Constantine (Toronto)


Situated in the Anndore House, Constantine takes up much of the lower floor of the boutique hotel. It’s swanky and has a cool vibe, fitting into the Yorkville landscape perfectly. They offer a varied menu of Mediterranean dishes with Italian thrown in for good measure – from the owners of Campagnolo, La Palma, and Mercatto it’d be a shame if pasta and pizza didn’t make an appearance. Indeed, I had to order both tried and approved dishes, with some new tastes thrown in for good measure.

The grilled halloumi on panella ($11) is a little seen starter, the cheese resists completely melting and merely gets gooey when it’s licked with heat. I love the cheese's chewiness and its saltiness mellowed by the delicate soft panella (similar to polenta cake but made with chickpeas instead). With pickled chili for heat and a creamy labneh this was a great nibble to start on and would be work for cocktail parties.


Scoring seats at the “Chef’s table” I loved the way it’s set-up – two of the corners are split off in the middle so there is a sense of privacy. However, it’s a shame that none of the chefs bother to acknowledge the diners (even if they’re standing in front of you). While I understand they are servicing a large restaurant and can’t afford to have full conversations, even a quick hello or goodbye would be nice. At the very least, staff should refrain from calling these Chef’s Table seats and merely describe them as counter seating around the kitchen.


Just dress accordingly as it can get warm with the wood fire grill and pizza oven going; nothing a bottle of cold cava can’t fix! Hearing that many of their dishes are cooked (or at least finished) on the Argentinian inspired grill, we thought we should try these special dishes. Sadly, the they were also the most disappointing.

After visiting Tanto and seeing their set-up, I can only deduce it’s a poor decision to have the wood burn directly below the meat, rather than off to the side and cooking over smouldering embers (generally how a traditional asado is operated). The person manning the grill just couldn’t get the flame and timing right: the lamb ribs ($19) arrive overdone to the point the pomegranate molasses glaze turned into a candy crust and the meat was hard and chewy. To be fair, the cut of the ribs was also much too small and an uneven thickness. Even the cooling buttermilk dip could only add so much hydration.


Conversely, the fire roasted eggplant ($14) was underdone – the texture spongy and the insides still white from being raw. Having had some of the thinner end pieces, this dish could have been delicious if the eggplant was cooked longer and transformed into a soft creamy consistency. Mixed with garlic and herbs all the vegetables had great flavours, the generally mild shishito peppers a touch spicier at Constantine.   


While the cacio e pepe pizza ($16) was a little softer than expected (I can't help but recall that golden crispy crust from the zucchini pizza at La Palma), the chef certainly didn’t skimp on the cheese. A blend of three - chewy stracchino, creamy mozzarella, and salty pecorino – finished with a dash of black pepper, it’s a simple pie but allows you to really enjoy the warm chewy crust and dairy, with no tomato sauce.


The best dish of the evening was the spaghetti ($21). The fresh pasta extremely al dante (truthfully another 30 seconds in the water would have been my preference) and the olive oil sauce perfectly seasoned with caramelized garlic slices infusing it with flavour. I love how the sweet marinated Fogo Island shrimp was added quickly at the end for a few tosses, so they remained delicate and not overcooked. This was one dish we inhaled.  


After a carb-filled meal, the labneh mille-feuilles ($12) is a great light ending, even though it didn’t resemble the menu’s description. How it’s described: coffee, fig, and caramelized white chocolate. What I tasted: whipped cream, sweetened lebneh, flakey pastry, and slivers of fig throughout. While still good, I was really hoping for some coffee essence.


Overlooking the kitchen, I was disappointed to see the sheer number of plastic bags being tossed in the garbage (used to hold individual portions of the pasta, shrimp, rice, etc.). Considering the number of dishes that go out from the kitchen, I can only imagine how much waste gets generated and it made me feel guilty for even ordering the pasta. Having seen how other kitchens operate, competitors generally use plastic containers to hold large amounts of the ingredients and then simply spoon what’s required into the pan. Maybe some ingredients (like shrimp) require an element of precision, but surely for low cost ingredients, it really doesn’t matter. Personally, I’d rather have a spoonful less rice if it means being kinder to our environment. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 15 Charles Street East

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Tanto (Toronto)


As I write this post on Tanto, I can’t help but think about my experience at Constantine ... two similar restaurants: both newcomers in Toronto and Argentinian “inspired” so not necessarily authentic. My meals even followed comparable patterns of sitting at the Chef’s table and a dinner comprised of dishes made on their wood burning grill. Hence, although each post stands alone, I can’t help but draw comparisons between the meals.

