CLOSED: Hawthorne Food and Drink (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 60 Richmond East
Type of Meal: Dinner

Hawthorne is a restaurant with a social mission - to give individuals who work there some paid interning experience to allow them to cultivate skills to get a permanent position.  Not all their staff are made up of temporary workers, only about half, but it’s a great idea to give people the practice and reference to use for another restaurant.

An interesting concept Hawthorne developed is the four square meal – four small dishes that are a part of one larger dish providing the customer with multiple courses.  Sadly, upon getting there, I was advised they no longer offer this during dinner service as they are focusing more on other dishes.  Certainly, I agree they do need to work on improving their dishes (more on that later), but I highly ask management to reconsider their decision of removing the four square off the dinner menu.  Based on my experience, it appears the chefs are able to execute better on small dishes than their mains, offering customers something you excel at is important at cultivating returning customers.  So, perhaps the four square can be Hawthorne’s differentiator and where it shines.  As it stands now, I found the “other dishes” disappointing.

The highlight of the night was the crispy fried quail ($10).  Served in a small bucket, four pieces of quail were battered in a thick crust, deep fried and then dipped in a thin honey sauce.  At first, not knowing there was a watery honey glaze over the quail, I thought the glistening fowl was too oily, but upon taking the first bite, the juicy, crispy quail was a pleasant surprise.  On the side is a dill (?) sauce which I found wasn’t required given how much flavour the quail already had itself.

The fish and chips ($9) were six smelt fish set in a cone with a house-made fries, ketchup and tarter sauce.  Smelt are small sardine sized fish with less bones – only a narrow spine of them.  Overall, the dish isn’t something I’d order again, the smelts were a bit “fishy” tasting and the fries were run-of-the-mill.  I did enjoy the home-made condiments but this isn’t enough to like the dish.

Our final shared small dish was the beet and beef tartare ($14).  The presentation of this dish was attractive; a mixture of bright colors from the red beef & beet mixture and a vivid yellow egg yolk.  Not normally a fan of tartare, Hawthorne’s version wasn’t bad and had an interesting texture with the sweet slivers of beet.  The grainy mustard was also a wonderful addition and went well with the beef. But, I found the cut of the beef strange – in strips rather than diced. It’s not particularly pleasing when you get hunks of meet that are somewhat stringy and tough to chew through.

My main, the Peking duck pho ($18), was the worst dish of the night.  The duck should not be labelled as Peking duck as this is specific to a type of crispy skinned fully cooked duck that’s cut into pieces where it’s predominantly skin.  Hawthorne’s version is under seasoned, the skin is soggy and cooked medium rare which causes the duck to be tough and challenging to chew through. 

The soup should not be compared to pho which is generally a piping hot bowl of flavourful broth.  Hawthorne’s soup, although a dark colour, had no richness to it and was just dark soy sauce and sesame oil mixed with water.  To make things worse, it was a tepid temperature.  The picked pumpkin slices just didn’t go with anything at all and should have been left out.  Under no circumstances should you get this dish.  Based on what other tables were getting, the beef cheek or steak and frites looked much better.

After the unsatisfactory mains we really didn’t want to risk getting dessert.  But, Hawthorne offered a small sweet ending with the bill.  Each person received two cubes of lemon jelly which were very tart but cleansed our palettes and awoken the taste buds.  I only wish Hawthorne can build in that depth of flavour to some of their other dishes.

Hawthorne’s saving grace is their amazing staff; our waiter was knowledgeable of the dishes and its individual ingredients.  He was great at explaining what the unheard of ingredients really meant.  Their dining room is also comfortable and has a light and airy feeling with its large unadorned windows. The contemporary environment is minimalistic but still comfortable with its wooden and slate accents.  If only the dishes can be improved, at this point I’d likely never return, maybe for lunch just to try the four square.

Overall mark - 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!
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