The “World’s Greatest Restaurant Festival” finally arrived in our beautiful city of Toronto where a foodie wonderland was created for 4 days inside the historic walls of Fort York that ran from July 24th to July 27th. What started out as a small show 10 years ago in London, England, Taste has rapidly expanded to become the premier restaurant festival worldwide covering now 21 cities around the world including Amsterdam, Sydney, Dubai, Helsinki, Mumbai, Cape Town, Stockholm, and many more. Toronto is a world class city in the food industry, filled with the top chefs and restaurants alike scattered across this bustling metropolis so it is no surprise that Taste chose Toronto to make its North American debut.
Taste of Toronto operates much like a restaurant with both lunch and dinner services so it is literally a gourmet feast for the entire day. 26 of Toronto’s greatest and hottest restaurants served up their signature dishes that are currently on their actual menus in a tapa sized form to the hungry masses. Not only were there Toronto’s best and trendiest restaurants here serving scrumptious food, but there were also over 50 artisan stalls showcasing their products that provided a bountiful food and beverage market as well.
Tickets can be bought online in advance or directly on site the day of ranging from anywhere between $15 to $120 per day depending on the package you select. I was fortunate enough that Taste of Toronto put me on their media list and offered me two free press passes that gave me and a friend unlimited access to the festival for the entire four days. An opportunity that I just could not pass up!
Much like the previous event I went to last month at the Royal Ontario Museum, Taste of Toronto also has its very own currency called “Crowns.” This festival takes it to a whole new level though as their currency is in a credit card form that can be easily topped up when funds are running low at the various Crown Banks around the venue. 1 Crown is equivalent to 1 CAD. No restaurant, food or beverage vendor will accept cash or your real credit card. The only acceptable form of payment is through this piece of plastic pictured above. This allows the festival to run as smoothly as it does since customers do not have to rummage through their own bills and coins to pay or enter in a PIN code through a merchant terminal holding up the line. A simple tap on a machine will do the trick anywhere you go.
When I arrived I sort of had a game plan in my mind on some of the restaurants and dishes I had to try. The menu for this festival is uploaded online weeks before it even opens so it’s a good suggestion to plan ahead on where you want to eat so you know exactly which line up to tackle. Most of the restaurants will have a line up and the longest one it seemed here were the restaurants owned by Chef Mark McEwan. With that being said, the longest I waited in line was only about 10 minutes so I definitely applaud all of the restaurants and organizers for being so well prepared and organized considering the amount of people they had to feed. Everything ran like clock work and they even bestow on you a cardboard hand held table to eat on! Mobile dining at its finest.
The first restaurant I went to was Patria which is an authentic Spanish tapas eatery on King Street. What caught everyone’s eye in this booth was the sheer size of their giant wok cooking their Seafood Paella which is a Spanish rice dish mixed in with a plethora of seafood goodness. It was marketing genius on their part as this giant wok generated a lot of buzz for their stall since most of the other restaurants were cooking their food behind the scenes.
Seafood Paella - Bacalao Mussels, Shrimp, Bay Scallops, Fish, Peas, and Crispy Serrano. Cost - 10 Crowns
What some of you know as my favourite restaurant in Toronto, Richmond Station was the next stop. Co-owned my Top Chef Canada’s winner Chef Carl Heinrich, one of the best burgers this city has to offer was being served up right here. If anyone is on the prowl for an amazing burger to eat in town, the Station Burger is it and I definitely recommend it.
Station Burger - Milk Bun, OKA Sliced Cheese, Beet Chutney. Cost - 10 Crowns
One of the most popular dishes here that also caused the biggest line up was the very famous Lobster Poutine served up at Chef Mark McEwan’s ByMark restaurant. Not only are there real pieces of lobster mixed in the poutine, but it’s also served on a lobster tail itself. It doesn’t get more gourmet than this for one of Canada’s most loved dish.
Lobster Poutine - Braised in Butter with Crisp Frites, Classic Bearnaise. Cost - 10 Crowns
As I said earlier, there were a few restaurants I knew I wanted to try from the get-go and Ja Bistro was one of them. It’s owned by the same owner’s as Guu Izakaya (who also owns the very popular Kinton Ramen), and if anyone remembered my review on Guu, you would know that I really loved every aspect of it. I was hoping that my enjoyment with Guu would translate over to here and it most certainly did. They even kept up with all the shouting and party atmosphere every time someone placed an order. Not to mention they were serving up sushi that were going to be blow torched, a Ja Bistro trade mark.
Oshizushi - Blow Torched and Pressed Sushi with Shrimp, Mackerel, Salmon. Cost - 10 Crowns
My final stop of the evening was at The Harbord Room and THR &Co which were the other restaurants I knew I had to try as I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about them as well. They are two different restaurants that are literally side by side in Toronto and owned by the same man Cory Vitiello. The two restaurants were showcasing 3 joint dishes at the festival and I had the opportunity to try 2 of them.
Griddled Crab & Prawn Roll - Spicy Pickled Cucumber, Avocado, Crispy Bacon, Old Bay Chips. Cost 10 Crowns
Pistachio and Olive Oil Cake - Preserved Ontario Strawberries, Strawberry Ice Cream, Crumbled Meringue. Cost - 8 Crowns
The great thing about this food festival is that it goes beyond just eating. It also incorporates several learning opportunities for the Everyday Foodies to take part in. If you are lucky enough and one of the first people to sign up, you can take part in the Metro Masterclass where the owner’s and chefs of these various restaurants will hold an interactive workshop for free. They will teach the lucky group on how to create a dish from start to finish, while learning the latest cooking methods and skills using induction technology from these masterclass chefs. All the ingredients are supplied by the grocery chain Metro (hence the name) and the classes run for 30 minutes. Unfortunately by the time I arrived all the classes were fully booked.
If you are unable to make it to one of the Metro Masterclasses (most of you will fall into this category), you can always enjoy the Electrolux Taste Theatre where live cooking demonstrations from Toronto’s best chefs are also held. No sign up is needed for this and each live cooking demonstration held on stage also lasts for 30 minutes. I was able to catch the last session of the night where the co-owner of Richmond Station (Ryan Donovan) did a lesson and live demonstration on charcuterie which is the branch of cooking devoted to preparing and preserving meat products.
Overall I thought the Taste of Toronto was a smashing success in terms of the food and events it put forth. It certainly showcased the foods of Toronto in a very positive light and I believe it just enforces even more that Toronto should be seen as a foodie mecca on the international stage. Considering this was the very first time this festival has graced itself here, I am sure when the Taste of Toronto is back the following year it will be even bigger and better with more restaurants and activities to partake in. Hope to see you all there in 2015!
Chef Mark McEwan
Taste of Toronto
Rock - It - Promotions, Inc