Although both were enjoyable, Tanto elevated the experience by simply tweaking the way they did things. To begin, the made sitting at the “Chef’s table” matter. It sounds fancy, but really it merely means you’re sitting at a “bar” area overlooking the kitchen. There’s no special menu and you can order whatever you like. At Tanto, Chef Julian Iliopolus interacted with the diners – at the beginning, to answer any questions about the menu; and with each course, coming by to get our thoughts and answer any other queries that may arise. How else would I have known that Tanto’s leg of jamón ibérico wholesaled for $1,100? A very different experience than Constantine.


Tanto also commands their parilla, the wood burning grill, much better. Both are set-up similarly, the grill surface on a lever system so it can be raised and lowered. It’s how the wood is placed that differs. At Tanto, the wood burns at the back of the grill and as it heats up, smouldering chunks break off. The grill is then raised to combine these pieces with charcoal. In fact, this is generally how the traditional Argentinian asado is operated – ingredients are cooked using smouldering embers and not direct fire. As you can imagine, the indirect heat makes it easier for the chef to control the temperature and not burn the food. 


We were treated to a beautifully cooked wagyu bavette ($39) that incorporated a lightly smoked aroma but still medium rare in the centre. The fat within the marbled meat simply melted into everything so the beef looked lean but was juicy when eaten. Biting into the thinner end piece, I was met with a pungent blast of salt for my first taste. However, once a bit of the chimichurri was added, the condiment actually helped neutralize the saltiness. Moreover, the chimichurri was largely herbs and oil so wasn’t too vinegary, helping season the meat without covering all the flavours.


Arriving with a choice of sides, we decided on the patatas bravas… after all, what’s more Argentinian than meat with potatoes? The deep fried squashed spuds were amazingly creamy and topped with a garlic scape sauce. I could have eaten an order of these as a starter. 

The grilled squid ($18) also spent a minute on the grill, the intense heat cooking it quickly, so it rolls up and remains tender. Chef Iliopolus cheekily describes it being topped by “stuff”, particularly items that can cause allergic reactions. From what I could decipher there were crushed nuts, thinly fried pancetta, a thicker and tarter chimichurri, and chilies. Whatever the “stuff” was it really helped to add a burst of textures and flavours to the dish. Although I did try one piece of the squid with everything scraped off and it was still wonderfully flavoured on its own.


Seeing the leg of jamón ibérico ($30) on the counter, my husband and I eyed it giddily like kids in a candy store… we had to have a plate to start! There’s tons of literature out there that explains why this ham is special and commands such a high price. Having had it on a handful of occasions, it’s still a treat. While other cured pork products tend to be smoky, intensely salty, and you taste the porky flavour; the ibérico version has a sweet and salty taste with no intense pig odour. Hold a slice of it on your tongue for a bit and let the fat melt before chewing and you’ll be hit with these delicious juicy flavours. If ham had a candy form, this would be it.


The smoked ricotta empanada ($7) is an interesting take on the classic Argentinian snack. At Tanto it’s deep fried, the crust encapsulating molten ricotta and a leek/onion mixture. Add a bit of their house-made hot sauce to the cheese, it works well. While tasty, I still prefer the traditional beef version and will try that on a return visit. 


Hearing Chef Iliopolus describe the cavatelli with clams ($28), a pasta made with semolina flour with clams and peas, I knew it would be a dish I’d like. The chewiness of the cavatelli reminded me of gnocchi and the lightness of the peas and pea shoots were a great compliment to the rest of the meal. If only the clams weren’t cold this would have been the perfect dish for me. While not terrible, as the clams were plump and sweet, cold juicy clams with warm pasta wasn’t a contrast I enjoyed.


