State of the Union: Teo Paul talks about opening his Ossington restaurant
Inside Ossington Avenue’s long-awaited Union restaurant, diners find a Parisian oasis. The room smells of fresh baguettes, and Gilles Vigneault’s “Champs Élysées” floats over fin de siècle accents and a brasserie-style horseshoe bar. A look at this soothing atmosphere reveals nothing of the struggle chef-owner Teo Paul had in putting it all together, though readers of his Opening Soon blog, hosted here on torontolife.com, know better.
While most upstart restaurateurs air inevitable frustrations behind closed doors, Paul floundered publicly. Union was first slated to begin service last September, but building and permit complications pushed back that date by almost a year—much to the growing frustration of Paul and his readers. But since opening in early July, the new west-end hot spot has been met by giddy reviews.
“What we’re trying to do is clean and simple,” says Paul of Union’s short but robust menu of local, seasonal dishes. Such regular offerings as a homemade charcuterie plate and Scotch Mountain prime rib are rounded out by daily specials that are in line with Paul’s commitment to nose-to-tail dining: a hanger steak frites served with an egg is a cut from the same cow as the prime rib. Union sources much of its fare from its namesake farm in Grey County, and Paul has been working with the Brick Street Bakery to replicate boulangerie-worthy bread. In addition to lunch and dinner, the spot serves a classic French breakfast of coffee, croissants and tartines that’s already drawing an early-bird crowd. “It feels great,” says Paul of the response. “I was worried, but I think people get it.”
Decor is three parts old Europe, one part hipster chic. An ornate chandelier hangs above the U-shaped bar, where Paul hopes to cultivate a casual vibe. For the voyeur, a counter seat offers a prime perch for watching the dinner theatre unfold in the kitchen. Rustic exposed brick is offset by a playful Barbara Klunder mural. The pastoral scene is Roald Dahl meets enchanted forest. Opposite, a gilded mirror reflects the soft light from frosted orbs overhead.
In order to get to this point, Paul was happy to have writing as an outlet. “I never felt completely lost because I had that blog,” he says. “I just didn’t read the comments.” And though the trials of running a restaurant are ongoing and far from over, he’s still optimistic. “It’s all worth it, for the moments.”