CLOSED: Fishbar (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 217 Ossington Avenue
Type of Meal: Dinner

For those who don't like fish, don't let the name fool you, Fishbar has more offerings than just flounder. The menu consists of a cacophony of seafood with almost all species included with the exception of crab the night of my visit.

Like many of the West end downtown restaurants the dining room is a long narrow rectangle layout. The decor also follows a similar pattern of high/low wooden tables and a feature bar along one wall.  But, a nice difference is the storefront glass which slides open to give those near the window gets a dining el Fresco feel.

Fishbar's menu is tapas style which is always a foodie friendly option to allow trying multiple dishes.  First up was a healthy portion of New England style fried clams ($8) and hand cut fries ($6).  According to Wikipedia, New England style clams are dipped in evaporated milk prior to coating with all purpose, corn and pastry flour. The coating was fairly thin and could stand to be crispier and the clams warmer in temperature.  In my opinion, the clams tasted a bit bland and could have used a sprinkling of salt to add a taste of the sea.  Of course, it may be because they were served with the fries which were topped with nori salt and were served with a miso aioli, much stronger in flavour which could have over powered the lighter clams.

The tilapia in the Equadorian tilapia ceviche ($13) was fresh and went well with the sweet mango and pineapple salsa on top.  But, there was nothing exciting about the flavours – none of the robust citrus and spicy notes that I enjoy.  Additionally, the fish was over a tad over “acidified” as the texture began to turn rough. 

On the other hand, the tuna sashimi ($14) was topped with a liberal smear of sweet soy glaze so had a stronger savoury taste. However, I found the toasted almond slivers to be a strange mix with the tuna; but this is a matter of taste as one friend liked the hint of crunch it added. I would have preferred strips of toasted nori instead but guess that is a safer combination.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than the smell of garlic butter, which is all I could smell when the Sicilian gnocchi ($16) arrived.  It had a wonderful essence mixed with the prawns, tender baby shitake mushrooms and wilted arugula. Nonetheless, it’s the gnocchi that fell short for me.  I’ve realized that I don’t like ricotta based gnocchi as it’s much too mushy for my taste.

Our final dish of grilled calamari ($12) showed some redemption as the briny olives & capers mixed with hints of citrus provided some much needed bold flavours.  The calamari was also cooked to a suitable doneness that didn’t leave it rubbery and tough.  

The Fishbar, despite not being a new restaurant, does have some kinks to work out in terms of staffing levels. The evening of our visit it took close to half an hour to get wine and a full hour before our first dish arrived.  The waiter explained they were short staffed and thanked us for being patient on many occasions but didn’t really offer an explanation as to why they were inadequately staffed to begin with. 

After reading some reviews on Urbanspoon, it appears the slow and inconsistent service is a problem they’ve been plagued with in the past.  While past patrons cited problems with “attitude”, we didn’t encounter that during our visit.  Alas, it was only the slow service that remains.  Luckily, management can easily attempt to appease customers by offering a complimentary starter – even if it were just a basket of bread which can still go a long way to curb grumpy hungry customers.

All in all, the Fishbar is good for those who like ingredients prepared simply so that the tastes of the components themselves stand out.  Personally, I prefer bolder tastes so found most dishes lacking a few touches.  A good news story for the environment is that Fishbar is part of the Ocean Wise program and serves sustainable seafood.  Of course, this also means you’ll likely not find sea bass on their menu anytime soon.   Overall, the food is satisfactory but with slow service and relatively high pricing there are better competitive options available around town.

Overall mark - 6.5 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!