Oh Tanto, how I’ve warmed to your wood grill… the tale of two restaurants continues…

Overall mark - 9 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 74 Ossington Avenue

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Honest Weight (Toronto)


Simply prepared fresh seafood is one of my favourite meals. Sadly with pollution and over harvesting, opportunities to enjoy truly sensational sustainable seafood are decreasing. Hence, when I heard about the rave reviews on Honest Weight and their co-owner John Bil’s commitment to using sustainable seafood, the restaurant made it onto my “must visit” list.

It’s only at a reputable seafood establishment that I get raw shucked oysters ($3 each). Indeed, every table at Honest Weight seemed to have a platter of them. Deliciously clean and salty, they were served with the customary red onion mignonette and shaved horseradish. A bottle of hot sauce is also included for an extra zip, but unnecessary for me.


What I wouldn’t do for another bowl of the Honest chowder ($12) a fantastic combination of lightly creamed broth with tons of clams, a few mussels, potato, fennel, and a hint of white wine. The seafood is left whole and appear to be freshly added to the soup, so they remain plump and sweet. It all comes with warmed Forno Cultura seeded sourdough, which has a nutty curry flavour. You must start with a bowl!


On a rainy day, the albacore tuna tataki ($17) was a welcomed ray of sunshine… if the sun is made from glorious pink tuna. The fish is seared on a low temperature so there’s only a slight ring around the tuna; the border between cooked and raw barely discernible. While the house-made ponzu could be saltier, the horseradish gives it a lovely kick and the sesame seeds and green onion simple garnishes.  


With four options for the pick yer fish ($29), the delicate local pickerel seemed like a great summer choice. Although the fish had a beautifully seared crust, it was too salty and overdone – luckily, pickerel is a forgiving fish. The smashed potatoes had such a lovely caramelized crispy crust they put hash browns to shame. Is it wrong I enjoyed the starchy side more than the fish?


A light meal calls for a light finish with a buttermilk panna cotta ($11), which was nice and creamy. There was plenty of garnishes to add flavour: macerated strawberries, candied pine nuts, basil slivers. Everything worked.  


You even get a taste of the east coast charm at Honest Weight - it’s an intimate environment and our waiter was candid and friendly. Just make a reservation; even on Sunday they were busy with patrons being turned away it they haven’t already secured a table. At least there’s a fish counter attached to the restaurant, worse comes to worse they can purchase something to go. While the dinner did take longer than normal (our waiter advised they were slammed at lunch so didn’t have adequate prep time for dinner), it’s such a tranquil environment that it didn’t matter. Just enjoy the easy breezy “seaside” dinner.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2766 Dundas Street West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Honest Weight Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Going back to Akira Back (Toronto)


When Chef Back visited Toronto in July, I returned to Akira Back to sample their “new” menu. My first visit to the restaurant was fine, but it wasn’t impressive. Surely things will be better when the head honcho is in town? After all, he has his name to protect.

Upon cracking open the menu, I was disappointed to see not much has changed. Indeed, a couple of dishes were added but by and large everything remained. The only surprised for the evening was a special lobster 4-ways menu for two ($100). Our waitress noted they’re testing the dishes to see if there’s interest, so what’s detailed in the post is subject to change or may be discontinued all together.


I think most of us coughed on our first sip of the lobster miso soup as we weren’t expecting it to be spicy. The initial surprise aside, the rich hot broth was delicious, the lobster legs infusing the salty and spicy soup. Plump little mushrooms were strewn throughout and a nice addition with the seafood essence.


Having had lobster sashimi a couple of times, Akira Back was the best experience - the lobster tail lightly torched to take away any gumminess, but the meat left raw and sweet. A bit of the freshly grated wasabi and house made soy sauce was all it took to flavour the dish.


The lobster tempura was okay, but since the batter was dense (where are the wispy crunchy bits of tempura?) it ended up tasting like fish sticks instead of chunks of lobster claw. Akira Back needs to work on the batter’s consistency and frying temperature of the oil as the sea urchin tempura ($18) was no better. The creamy urchin wrapped with citrusy shiso leaves was a good idea, if it weren’t for the heavy coating that completely covered the seafood.


What arrived with the fourth course seemed too small for two people - a small sliver of poached lobster with nori butter sauce. In general, this menu for two would be insufficient, tables will need to add on a couple of items to round out the meal. Perhaps a bowl of the wagyu fried rice ($14) for some grains? While it is a tad oily – not surprising with wagyu – the rice had such a great wok hay essence. It’d be even better with more scallion.


