (it can be anything: a word, an person, a name, whatever) and then having had one chance encounter with it, suddenly another one, or multiple ones appear?!? Same happened to me with the sauce gribiche that was served with the veal brain. I’d never heard of it before I read a recipe on Orangette the other day, and then all of a sudden I’m encountering it again. Sitting on a plate next to my brain, as it were. Anyway, I digress….)
The meal was accompanied by two glasses of wine chosen with the sommelier’s help (although I have to admit the Canadian white went back and was replaced free of charge) and the service was excellent throughout the evening. Although, from what I read, there are other places I would like to try before returning (inc. Nota Bene) I would be keen to return and see how Carlo Catallo and Victor Barry impose their stamp on this institution.Splendido
84 Harbord Street