CLOSED: Bent (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 777 Dundas Street West   
Type of Meal: Dinner

It’s been years since I’ve eaten at Susur and Madeline; so, when news that Susur would be teaming up with his sons to open Bent was announced, I was excited to try his Asian fusion creations again.
Bent is much like many of the new west-end restaurants – small with compact seating where all that separates you from the neighbouring table is half a foot of space.  Much is discussed about its décor – it’s designed by Barbara Bent, Susur’s wife, and pays homage to them and their son’s childhood by including their toys and school pictures.  Indeed the family feel is interesting but what makes Bent great is the food.
As a warning, if you don’t like dishes that are strongly flavoured and a mixture of varying textures and tastes, you will not like Bent.  Undeniably, the main ingredients are often covered with so many sauces that you won’t be able to taste its natural flavour; but, it’s these distinctions that make Susur’s creations his own.

The highlight for me was their ceviche, which is surprising, as I'm normally not a huge fan of acid cooked seafood.  My favourite was the Peruvian style ceviche ($15) that incorporates tart lime juice, the heat of chili and freshness of cilantro.  All are laid on top of carpaccio slices of white snapper, pieces of mussels and calamari and a few in shell clams.  I love being able to fill the clams with the sauce and eat the clams straight from the shell.  The shaved red onions add a great crispy texture against the tender fish.
The tuna and watermelon ceviche ($15), although also chili and citrus based, has a sweetness to it from the cubes of watermelon.  The tuna is cut into cubes and more like the ceviche you’re typically used to. I actually prefer the carpaccio slices as it soaks up the flavours more and you can cut slices of the snapper and wrap it around the herb mixture.  Topping the tuna and watermelon ceviche were croutons of fried Chinese dough stick, which is an interesting play on the Asian traditions.  The croutons are great for soaking up the citrus spicy sauce.

We had many fish dishes that night, aside from the ceviches we also tried the tartare 2 ways ($10) - spicy tuna with avocado and onions and salmon with shallots, capers, gherkins and dill.  Both are served on top of a crispy sushi rice cake so it resembles eating a mini sushi pizza.  The dish was good but I found the rice cake a bit chewy and tough.  If it were perhaps thinner it may be crispier and add a better contrast to the tender fish.

Another was the smoked cod taro tacos ($15), which was personally my least favourite dish.  I liked to tomatillo and jicama salsa that topped the taco – it was refreshing and crunchy. The shells were interesting as they were made from fried taro slices; I liked the starchy crispiness.  The smoked cod mixture itself reminded me of a tuna fish salad and was okay.

Some of the meat dishes we had included the rare beef ($14), thin slices of what seemed like tenderloin beef that’s quickly seared and sits in an olive oil and ponzu sauce.  I’m normally not a carpaccio fan but, found this to be quite good, perhaps because the raw beef was masked with so many flavours.  The menu states it’s served with a crispy rice cake but on that night arrived with a parmesan crostini instead.  I didn’t mind the substitute but found the strong parmesan overwhelmed the delicate beef.

The Shanghainese steamed pork belly ($19) is marinated in Shao Hsing wine, although it was really hard to distinguish. It’s likely due to the Romano bean & turnip puree and poached apple sauce being so sweet that it covered up other flavours. In the end, the pork belly ended up tasting like any other braised meat, which isn’t necessarily bad, but just not very Shanghainese. I liked that the dish came with a mixture of fattier and leaner cuts to give variety to patrons.  I had the leaner slice and because of that it was a little tough. The poached apple, although to me tasted like pear, was too sweet for my taste and could be left out.

If you were going to get one hearty meat dish, I’d suggest the braised spiced short ribs instead ($22).  The meat is tender and went really well with the thick demi glace (?) and the silky truffled parsnip puree.  Even the roasted baby potatoes accompanying the dish were great.  Crisp on the outside, yet tender and light on the inside, with just a hint of rosemary; all baby potatoes should be prepared like this.

To balance out all the proteins we ordered the vegetarian roll ($10).  It had a good mix of flavours – sweetness from the braised daikon and eggs, earthiness of the shitake mushroom, saltiness from soy sauce and the bitterness of the legume on top.  However, overall nothing remarkably different from a typical futomaki roll you’d get at a sushi restaurant.

The duck salad ($14) was an interesting mix of tender shredded duck and vegetables dressed with a sweet and salty sesame dressing which reminded me to having cold sesame noodles. The coleslaw type mixture was topped with crispy taro slivers and served in a fried vermicelli bowl. Given the mixture of ingredients it was difficult to taste the duck itself unless you specifically pick it out.  The duck was surprisingly tender and I wish it was served in a slice format, rather than shredded, so it could be better appreciated.

 A salad I shockingly liked better was the kale and tofu salad ($10). I know, it sounds very healthy and bland so how could it taste good?  But, I loved the soft tofu and crunchy kale mixture.  Domino sized slices of tofu are marinated in a miso soy sauce and sesame dressing, so even when eaten by itself was wonderfully flavoured. Topped with large amounts of chopped kale coated with a sweet dressing (similar to the Japanese seaweed salads but less sugary), the dish was refreshingly light.

At Bent, all tables receive a complementary dessert, which pays is similar to getting fortune cookies, sliced oranges or red bean soup from Chinese restaurants. Given there was four of us, we got to try all four desserts (guests get one per person). 
  • The lemon curd was a welcomed addition after feeling so full as it was nice and light.
  • The coffee pannacotta with foam was nice and rich a favourite of my friend. 
  • The chocolate mousse with crispy cocoa rice bits was good and tastes just like it sounds.
  • The fried sesame ball with red bean filling in a rum caramel sauce was a bit tough as it’s likely made ahead of time and gets cold and stale.
We ended up ordering 11 dishes for four people and we were very full; likely a better number is five dishes for every two people.

Service was good – the staff were pleasant and checked in to make sure we actually liked the dishes. But, what could have greatly enhanced the dining experience are some simple cutlery improvements:  
  • After some of the saucier dishes, Bent should offer to change the patron’s dish.  My plate ended up having such a mess of sauces after 10 courses that flavours blended together. I’d like to enjoy the dishes as they were meant to taste; 
  • Given Bent encourages sharing dishes they should offer serving utensils – some simple like chopsticks, a spoon and a fork for the table would suffice; and 
  • A utensil holder, similar to the chop stick and spoon rest some Chinese restaurants use, would be helpful given Bent provides four utensils and it’s very difficult to ensure everything is balanced on the small plate once used.
In 2014 I returned to Bent for their Winterlicious menu. Unfortunately, I didn't think it was as successful as their regular menu.  To read about the Winterlicious offering please go here to read about it.

Overall mark - 8.5* out of 10

* Mark could have been a 9 if Bent had a bit more polish in terms of servicing customers. The food was good but it’s the small things (like the recommended changing plates and having serving utensils) that scores higher marks.

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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