Awai (Toronto)


As a person who eats meat, a completely plant-based menu generally doesn’t excite me. While I like vegetables, and know there are many ways to prepare them, I can’t help but anticipate a boring dish or worry the chefs will rely on fat and deep frying to make it taste good. At Awai, every dish is vegan and can be made gluten-free by request. After sampling eight, they were all flavourful without depending on fats. In fact, Awai’s whole cooking philosophy aims to use an ingredient’s natural flavours without manipulating it heavily.

A flatbread seems to always makes its way into the meal, thanks to their prominent wood burning oven. Ours was topped with babaganoush incorporating a healthy dose of cumin, sour tamarind (?) reduction, dressed greens, and nuts. While the flatbread was tasty, the gluten-free version, which arrives on a potato rosti, was even better with the slightly crunchy bits.


Our table couldn’t get enough of the porcini soup ... it smells heavenly! Thick and creamy (from cauliflower purée in lieu of cream), there was also a slight kick to the broth from mountain peppers. I could have easily had three more bowls of the concoction.


Of course, there was a salad. Thankfully, it was pretty tasty with the wild mustard greens and other leafy vegetables tossed in a white kimchi dressing, sprinkled with togarashi, and mixed with the fennel pesto along the plate. While the apple confit chips were a powerful pop of flavour, it'd pair better with dessert; on the salad, the hard and chewy shards stick to your teeth and was annoying to pick out amongst the greens.


I love how the kitchen draws upon so many cultures to create the menu. From India, the khichdi was a lovely warm mixture of ground rice, lentils, and potatoes mixed with spices and a bit of heat. On top, a contrasting cold sweet and tangy root slaw, gave the dish interest and a beautiful colourful crown.


My favourite dish was the truffle mushroom ravioli: the pasta soft and chewy, filled with chopped mushrooms and sitting in a lovely cauliflower puree. Underneath was another healthy portion of roasted oyster mushrooms. Between this and the soup, our table agreed that Awai knows how to prepare fungi.


While I like phyllo pastry, as a cannelloni wrapper it doesn’t work. Perhaps there was just too much of it compared to the edamame mixture inside, every mouthful just felt like you were eating crispy phyllo. While the dish was pretty to look at and their heirloom vegetables roasted wonderfully, it was passable.


Thankfully, we requested one more savoury dish and ended off on a high note with the humita, a steamed corn cake that reminded me of a tamale but with more spices. For even more flavour, it was accompanied by a lovely rich mole and crunchy bits to contrast against the softer humita


Personally, I could have forgone dessert for another bowl of porcini soup. The elderberry oat tart was dry and mealy while the linden berry and cherry pavlova square was only a touch better thanks to some moisture and more sugar. The soup on the other hand… perfection.


The astute Gastro World reader may notice there’s no prices above. This is because Awai runs on a pay-what-you-can concept for their food (there are set prices for liquor). It’s an interesting concept where diners are encouraged to decide on a meal's worth. While I didn’t find the experience troubling, it does make the paying process a bit awkward and longer. After our waitress explained the concept, our table strategized and agreed on $70 per person. Unbeknown to the first person paying, their machine also doesn’t have a tip feature, so make sure you ask them to add it on at the same time. 

With that said, by the time this post is out, there will be prices. In early March, Awai announced they would be ending the “experiment” as many found it confusing and stressful. Instead, they will offer a prix fixe menu. It’ll be interesting to see how much the restaurant owners value their food – for a place that makes vegan dishes tasty, it may be a lot.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 2277 Bloor Street West
 Website: http://www.awai.ca/

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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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