Akira’s miso black cod ($31) incorporates the traditional sweet glaze but I’ve had better (and for more reasonable prices compared to the dainty portion of fish). Regardless, it was decently prepared, the black cod having a light smokiness and the glaze slightly caramelized for an extra bit of texture. At least it was better than the wagyu short ribs I previously had; although hot izakaya dishes are not Akira’s forte.


Their cold dishes are much better. The Hokkaido scallop kiwi ($23) was no exception. Sliced raw scallops are layered with kiwi and flavoured with an onion salsa and yuzu soy. The dish is refreshingly delicious and shows restraint, so the scallop’s sweetness isn’t overtaken by the other flavours – even the onion salsa isn’t too strong, adding flavour but not sting.


With Chef Back’s visit there was also a special dessert… date ice cream with a mango mousse ($15). A plate of granita first arrives with an egg carton in tow. Our waitress proceeds to take out an “egg”: the shell made from candy; the whites a date ice cream; and the yolk mango passionfruit sorbet. Luckily, I took the picture before everything was crushed into the sweet ice, creating a dessert reminiscent of bing su. The light dessert was a beautiful and whimsical finish. Maybe things are better when Akira Back is back.


Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 80 Blue Jays Way, 2nd floor

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

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Xin Jiang Restaurant 西域食府.清真 (Markham)


Xinjiang is a region in northwest China that shares its borders with Tibet, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, and India (amongst others) and after centuries of migration is now home to several ethnic groups. This multiculturalism makes its way into their cuisine, with a host of preparation methods and ingredients that’s unlike the food in other parts of China.

A common dish for the region is roasted kabab. At Xin Jiang Restaurant, the Xinjiang style BBQ lamb kabob ($2.49 each) is probably their most popular dish - every table seems to have a plate of gleaming metal skewers. It’s not something I normally gravitate towards but decided to try it anyways given Zomato/Yelp reviews say it’s one of the best in the city. The skewer was smaller than anticipated, but well prepared so the lamb was just cooked through and tender. Not surprisingly, there was a gamey taste, but it wasn’t overpowering given the meat was covered with enough slightly spicy and curried dry rub.


The wrapper on the steamed lamb and onion dumplings ($9.99) was too thick and  still cracked, allowing the juices to escape. For such a popular dish to Northern Chinese restaurants, it was poorly executed. Their menu had limited flavours to choose from; if I had a choice, I would have ordered something else. Aside from the onion, the filling could really benefit from other herbs or vegetables to compliment the lamb.


Xin Jiang’s menu is vague on what’s in the handmade noodle with beef ($12.99). An Uyghur dish, based on lamian, it uses a similar flour-based pulled noodle that tends to be thicker. The dish ended up consisting of boiled noodles tossed with a spicy soy meat broth and chunks of bell peppers, tomato, hard onions, and beef. The chewy noodles were enjoyable, I just wish there was more of it compared to all the other ingredients.


Seeing the spinach with firm tofu at a neighbouring table, it looked refreshing compared to the heavier dishes we ordered. Being a last-minute add on, I didn’t read the menu description and was greeted by a cold dish incorporating a tangy vinegar taste … sort of like spinach with pickled tofu. While refreshing, it’s best in smaller quantities, as like pickles it’s also very salty.


Given Xin Jiang is a smaller restaurant, all the aromatic smells co-mingle in the rectangular dining room - you will reek of food afterwards. However, they surprisingly have a lot of staff working, so customers are well attended to. My palette hasn’t quite developed for Xinjiang cuisine yet, but with a menu that rivals Pickle Barrel, maybe I’ll have to go back and explore more.

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Markham, Canada
 Address: 3636 Steeles Avenue East (in Metro Square)

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:

Xin Jiang Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


Fresh on Bloor (Toronto)


Fresh is one of the original vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Toronto. While there are numerous choices in 2018, five years ago yielded few businesses (other than ethnic restaurants) who were willing to go meatless.

