Epoch Bar and Kitchen Terrace at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Toronto opened with an enthusiasm well suited to its Gastropub persona. We’re here for an early dinner and are surprised that almost all tables are filled (to appropriate capacity and with proper distancing) with folks who had the same idea. Dining at the cocktail hour with time to relax and have pre-dinner drinks. Skipping to the witty Prospective menu I order my usual Martini. Thank God for Vodka. What I get is the coldest Martini in town, (Grey Goose Vodka. House Vermouth Blend, Orange Bitters, chilled with liquid nitrogen) the Nitro Vodka Martini radiates frozen mist and va-va-voom drama! Nice. My partner orders from the Retrospective menu and sips his Lychee Queen cocktail, savoring the elements of this luxuriously re-imagined Lychee Martini (Spirit of York Aquavit, Lychee infused Fino Sherry, Strawberry, Prosecco). I’m humming along with the vocalist and trio who are doing lovely justice to the tunes of the 50s and 60s, and we’re totally charmed by the casual, friendly ambiance. Though the adjoining terrace looks pretty lonely right now, we’ll be lucky to get a reservation come Spring.
Chef Jeff Crump has created the kind of comforting, non-intellectual menu that offers familiarity with an edge. It’s a forward-thinking British Gastropub-inspired menu that includes influences from Japan, France and Southern India, to name a few. And that’s the way we like to eat right now. Real food. Comfort food with flare. We want to try everything, but then comes decision time. We make the right choices of Sharing Plates. Billionaire Shepherd’s Pie, made with wagyu beef from Snake River Farm, potato purée, crispy shallots and truffles comes right from the oven in its own baking dish. It’s innovated from the chef’s family recipe. We serve each other spoonfuls of crispy crusted potato and savoury beef, and with apologies to my Mom, it is tastier than hers. Never have I ever enjoyed a Shepherd’s pie so much. Who knew! Chef Crump’s velvety confluence of luxury ingredients elevates this traditional homey dish to disarmingly sophisticated heights. With each forkful we say, “That’s the last one.”
Spanglish Chicken, crackling crisp juicy chicken pieces makes me want to eat with my fingers and scoop up the bright rich Romesco Sauce with chili-cumin butter and smoke paprika that plays in spirited contrast and dances on the palate. These are the most wonderfully satisfying morsels to fire up our taste buds from their lock-down blues, and I order a second dish to-go, just to continue this flavour adventure tomorrow!
The menu reflects the multicultural makeup of Toronto, and also offers a great variety of seafood and Seafood Towers, and a good selection of Champagnes to pair with lobster, blue crab, shrimp, mussels, gravlax and all manner of Oceanic bliss. Glamorous times indeed with Seafood Towers and glasses of bubbly.
Now we have eyes on the entrees. Curry Braised Lamb Shank surrounded on the plate with exotic spiced eggplant, a dash of cooling yogurt raita and earthy, vibrant green spinach, all anchored by basmati rice and a bright wedge of lime. The waves of taste are playing at a high decibel. There is high flavour quotient and this very generously portioned dish! It must also be said that the service here is so warm and attentive, that we feel right at home. The accessories with the organic half roasted chicken reassure me that Chef Crump and I are kindred spirits. The rich Perigord sauce, a clutch of my favorite mushrooms, exotic Japanese Maitake, all serve to enhance the juicy roast chicken. But as usual with this Chef, there is a surprise: Gem Caesar Salad, the firm leaves of romaine aflutter with Parmesan, lemon, white anchovy, bacon and toasty breadcrumbs. Who could ask for anything more?
We make an educated guess that the desserts will satisfy every sweet tooth between us. Offer us Profiteroles and we say, “Yes, please.” They come three to an order, filled with chocolate ice cream and drizzled with warm chocolate sauce.
This is not the precious tasting menu of trendy chefs, where a single oyster is considered a course. This is food that beguiles you, satisfies you, makes you happy and leaves you with a feeling that, never mind the negatives, all’s right with the world.
EPOCH Bar and Kitchen Terrace at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Toronto. 181 Wellington St.
* Check out Earth to Table Every Day, a cookbook by Chef Jeff Crump and Bettina Schormann.
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.