New Reviews: The Grove, Hawker Bar and Actinolite
A refined British pub, a homey Hallam bistro and a Singaporean snack bar
1214 Dundas St. W., 416-588-2299
Chef Ben Heaton worked in some of Toronto’s best kitchens—One, Colborne Lane and Globe Bistro—before opening this new Dundas West spot with former One colleague Richard Reyes. Judging by the confidence and creativity on display in his British cuisine, Heaton has never been more at home. The long, dimly lit room has the vibe of a top-notch local, with cask-conditioned beers on tap, Britpop on the speakers and a Wimbledon-worthy Pimm’s cup executed to sour, cucumbery perfection. Minimalist menu descriptions make every dish a surprise. A stunning appetizer brings a trio of chubby scallops seared flawlessly (i.e., hardly at all), complemented by granny smith matchsticks, sautéed leeks, celery leaves, pickled walnut and stinging nettles that bring out the depth of the seafood flavour. Mains are prettily plated. The beef two ways—braised short rib and seared, roasted hangar steak—is wondrously tender, sided by two deep-fried oysters and a bath of briny oyster emulsion. The tart lemon curd with elderberries and clotted cream scores higher points than the heavy ginger cake with custard and marmalade. French and New World wines by the bottle come dearly, so it’s best to buy by the glass. Closed Mondays. Mains $16–$20.
164 Ossington Ave., 647-343-4698
The new snack bar co-owned by Nicholas and Frederic Laliberté (the brothers behind Poutini’s) brings Singaporean cuisine out of the suburbs and into a crammed Ossington room. The place buzzes with the west end’s motley population of designer-DJ-banker-foodies in ripped jeans and ties. The name comes from Singapore’s hawker markets, where chefs sling cheap street snacks. As such, the lower the price tag, the better the food. The $9 laksa is one of the best deals on the strip: a broth of galangal, turmeric, shallots, garlic, ginger, coconut milk and lemon grass packed with rice noodles and chicken. The $24 whole fried sea bream, by contrast, is twice the price of the next most expensive dish and arrives lukewarm in a goopy, one-note soy sauce. The bright green, melt-in-your-mouth banana fritters with red bean ice cream are easily the most delectable thing on the menu. Service is insistent and omnipresent.
971 Ossington Ave., 416-962-8943
The husband-and-wife team of chef Justin Cournoyer and food stylist Claudia Bianchi (also a producer on Top Chef Canada) has delivered a gracious neighbourhood bistro to the forlorn stretch of Ossington near Hallam. Named for the chef’s eastern Ontario hometown, the quaint wood-and-brick restaurant is littered with homey antiques. The short menu focuses on continental standards with modern quirks. An elegant caldeirada (Portuguese stew) is deconstructed on the plate: a pair of crisp-skinned branzino filets perched on roasted red and yellow peppers, alongside plump mussels and a miniscule dice of chorizo guarding billowy lobes of monkfish. The menu’s only miss is the under-seasoned tagliatelle with bitter watercress-walnut pesto. No such flaw mars the magnificently creamy chocolate pot de crème with marsala-soaked prunes. A slim wine list highlights little-known varietals. Mains $8–$28.