Table Talk: Joanne Kates reviews Richmond Station
Chef/co-owner Carl Heinrich impresses with Richmond Station (Image: Cheol Joon Baek)
Richmond Station is like the best of the British gastropubs — cozy, friendly, and the food is robust and honest, without gewgaws and highfalutin constructions and garnishes.
It’s normal, not food as architecture or artwork. And unlike at most of our hot new places, the people in charge actually seem to care about their guests’ comfort — they take reservations, the chairs have backs, you don’t have to sit with strangers and there’s no Arctic draft in the dining room.
There are actually two dining rooms. I prefer the back room (and, yes, you can request it when you reserve) for its bright, cheerful proximity to the open kitchen. I find the front room long, narrow, high-ceilinged and less warm. Though its black-and-white pics of the Toronto subway being built in the early 1940s are mesmerizing.
The menu is short and simple, thanks to the restraint of the chef/owners Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan, both ex-Marben. The restaurant’s visual grace notes — as well as the first few months’ rent — came from chef Heinrich’s $100,000 in prize money from winning Top Chef Canada. Methinks that, unlike previous winners, this guy has already made back his capital — and more. Because it could take a week to get a reservation, and deservedly so.
The chefs do marvels with things as bland and ordinary as quinoa. Their quinoa salad, topped with crisped carrot shreds, has shaved marinated fennel, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, squash cubes and a red wine vinaigrette so assertive that quinoa becomes exciting — no small feat. Their lobster bisque is short on cream, long on flavour, and the anise oil, foam and crispy croutons on top add value.
Among the short list of mains there’s the usual snazzy burger. But I counsel forsaking their burgers and charcuterie, however lovely, for the road less travelled. Their wild boar ragu is small bits of very tender boar in fab tomato sauce, chili spiked, with small mushrooms and barely cooked small cubes of celeriac, and al dente celery and al dente house-made orecchiette with melted cheese on top. This is the comfort food of my dreams, as is Bourbon Street halibut. This is a small, perfect piece of halibut with chicken “oysters” (the little nugget of meat on the chicken’s back, browned nicely), zucchini and potatoes in creamed Cajun sauce.
The desserts are as inventive as the mains, but dearest to me is their riff on Reese’s Pieces: a cloud of peanut butter mousse with graham cracker floor and chocolate ganache roof, a side of drunken raisins in whisky and a little bit of frou-frou on top — crisp, candied shavings of celery!
With all this good taste, it comes as a surprise when the waiter mumbles and then stacks the plates. My mother said never to stack at the table. And surely not at such a gracious table as this one.
Richmond Station, 1 Richmond St. W., $80 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.