Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews The Grove
By Joanne Kates
A gastropub that's actually for foodies (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)
At first it is confusing to me how easy it is to get a reservation at The Grove. The blogosphere has been flattering about the food, so what gives? The chairs, although mismatched, are comfortable, the servers are extremely gracious, and the menu doesn’t major in pork or meat fat. It is neither too dark to read the menu nor is the music too loud to carry on a conversation.
OMG, as they say, that’s all awful!
Where is the irony, the hipster sense of ennui that seems to require all the trendiest restaurants to be uncomfortable, shockingly noisy and ungracious? And of course, that’s why The Grove is almost empty. It lacks those three cool factors!
It’s a very sweet restaurant with no attitude. Actually it’s a British gastropub, meaning a casual neighbourhood restaurant with fun libations and slightly ambitious food. Toronto has other gastropubs but they focus more on the pub aspect than on the food; this is the first fun one for foodies, and anyone who has visited England in the past decade will recognize the very British phenom of quite lovely British food. Which has become so … French.
As amuse they bring radishes atop pale green purée, delicately onion-scented of wild leeks with rye dust on top(!). More than charming with house-churned sweet butter on warm Thuet bread. Wash that down with a Pimm’s Cup, my dear, or “the full English” cocktail (Chivas with tea, marmalade and egg white froth) and think of the Queen.
And what could be more modern Brit than superbly delicate, lightly smoked mackerel with fingerling potatoes, shaved young radishes and buttermilk sauce, under a sous vide perfect yolk duck egg scattered with young celery leaves? We’re not too sure how devilled soft shell crab is British, but are grateful it’s sweet and in season.
But the mains are as British as lamb with mint sauce and peas. The Sunday joint has been deconstructed and delightfully morphed into lamb two ways: The loin red and juicy as loins ought to be, and the shoulder braised, pulled and gathered into a croquette (called a scrumpet) with mint — all set off splendidly by fresh peas, pea purée, fresh artichokes and both white and green asparagus.
Beef two ways is slightly less successful, marred by tough hanger steak; it is otherwise lovely thanks to a tender braise of beef with deep-fried oysters, marvellous small red onions and silken mash.
Do we like the British frites, thick, fresh and almost meaty? Only when dipped deep in fabulous house-made smoked cumin ketchup. I’d save the calories for sweets, most especially their Eton Mess: under the lid of thin meringue is lemon curd with clotted cream, stewed rhubarb and a little bit of crumble for crunch, like great sex – puckery and smooth.
Ginger cake with house-made marmalade and crème anglaise is warm and moist and as British as tea and crumpets.
The Grove, 1214 Dundas Street West, 416-588-2299, $100 Dinner for two
Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cordon Bleu de Cuisine in Paris. She has written articles for numerous publications, including the New York Times, Maclean’s and Chatelaine, and she was the Globe and Mail's restaurant critic for 38 years.