Vv Magazine’s Nicki Laborie talked to some of the country’s top restaurant critics about their favourite spots to grab a bite. From coast to coast, we’ve rounded up a pretty kick-ass list of Canada’s best new restaurants of 2014…
As I wrote the Top 10 New Toronto Restaurants piece a few weeks back, I found it extremely difficult to choose the finalists because we have truly seen a surge of great new restaurants in Toronto. It also made me wonder about the other big cities in Canada and how enRoute is able to choose the top 10 restaurants of not just one city, but the nation as a whole. What a great job – but a difficult one.
Instead of flying to each city for a food fest – which could’ve been great fun but also very expensive both for the wallet and the waistline – I decided to ask food experts in each city for their top three new restaurant picks for 2014. What I got was both interesting and surprising, but generally it proves that it is really tough to create these lists — mostly because people have different palates and expectations vary. That said, a good restaurant is a good restaurant.
I’ll start with Toronto as this is my expertise but since I already published my top 10 list, I consulted with Renee Suen, one of Toronto Life’s most prominent food writers. Here’s what she had to say:
Middleterranean is surely, and steadily, gaining momentum in the city. And with good reason, it’s delicious! My top contender is vibrant and bursts with flavour, and is most interestingly driven by a chef (Stuart Cameron) who has no background in the cuisine but has mastered the flavours of this varied culture to produce another hit in Icon Legacy’s family of restaurants. If possible, I would have those tahini date ice-cream-filled fig caramel cigars every tea time. Please.
Jason Carter’s new understated Queen Street storefront is as humble as the talented chef himself; those who know of Carter’s cooking want to keep this gem all to themselves (like me). Everything about the short menu, focus on dining, refined but non-fussy details all speak volumes of experience and maturity – this is not your stereotypical Queen Street West bar-staurant. The flavours are subtle; the cooking, restrained. You leave feeling nourished, energized, and delighted.
Modern kaiseki – the highest form of Japanese cuisine – flourishes in the middle of Harbord Street. Tetsuya Shimizu amalgamates his 12-year training in the art form, with his training as sous chef at Yours Truly, to present a value-driven tasting menu highlighting the season’s prime ingredients with modern cooking twists. Shimizu is also behind the savoury cocktails on offer, flexing his muscles as an all-around craftsman, with something that’ll please Toronto’s sophisticated palate.
Thanks to Ms. Suen, my next culinary indulgence will likely take place at Yunaghi, which I have not yet discovered but sounds like an unforgettable experience.
While I am originally from Montreal and my mom still lives there and dines out quite frequently, I am completely out of date with the restaurant scene. Eloise Sauve is a restaurant expert and also helps Montreal restaurants with their online presence. She is in and out of restaurants daily so I couldn’t think of anyone better to ask.
Loved for its stylish and always fresh, seasonal menu, its open kitchen offers views of young Chef Hakim Chajar (winner of the reality show Les Chefs!) so guests can watch him and his team creating delicious art on a plate. Add to this the phenomenal service, the extensive wine menu created by passionate sommeliers John Benoit Hinse and Fred Fortin, the piano bar on the first floor, the chic design, the lively vibe, and the retractable glass roof summer, this makes for one of Montreal’s best restaurants.
Distinguished yet unpretentious, Brasserie Bernard is located in the very charming area of Outremont and offers a classic French menu worthy of the best Parisian brasseries. Popular for its business lunches, weekend brunches, or a late-night snack after a show at the Outremont Theatre, located just across the street, the energetic vibe hooks everyone in. The terrace is also a Montreal-must when you want a delicious snack or just enjoy a glass of wine outside under the sun.
A newcomer in the Villeray district, Meson is the little brother of the renowned Tapeo restaurant. We happily welcomed him both for dinner and weekend brunch. The fantastic cuisine is loved for its Spanish influences and for the quality of the ingredients used by Chef Marie-Fleur St-Pierre. Guests love the attentive service, the friendliness of the place, and the fantastic wine list, which is 100% Spanish.