Remembering their veggie burger was too mushy for my taste, the squash tacos ($11) seemed like a better choice and I was awarded with delicious grilled tortillas STUFFED with hot deep fried squash nuggets (absolutely delicious), tomato, onion, and a host of other vegetables. A cool creamy jalapeno and lime sauce was generously drizzled over everything, the pepper adding a bold bite to the tacos.


In retrospect, had I known there were so many vegetables in the tacos, I wouldn’t have needed to add a side of the superfood salad ($5.25). Of course, my body and immune system probably enjoyed the extra heaping of greens; the lettuce salad packed with microgreens, cabbage, edamame, herbs, cucumbers, and pistachios. The turmeric mint tahini dressing tossed into the salad made everything tasty - although I couldn’t see it, I could taste it.


Asking our waitress how large the tacos were, she noted they were small and mimicked a circle about the size of a hand. What arrived was at least 50% larger, which rendered the plate of dragon fries ($9) to share unnecessary. Thankfully, they weren’t good, the miso gravy too thick so it tasted like bean flavoured Cheese Whiz and left a sticky consistency on the tongue. Aside from the sauce, the predominant flavour was the tangy hot banana chilies, we would have been better off the plain spuds.


Since my first visit to Fresh years ago, the chain has also expanded and they are busy – having a small queue at the door even during a weeknight. It’s becoming popular to go meatless.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10



How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 326 Bloor Street West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:


Fresh Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Love Chix @ Assembly Chef's Hall (Toronto)


Dining with a group with very different tastes? Assembly Chef's Hall combines a number of Toronto's restaurants into one area… sort of like Harrod’s food hall or Eataly. Laid out as two seating areas with the restaurants in the centre, make sure to specify the zone you’re sitting in when meeting friends, otherwise finding each other may be difficult. The dining rooms offer comfortable leather chairs and sturdy wooden tables; it feels like you’re eating in a restaurant, you’ll just need to get your own food. Each room also has a bar, where drinks are also grab and go.


In terms of eateries, The Good Son’s freshly made pizza was popular during a weeknight visit. The mini Kao San Road and Los Colibris stalls also peaked my interest, but I decided to go with something I haven’t had before. That’s when Love Chix’s colourful sign and fried food aroma lured me over. Indeed, it may have also been due to a monstrous fried chicken sandwich sitting at the pass. It looked so good that I had to get my hands on some fried chicken.


The three-piece ($14) with a side of French fries ($3) arrived freshly made with thick house-made ketchup.  I loved the sauce on the chicken, the hot and sweet sauce melted into the juicy chicken meat. Be forewarned, the pieces are small (the three-piece consisted of two drum sticks and a boneless wing); if you’re even remotely hungry, go with the five-piece. While the fries were good at first, after 5-minutes they got stale fast. It made me have eater's regret for not ordering the fried Brussel sprouts.


My friends opted for Resto Boemo instead. The rich truffle gnocchi ($18), which was a hefty portion, was too soft for my taste. If the pasta isn't your thing, their burger with truffle Parmesan fries smelled heavenly.


Overall, Assembly Chef’s Hall is a great concept, but a few improvements would make it even better.
  • Sadly, many restaurants still used disposable containers. With a shared space like a food hall, I would have thought they’d invest in communal plates and cutlery – if Eaton Centre can do it, surely it is possible at Assembly! Mother Nature will thank us later.
  • There’s no way of indicating a table is occupied, which means unless it’s the winter and you have coats, someone needs to stay behind to claim the space. Since looking around and waiting for your food to be prepared takes time, it generally means a full half hour passes before everyone is back at the table. A simple vacant/occupied sign at the table, like Marche, would help.
  • Lastly, for an eatery connected to Google, I would have thought it’d be more technologically advanced. It was a bit annoying you pay at each station (including separately at the bar). They have launched an app, but judging by the reviews, it hasn’t been helping with the ordering and payment process. Tweeks are required.
It is nice that you’re able to stay for as long as you please; while there are staff who clear the table, no one bothers you to leave. Hearing it gets very busy during lunch, it wasn’t too packed in the evening (easiest for tables of four or less). Although on my next visit, I’m aiming to go back for Tachi, the stand-up omakase sushi bar from Chef Jackie Lin. For that, you don’t even need a table.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 111 Richmond Street West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more - https://twitter.com/GastroWorldBlog
____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:

Love Chix Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato