Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Farmhouse Tavern Toronto Restaurant Review

 I'm a big fan of local-Canadian cuisine, and while so many people may call it a fad, I just think it makes sense.  Have you been to Italy? 90% (that's not an actual statistic) of the restaurants there are local-Italian cuisine, and no one is rolling their eyes at that! Fad or not, I really hope that the restaurant industry never tires of Ontario-ingredient driven cuisine, because it's sustainable, supports farmers, and is just plain delicious.  Who doesn't love a beautiful slab of pork-belly, a delicious lamb shank, a salad of baby beets, or a wild mushroom soup in the cold winter weather? Canada's ingredients are inherently comforting, which is probably why I'm drawn to restaurants that feature them.

Back in June 2012, Darcy MacDonell (ex-general manager at La Societe), decided to open up a farm-to-table themed restaurants in the west end.  According to the Globe and Mail's write up, he apparently he grew up on an Ontario farm that ended up supplying most of the farmhouse details and decor in the restaurant.

And boy, could you tell. A look around the room, and I felt like I was visiting a flea market with my grandma out in cottage country. For example, old stove broke up the sides of the dining room, and served as a station for storing napkins, cutlery and water.

Food was served on platters similar to those my grandmother had in her hutch, while water and cocktails were served in quirky mis-matched glassware. Every piece had its own unique story that evoked my own memories of childhood and family.

Service was incredibly friendly, patient and knowledgeable.  Our server was friendly enough to play along with our cheeky jokes, all with a smile and a follow-up remark.  I always appreciate it when the server can remain professional, while having a little fun with us. 

Consistent with the restaurants' local theme, all of the beverage offerings are sourced from Ontario.  This is totally fine by me (I am a huge supporter of local wineries), but for some palates, the Niagara region might not cut it. For those less enthused by local wine or brews, cocktails are the way to go. The menu was tiny with only three "house" cocktails described to us, but the bar could accommodate requests.  Over the night we had a few classic Old Fashions, an "Apple Spritz", the "Maple Sour", a glass of Ontario Merlot and a full round of Ice wine.  The apple spritz was light, but not overly sweet and the old Fashions were prepared simply and to my dining companions' taste.  The maple sour was delicious and way too easy to drink- it had a nice balance of sweet, sour, and almost creamy consistency from the frothy egg white on top.  I can't honestly say I detected any maple, but the drink was balanced and satisfying nonetheless.    Our only issue was with the glass of Shiraz my girlfriend originally received, which had an obvious acidic, off- aroma.  Our server very professionally replaced it for a Merlot, which was much more palatable.

Like the cocktails, the food offerings were limited and were displayed on a large chalkboard on the wall marked up as dishes sold out.  With so few dishes to choose from in the first place, I do tend to get annoyed with dishes selling out when reservations are set ahead of time and the chef knows how many heads in the house.  To be honest, I don't know the best way for restauranteurs to deal with this without being wasteful, but it's just something to consider for diners who may be already limited by their palate or dietary needs.

With dishes not really assigned to a specific meal course, and portions varying across the board, I'm not sure if I love or hate the way the menu is arranged.  It certainly allows for more meal-time flexibility based on hunger and company, but it really makes ordering difficult.  There were only a handful of menu items, and yet we still bantered back and forth about who would order what, and if we wanted to all get in on a larger item to split.

Over the evening we tried:

Ploughman's Platter

A lovely selection of buttery toast, duck confit, thick bacon, soft-boiled egg, pate, rillettes, cheese, mustard, preserves and pickles.  Both the confit and bacon was crispy and decadent, despite being served cold.  The pate was smooth, sweet and buttery, and the pickles were briny and bright.  My only criticism would be that it definitely needed more toast, and while the the chunks we received looked and tasted fantastic, the wedge shape is really not appropriate for eating with pate, cheese or rillettes- it's an egg yolk or preserve sopper-upper, and that's about it.
Beef Cheek Poutine

Rediculously delicious.  This dish was definitely more about the tender, sweet beef cheek than the fries, cheese or gravy- and at $18, I would hope they were more than garnish.  The fries were seasoned perfectly, the gravy was delicate and not a gloopy- corn-starch-thickened mess and the cheese was not overwhelming. This could easily make for a totally decadent main dish for one.