In Vancouver I have a little bit more knowledge as I was traveling there for business quite a bit in 2013. However, in 2014 I went just a handful of times so I’m no expert and Danica, our Vancouver editor, did her top 10 list earlier in December. So, I called on one of my favourite ladies who I had the pleasure to dine with a couple of times in 2014, Alexandra Gill, the Vancouver food critic for the Globe and Mail. Let’s just say this lady knows her stuff and her top three have me wanting to book a flight next week.
Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant
Richmond has long been home to great Cantonese restaurants from Hong Kong. But the recent influx of affluence from Mainland China has turned the more luxurious Guangdong cuisine into the latest trend. At Chef Tony, one of the most popular and pricey dim sum restaurants, pork dumplings are bedecked with black truffle, pan-fried chicken wings are stuff with foie gras, and the desserts – including sponge cakes, custard tarts, and coconut buns – are divine.
Chambar and Café Medina
Previously owned by the same group, Chambar and Café Medina split up this year and moved to new locations with larger concepts. Although Café Medina is still a daytime-only lunch and brunch spot, its pan-Mediterranean Harissa burgers, Moroccan meatballs, and slow-cooked clay-pot tagines are some of the tastiest dishes in town. Chambar, now expanded with breakfast, lunch, and a large patio, offers delightful surprises in every sip (cocktails are garnished with glacial ice cubes) and bite (don’t miss the silky sriracha-sautéed frogs legs).
My Shanti by Vikram Vij
Owned by Vikram Vij, the new star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den and the world-renowned Vij’s, My Shanti is the most stunning restaurant ever built in Surrey — the shimmering exterior is covered in 50,000 small, mirrored discs. Whereas upscale Vij’s offers contemporary Indian rooted in French technique, My Shanti is a semi-upscale eatery that specializes in regional Indian inspired by the chef’s annual sojourns through his home country. Every dish – from meltingly tender chicken biryani to tiffin-plated curries – has a story. The charming host is there most nights to tell them.
I don’t think I’ve been to Ottawa in a few decades but it’s no secret that the food scene in the nation’s capital has been growing steadily in the last few years. I asked Ottawa Magazine’s well-known food critic, Anne DesBrisay, for her thoughts and apparently I need to go for a visit soon.
The endless window wit (“Opening Slowly”) is finally down and, after two years of Herculean struggles, Chef Jon Szavas and the crew at Fauna are finally feeding folk their tasty brand of comfort Canadiana with touches of molecular polish.
Having secured wins at the Best Sommelier of Quebec competition, the national sommelier contest, the “Best Sommelier of the Americas,” and, just last year in Tokyo, the silver medal at the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde competition, Veronique Rivest decided to open a wine bar in Vieux Hull. That the Soif wine list is a gem was to be expected — that the food is highly-accomplished is a bonus.
One of the best restaurants to open in Ottawa this year shut down in November. To renovate – they’ll reopen prettier than ever (we hope) in early 2015. The Segue principals — veteran restaurateur Ion Aimers, sommelier Lindsay Gordon, and Chef Rich Wilson — all have strong bonafides and their experience and confidence show in the charming service, delicious food, and strong wine list.
Calgary, like Ottawa, has had a steadily growing culinary scene for the last while. Charcut has long been on my list of restaurants where I need to dine. I did reach out to a few restaurant experts but none were available to comment – likely they were too busy dining at some of their fantastic new hotspots! What that says to me is I need to go to Calgary pronto. I’ve heard great things about some of their new restaurants and when reading John Gilchrist’s (The Calgary Herald) list, he clearly had a difficult time naming number one. Instead, he tied Black Pig Bistro and The Nash for this honour – both of which sound glorious. The rest of the list includes Workshop, a new restaurant by chef Kenny Kaechele, and Scopa, a new Italian eatery by Creative Restaurant Group.
Canada, good on you for having a fabulous 2014 culinary year. You did well. Now let’s see what happens in 2015.
Have any new Canadian restaurants that we missed? Let Vv Magazine know your thoughts on “Canada’s Best New Restaurants Of 2014” in the comments below or tweet us your top picks @ViewTheVibe.