A winning combo. Alvin Leung, three Michelin-starred restaurant chef/owner of Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and London, meets Eric Chong, winner of the premier season of Master Chef Canada. “We grew up in the same part of Toronto,” says Leung, “but at different times.” It’s a culinary marriage made in reality TV heaven, transformed into the reality of an exciting new Toronto restaurant called R&D.
The Rebel and The Demon threw everything into the pool and developed a menu that is liberated from any parameters. It is Chinese cooking that explores the global community of its neighbouring Kensington Market.
Start with Duck Bak Kut Teh soup with a matzo ball. This is not my bubbie’s matzo ball soup, but then again, she never knew about five-spice seasoning. Follow up with some modern dim sum. Grandpa’s Fun Guo steamed half moon dumplings filled with chicken and black truffle are a rarity on a Chinese menu, but a staple in the Chong family kitchen. An order of slim, delicate eggrolls, like fine rolled cigars, gives us a uniquely crisp texture and intensity of chicken and pesto.
The menu is so diverse but each dish is a winner of Master Chef quality. Ceviche of bay scallops, spot and tiger prawns pickled in Szechwan wine and soy sauce, and enrobed in a jolo butter from Shanghai is a mellifluous medley of east and west and south that cannot be pegged as any one cuisine but reflect the finesse and range of imagination in this kitchen. Chargrilled octopus with choy sum chimichuri and eggplant is reminiscent of a wonderful fresh Latin American oceanside dish but with urban sophistication and flare. Roasted beets in a goat cheese vinaigrette bedazzled with crisp fried lotus root, candied walnuts and ginger bread shows off textures and colours with sweet and tart notes in a dish that knows no culinary borders.
After tasting the ingredients of China town, Mixologist Robin James Wynne has redefined the Pina Colada by infusing chai, as well as toasted coconut shavings and tapioca pearls for a multi-textured beverage that delivers us to the tropics…of Asia. Admiring the dramatic décor in what was once a Spadina Avenue factory, original floorboards (oh if they could speak), a refined wood ceiling, and a long bar and lounge invites us, but it’s the dining room that has wow factor. Two murals convey the personalities of R&D: on the north wall, an interpretation of Eric, “The Rebel”; while the south wall belongs to “The Demon Chef”, Alvin. Perfectly lit, not too bright, not too dim, and energetic music that is not thumping so loud we can’t hear ourselves think. It’s just very cool.
General Sanders Chicken catches my eye. Neither Tso nor the Colonel ever had it so good. Served on a wooden platter with a dusting of five spice and dips of kung pao and Sichuan maple sauce, we devour the generous portion of tender chicken and HK egg waffles. We love the dish that won Eric the Master Chef competition. His lobster chow
mein of hand-made chitarra noodles and plenty of wok-fried lobster is clean and bursting with flavour.
Holy duck! Chef Leung introduces us to the 76-hour Peking Duck. “I want you to taste the meat, not just the skin, so we’re doing it slightly different…but you would expect that from me anyway,” he laughs. Served with steamed buns and three slaws of cucumber, scallion and hoisin; mango asian pear and plum; cabbage, carrot and ginger; we’ve never tasted duck so meaty and tender. We can only guess at the slow three-day cooking infusion that could elicit such flavour.
There is so much more we want to order from this smart menu. It’s inventive, with influences and ingredients from across Asia and around the world that showcase the deftness and attitude of these two chefs. For dessert we indulge in smoked-milk fried crisp with malted milk ice cream and a lemon zest. There is a selection of Chinese teas from Pu-erh to the house-made Spadina Blend. We look over and see Eric in the kitchen beaming his signature smile. He is happy, and so are we. As for collaborating with Leung, Chong tells me, “He made me a bolder chef…This is a dream come true.”
~ R&D, 241 Spadina Avenue, 416-586-1241 ~
Adam Waxman is an award winning travel journalist focusing on food, wine and well being. As well as an actor in film, television and formerly, the Stratford Festival, he is the Publisher of DINE and Destinations magazine.