Address: 348 Adelaide St West (inside the Templar Hotel)
Type of Meal: Dinner
My advice… go to Monk Kitchen soon before it becomes impossible to get a reservation. And yes, with the quality of cooking they offer, it’s inevitable that in time they will be highly sought after. Tucked in the basement of the Templar Hotel, it’s a hidden contemporary oasis of pristine white and shiny stainless steel accents. As a warning, as you’re walking up Adelaide Street, pay attention to the numbering as the only signage for Templar is a small embossed crest on the bottom of a column. But, it’s hard to miss if you know to look for a gleaming white counter with a few chairs off to the side. On the somewhat dark street of Adelaide the stark change in décor is certainly noticeable.
Having arrived 15 minutes early, we started off with a drink in their lounge, upstairs on the main floor. Brendie, the mixologist, described a tasty Pimm’s cocktail ($14) so naturally I went with that. Made with gin and mango juice there was also a refreshing hint of ginger, a great starter while waiting in the modern quiet lounge.
Being a huge fan of chef’s tables, I automatically asked to be seated in one of the six seats within the kitchen. Monk also has a dining room area holding about twenty additional patrons so these seats are easier to nab.
Monk Kitchen has no menu, rather Chef Roberto Fracchioni comes by to ask about allergies/limitations and then the food begins. Without a set menu, there’s no indication of what and how many courses will appear, but then that’s what really adds to the experience – that anticipation and excitement of each dish to come.
First up, a cold shrimp salad where the shrimp were marinated in a savoury sauce with just a slight heat to it. The salad portion consists of leafy Asian greens (Chinese broccoli, bok choy and tung ho (?)), which were crispy and flavourful and unlike the stir fried or blanched ones I've had. We were advised they were steamed in a lobster shell bath which is what allows the leaves to retain its flavour and gives it that slight augmented fragrance. A wedge of creamy grilled avocado, bits of tempura and a yuzu dressing finish off the plate.
As soon as the lobster risotto was laid before me I knew I was in for a treat. Just the incredible shellfish aroma wafting off of it was amazing, making it hard to remember – snap picture first then eat! The rice was cooked perfectly with just a slight bite to it without being hard. Finely diced bell peppers mixed throughout the lobster bisque sauce added a bit of crunch and freshness to the flavourful rice. The consistency was spot on - enough liquid to form a creamy sauce but not so watery that’d you’d need a spoon to eat it. On top a simply cooked piece of lobster that was tender & flavourful and some fried muted capers rounded it off.
When we told Chef Roberto how great it was, he humbly shrugged stating that you can’t go wrong with lobster. But, alas sometimes even with lobster things can go horribly wrong. While replaying our conversation with the second chef (unfortunately, forgot to ask for his name and can’t find it on their website) he laughed and stated he’s from out east - they don’t mess up lobster. It’s these conversations that immediately put a diner at ease; I felt comfortable asking questions and conversing with them. Having done a couple of other meals kitchen side, at Shoto and Chantecler, none offered this down to earth friendliness that Monk Kitchen excels at.
It’s as if Chef Roberto knew me, as up next was duck – lobster and duck in the same meal, I was in heaven already. The duck breast was seared and cooked to an impeccable medium, paired with a sweet and sour fig sauce. The fruity fig added just the right amount of sweetness without being overwhelming. With each bite, you get a bit of the tender juicy meat, rendered duck fat, crisp skin and the sauce that mellows everything out. There was even a dried fig chip that when broken into small pieces and mixed with the sauce and duck juices starts to rehydrate and comes delicious & chewy.
Roasted carrots & parsnips and kale leaves tossed with pickled mustard accompany the duck. The pickling is very light but really helps soften up the kale and left little balls of mustard seeds which provided such a pleasant texture.
Before the last savoury dish, an intermezzo of pomegranate granita topped with fresh juicy pomegranate seeds was served. It was refreshingly sweet with a hint of sour to wash away the heavier duck.
The last savoury dish was truffle breaded veal. The Chef informs us the truffles are imported from Italy and used in all the parts of breading - pieces in the flour, truffle oil in the egg mixture and more shavings in the bread crumbs. Without a doubt, you can taste the distinctive truffle flavour with each bite but because the oil was used in moderation it wasn't overwhelming. Given the veal is such a neutral tasting meat, almost like pork but leaner, it could have been completely lost in the truffle but wasn't. It went especially well with the cauliflower purée, which deepened the earthiness inherent in the truffle. I was also pleasantly surprised that the cauliflower purée still tasted like its main ingredient; too often so much butter and cream is added to it that any cauliflower flavour is lost and the smear on the plate could really be anything.
We opted for the wine pairing with the meal. At first, we weren’t going to do it as I typically find there’s too much wine and you end up being so far behind and tipsy by the end. But, Brendie was great and offered us a half wine pairing ($30/person) where we’d get 1.5 ounces with each dish, just enough in my opinion. The pairing consisted of two whites and two reds, I’m not wine expert so I won’t begin to try and rate these, but ended off with a delicious cocktail. It was vodka based with muddled strawberries, elderflower syrup and soda water and was so refreshing that it wakes you back up after all the food.
To end, we each received a dessert plate made up of five items. It's difficult to determine a favourite as each offered a distinct taste so there’s something for everyone. All were fresh, moist and full of flavour; thankfully they were small pieces so you didn’t feel guilty finishing everything. Starting from the left a pear tart that was nicely poached and paired well with the crumbly buttery tart, a velvety espresso chocolate ganache with a rich dark chocolate flavour, smooth French toast cheesecake with blueberry sauce and hints of maple syrup and perhaps cinnamon, a delicious chewy walnut pecan tart (I simply loved the moist nutty cake) and lastly an After Eight cake consisting of layered vanilla sponge cake and chocolate topped with mint frosting, a great refreshing end.
I can’t say enough good things about the service at Monk Kitchen, everyone was friendly and checking in to make sure things was going well. The entire evening went spotlessly and the overall experience great. Given I couldn’t find anything about prices online, I was a tad worried at what the magnificent meal would end up costing; at $75 per person for five deliciously pulled together courses and an intermezzo, I felt was well worth it. Monk Kitchen is my new favourite restaurant in Toronto, I can’t wait to return. Just please don’t become too popular that I won’t be able to get back in!
Overall mark - 9.5 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!