Last week I was invited to preview the new menu at Marben. I jumped on this opportunity as I love this restaurant and am already a regular – living only one block away. Marben has always been known for its amazing meats and was one of the first restaurants to jump on the farm-to-table trend in Toronto. Having had the amazing Chef Carl Heinrich at the helm of its kitchen, it quickly made a name for itself as serving the best burger in the city. After Heinrich left to compete in Top Chef Canada, Marben remained known for its carnivorous heavy menu – until now. Chef Rob Bragagnolo started as the executive chef last year and as of May 1st has launched a new menu described as “Modern Canadian.”
The menu is not the only thing that’s changed – the Marben space has also had a bit of a facelift with the décor moving from a rustic farmhouse look and feel to now having a bit more of an art deco feel to it. They also completely renovated the space downstairs offering a cozy vibe, an additional bar, and seating for up to 50.
Time to move onto the food… We tasted 18 items so I have a lot of ground to cover! First off, Chef Rob did wow me with creativity, execution and flavour. Add a lot of refinement and beautiful plating to this and I think Toronto is in for a treat with this brand’s transformation.
Upon arrival I was greeted by their new signature cocktail, the Soft n’ Sloe, which is a gin and rhubarb concoction that is oh so tasty. Well-dressed, trendy servers passed two types of canapés, one of which was a fiddlehead gazpacho. Hesitant to try it, as I am not big on soup or fiddleheads, I was pleasantly surprised at its fresh flavour and velvety texture.
Onto the 15-course dinner. We started with a most unusual dish called a Schezuan button with a citrus granité. The button was smaller than a tic tac and was meant to dissolve on the tip of my tongue while various flavours would explode in my mouth. Yes, this happened – except I did not enjoy these flavours; tasted very earthy and a little too much like dirt mixed with potpourri. That said, the ladies at my table did not have the same experience and rather enjoyed it.
Next up was the beet tartare and olive yolk. Very vegan, Chef Rob created a “faux” yolk using olives and a technique I can only imagine is not simple. This was so original and paired really well with the beet tartare, which was fresh and actually tasted similar to a beef tartare (hardcore carnivores would probably beg to differ, but I thought so).
Next up was a little pot of gold: pistachio Dukkah, preserved lemon cream and baby carrots. First, the dish was adorably plated in a mini flower pot and a stemmed baby carrot meant to be used as the spoon to eat the yumminess that was inside the pot. Yummy is the best word to describe this delicious and velvety mousse that had both sweet and salty flavours.
The next course was a roasted Ontario tomato and chevre salad, but again, beautifully plated with the chevre stuffed inside the roasted tomato. What a gorgeous plate that exuded a fresh summer taste.
After the salad came the soup – but not just any soup – a soup I loved and would re-order any day. It was a sunchoke cream soup with sunchoke crisps. The taste was absolutely flawless and to me, this was the highlight of my night.
The next couple of dishes were also very unique and tasty: mozzarella and truffle brioche, mini air chiabatta with Serrano ham. Who doesn’t love these ingredients? Just good flavour and so small and delicate, it was actually nice and light.
Then came a trio of seafood: oyster with smoked caviar and hazelnut (delish!), a crab, mussel, mandarin and grapefruit salad and razor clam with chorizo and parsley clam gel. All good though the oyster took the medal on this one and the razor clam came in at a close second.
The last “snack” we were privy to were the Tequila ceviche cones – fabulous presentation and again very fresh flavour. That said, this was one of my least favourite dishes due to a lack of punch.
After tasting all of the above, we went into the main courses. All three of these were outstanding and I am looking forward to going back to have these again. First, we tried the Canadian Paella, which was outstanding. Strong flavours of lobster, the dish consisted of crab, mussel and lobster suquet, crispy wild rice, red pepper, saffron-paprika aioli, almonds and snap peas. The mixture of crunchy and soft, plus the various strong flavours, made this dish very rich and satisfying.
Next, the rainbow trout with potato gnocchi, potato-truffle emulsion, crispy potato skin, snap peas, basil, sea asparagus and almonds. Again, the flavour combinations and textures just worked. This is a dish I could eat once a week.
Last was the seared, naturally raised beef tenderloin, potato mille-feuille, green asparagus, morels, nasturtium. This is an OMG dish. That beef was perfect, the morels outstanding, the flavours delicious – just OMG good. This dish and the sunchoke soup were my two favourites of the night.
When dessert came around I have to say I was at capacity therefore I only had a couple of bites – both were OK but not my cup of tea. The lavender crema catalana was beautiful and the texture was perfect, however heavy on the cinnamon and I don’t like that flavour so just not my thing. The basil cotton candy was cool but again, not my flavour profile.
After 18 dishes, what were my thoughts? Truth be told, this overhaul had me a little perturbed at the beginning, but after tasting these and feeling their new vibe, I think I will love Marben just as much, if not more. Chef Rob will not be going unnoticed – this I can say with confidence.
Marben | 488 Wellington Street West