Crispy Lamb Neck with Baby Beets

This reminded me a lot of the ham hock dish I had the night before at Hopgood's Foodliner.  It was essentially very tender braised lamb, packed into a cylinder shape and fried to golden, crispy delight. I loved the savoury rich lamb against the bright, slightly acidic and inherently sweet beets.  Definitely a winning dish.

Surf and Turf (Steak, Oysters Rockefeller, Bone Marrow) x 2

The boys went with the beef, and boy, was that beef.  Our server told us that it was the kind of dish that two boys could not share, but a lady and a man maybe could.  Apparently, she doesn't know this lady's appetite because I wouldn't want to have to fight it out with someone for the last bite of marrow.  The massive steak was cooked perfectly, and was so tender it melted in the mouth.  While I am a big proponent of seasoning beef well, we did all agree that the meat was a bit of a salt bomb.  There were also a lot of unpleasant inedible bits of gelatinous fat, so in the end, it wasn't as massive a steak as it originally seemed.

Sunchoke Ravioli

This is definitely what I'm talking about when I say the dishes seriously vary in size.  My two-ravioli main dish looked silly beside the massive board of steak sitting next to me.  Nevertheless, I was actually thankful for the portion, because the pasta was so delicate and satisfying, I wouldn't have needed more.  The pasta was cooked perfectly, but I found the sunchoke filling a little stingy as several bites yielded only pasta.  I also found myself wishing that the sunchokes had been pureed to a smooth, creamy consistency, while they were left rather chunky inside. The flavours, however, were spot on, with the sweet slightly nutty note of the sunchokes enhanced by the candied nuts on top. Stunning.

Goat Cheese Ice Cream with Candied Root Vegetables

Desserts, unfortunately, did not fare as well. The ice cream had lots of tangy goat cheese flavour, but its consistency lacked the luscious silkiness of ice cream.  Rather, it was dense, chalky,  and left a bit of a film in my mouth.  Unfortunately the "candied" root veg (as described by our server) were not candied at all, but rather tasted like unseasoned boiled sweet potatoes with nothing added.  This would have been so fabulous had the vegetables been coated in a crunchy caramelized coating to shift this dish from savoury to sweet, and a provide a nice textural contrast for the ice cream.
Beet Granita with Cows Milk Panna Cotta

Like the ice cream, this was another dish that was in dire need of some sugar.  Again, we felt that we were eating another savoury course, and unfortunately, not a very delicious one.  The main issue with the dish was the panna cotta, which was much too gelatanous, and actually lacked any flavour or creaminess at all. It actually tasted like I had set 1% milk with gelatin and left out the sugar or vanilla.

So for 12 alcoholic beverages, 2 appetizers, 4 mains, and 2 desserts, the bill came to about $425 including tax and tip, a rather expensive meal for a casual setting.  Having said that, we did each have 3 drinks, and the boys had the pricier large mains ($36 each).  Would I return? I definitely would.  It was a big trek across town, but I would love to try one of their larger share meals (pork belly, "big bird" aka duck) or even their Brunch some time.  I loved the cozy cottage feel, and the warm, pleasant service.  I would give the dessert a try again, but only if I'm promised it will satisfy my sweet tooth.

Following dinner, we cabbed it down to Cold Tea bar in Kensington Market.  Have you been? It's ridiculously good. Hidden away in a strip mall, the place was completely packed by 11 PM.   Don't expect to get a seat- everyone just seemed to be standing around with their coats on but honestly no one seemed to mind because the cocktails were so delicious and unique.  They don't have a physical cocktail menu, but we just told our bartender the types of flavours and spirits we were into, and he whipped up winners every time.  I did one with gin and strawberry, and another with a base of beautiful elderflower. The best part? They were super cheap- about $7-8 a pop.  Honestly, we're used to paying twice that for a less exciting drink, so this is my current great find.

I hope y'all had an awesome weekend, and have a great week ahead.  And Happy Hanukkah to my Jewish brothers and sisters!

Abbey Sharp


  1. Great post! I have had brunch there with my husband and we loved it. We also are fans of farm-to-table dining. Thanks for the review!

  2. Ive been meaning to try this place out as its pretty close by to where we live. Thanks for the info! Ill report back if I go!