Chantecler (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 1320 Queen Street West
Website: http://restaurantchantecler.ca/

Type of Meal: Dinner


Right in the middle of racking my brain on finding a suitable restaurant to celebrate my mom’s birthday, a coworker introduces me to Chantecler.  It was perfect, Asian inspired dishes for my mom and an interesting twist to excite the inner foodie in me.  Booking about a month in advance, I was able to secure one of the 16 coveted spots sitting bar side to experience Chef Poon’s creations, which are only offered on Friday and Saturday with two seatings each night.

Placed directly in front of the open faced kitchen complete with an antique stove and mishmash of very non-industrial looking gadgets, I kept my eyes peeled for the young upcoming chef.  Alas, he only appeared ever so briefly before the meal began to grab something and the rest of the meal he worked in the back, out of site.

Chantecler’s tasting menu changes seasonally and on our visit was $85 per person, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $45.  Given I was driving and my mom isn’t a big dinner we ordered individual glasses, starting with a fancy bubbly cocktail ($12) and later a glass of wine ($11).  The cocktail is an easy going drink – sweet, citrusy with a hint of floral (from elderflower) and topped with prosecco.

Having arrived ten minutes early, we got settled and watched the chefs preparing food for the a la carte diners.  Popular dishes that night included popcorn shrimp (breaded in real popped corn and deep fried), the braised beef and pork shoulder lettuce meal and chicken wings.  They all looked delicious and made us hungry for what was to come.

Chantecler brings in the Asian concept of sharing dishes. The items pictured below are a two person portion (placed in the middle of each duo) with the exception of the scallop, duck and ice cream where we each received our own dish.

To start a tri-tip beef tartare, diced by hand and mixed with jalapeno, wasabi oil, pieces of cashew (?) and topped with a raw egg yolk.  Deep fried shrimp chips, often found with crispy chicken dishes in Chinese restaurants, accompanied it as a substitute for crostini. The beef was tender and cut into such finely diced pieces so that it blended with all the other ingredients.  It was fairly salty from the soy sauce (?) and the heat from the jalapeno and wasabi were a nice addition. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of nuts mixed into non-dessert dishes, but the pieces of cashew were actually were quite nice adding a bit more crunch.

Next, timbit sized gougères (cheese puffs) were served warm.  Inside a molten compound seaweed butter melted throughout the puff, which actually went quite nicely with the gruyere.

Having seen so much lettuce as the front of the house chef painstakingly cutting each leaf to the perfect size, we were glad we got a taste of it next.  The lettuce wraps were filled with ground pork, roasted seaweed (?) and topped with puffed wild rice. Instead of the typical hoisin sauce, these wraps were flavoured with a smear of tangy Miracle Whip in between the lettuce and pork mixture. I enjoyed the nuttiness the crispy rice kernels added and overall was a decent dish.

Instead of an oyster shooter, Chantecler served theirs in shell with citrusy yuzu, spicy sriracha, a bit of fish roe and raw quail egg on top.  Having had a similar dish at Yuzu No Hana, I wasn’t overly excited about the slimy concoction, but Chantecler's was clean tasting and much easier to get down. Likely this is on account of the chef’s attention to detail. I watched as he diligently smelt and inspected each oyster for impurities as he shucked them - a couple that didn't meet his standards were thrown away.

XO sauce is a spicy and savoury flavouring agent used in Hong Kong cuisine, typically stir fried with seafood, meats or starches.  In Chantecler’s case they topped their house made sauce on shrimp and steamed it. It contained quite a bit of dried scallop and shrimp and some sort of meat (perhaps Chinese sausage) as well. This flavourful sauce with cooking wine and the shrimp juices soaked into the vermicelli on the bottom, my favourite part of the dish. Of course, the perfectly cooked shrimp were also good; but, I seriously could eat a whole bowl of the cooked vermicelli and be happy.  

Another traditional Cantonese dish was served next – pan fried turnip cake. It was good, made with lots of shredded turnip (as opposed to flour), big pieces of Chinese sausage and fried until it had a crispy coating.  A dollop of sriracha rounded everything off.  It’s a nice dish but to be honest wasn’t overly exciting … nothing brought this to the next level. I would have like to see it made with a twist – perhaps mixing taro and turnip together or substituting the Chinese sausage with chorizo – something to make it worthy of being served on a tasting menu.

The next dish may looked like pieces of uncured bacon, but hidden underneath the thinly sliced melt-in-your-mouth pork belly were two impeccably poached scallops with a layer of julienned zucchini and prince mushroom (?). It all went quite nicely together with the savoury sauce that had just a hint of vinegar in it that cut through the heaviness. I enjoyed the inventive dish and liked the addition of the vegetables in between which brought a freshness to everything.

My favourite dish of the night was the last one - double smoked duck breast and stir fried crispy kale. The duck was a flawless medium rare and the skin wonderfully crispy and flavourful. A light sugary sauce went well with the smokiness of the fowl.  Meanwhile, the kale was roasted in the oven and then coated with the same sauce so that it had a nice crispy texture.

The simple scoop of ice cream pictured below seemed underwhelming until you taste it... it seriously one of the smoothest ice creams I've ever eaten. Topping it were sweet buckwheat flakes adding a toasty nutty crunch against the neutral not overly sweet ice cream. The slices of apples around it were perplexing for me, but actually something my mom appreciated as she felt it helped lighten the dish.

Dessert wasn’t over, next arrived hot freshly fried donuts rolled in sugar with a pot of creamy grapefruit (?) curd on the side.  I thoroughly enjoy made-to-order donuts and these were great by itself or with the condiment.  The consistency reminded me of the Shanghai donuts made with egg whites … these were slightly denser but still airier than other varieties.

To end were chocolate truffles filled with a café latte like sauce. Our friendly and attentive waitress for the night warned us to eat it whole given the liquid filling. They were a nice sweet finish to the meal.

Prices have gone up considerably from the $45-$55 per person since its launch in early 2013.  But, in reviewing past menus there are a few more courses and in the laws of economics, it’s all about supply and demand. At $85 it’s still a reasonably priced option and one I’d suggest to tasting menu lovers like myself.  So, find someone you don’t mind sharing food with and call soon to secure a spot soon. With this calibre of cooking, I don’t see demand dying anytime soon.

Overall mark - 9 out of 10

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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!
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