CLOSED: Branca (Toronto)

Branca meat

You wouldn’t expect to find an Argentinian inspired grill house in a cozy corner house. Blink, especially if you’re driving, and you may miss the conspicuous neon Branca sign in the window. Surprisingly, with all the talk of roasting meats, there wasn’t even a scent in the air to guide our way. But, my dutiful husband looked up its location ahead before heading out and stopped our driver in the nick of time.  

Of course, a nice robust wine is a must with red meat – especially one from Mendoza (there are plenty on the list). But, before the mains, their cocktails sounded so enticing that I had to get a Pisco sour ($12) to start. My first experience with this Chilian brandy, it was light with the lime juice and aromatic bitters… dangerously easy drinking. The dark rum mojito ($12) was packed with fresh mint leaves; another refreshing simple cocktail to enjoy during the summer months.

Branca cocktailBranca cocktail

As soon the order was in, a bowl of chipas, Branca’s version of a bread basket, arrived before us. The Argentine cheese bread is light and airy, like choux pastry except made with tapioca flour. Filled with melted cheese studded with peppers I could have easily eaten all three myself.

Branca cheese bread

Luckily, as my appetite was whet, the empanadas ($6) soon followed. Served piping hot, I was torn – let it cool down or dive in immediately so I can enjoy the molten cheese and corn mixture? In the end, I cut it into smaller pieces as a compromise. Filled with roasted corn, poblano peppers, gruyere and fontina they’re a great way nibble to start on.

Branca empanadas

The cuttlefish or sepia ($15) perfectly showcased the seafood and all its parts: the pigment from its ink sac helped to colour the cuttlefish such a vibrant reddish-brown hue while its ink acted as a savoury sauce. The saffron fregola, little balls that glide across the tongue, was specked with spicy chorizo and sweet roasted cherry tomatoes.

Branca cuttlefish

Branca uses the Argentine grilling method al sador, where meats are splayed and skewered across metal crosses. What looks like a torture device for us ensures the meat has access to the hot wood-burning fire. So, a visit to Branca isn’t complete until you’ve fried something from their grilled section – we tried three.

The first, the entrana ($19) or skirt steak was my favourite. Cooked medium rare at the thinner slices and a touch above rare at the thicker parts, it’s beef the way it’s meant to be enjoyed – cooked, simply seasoned and then left alone. Eaten by itself or topped with a condiment ($1/each), it was equally good:

  • Chimichurri – vinegary, filled with herbs and with a lighter touch on the garlic than most. Best with the skirt steak and suckling pig to help cut through the fat.
  • Roasted garlic – cloves of sweet mild garlic sitting in an oil, delicious to eat but personally didn’t seem to go with anything.
  • Poblano romesco – a creamy sauce with a light touch of smokiness, which for me went best with the short ribs.
  • Harissa – a fiery chili sauce that’s flavourful at first before the zing from the heat slowly builds. In my opinion, it tend to overpower the meats, but I didn’t mind it on the pulled pork.
Branca skirt steak

The tira ($26), a meaty short rib, isn’t the fall-off-the-bone tenderness of the braised variety – after all we’re cooking over fire here. But, it was still easily chewable, despite its leanness, and of all the meats lent itself to pairing with the sauces (since it was rather neutral in taste).

Branca short rib

On Friday and Saturdays you can order the chancho ($34) a dish feature four different parts from a suckling pig: pulled pork, belly, tenderloin and chicharrón. Now Magazine writes about the three day process of making the dish – brining it with an aromatic mixture for two days before cooking over the wood-burning fire for an entire third day.

Branca suckling pig

I was a little disappointed that the skin wasn’t left on to get the juicy meat, thin fat layer and crisp skin combination I love so much about pork. Rather, the skin was removed of its fat and fried, served as a chicharrón or pork rind. At first it seemed a tad bland having eaten it right after a chimichurri laden piece of skirt steak, but after a swig of water and retrying it, I found the succulent meat to be quite flavourful – the taste of pork shone through (but not in a gross gamey way). For me, the highlight was the slice of pork belly slice having retained a thin layer of chewy skin and the fat rendered but still evident in the meat.   

A mound of intensely crispy and salty potato strings ($6) arrives with it – very hot but could have been drained a bit more to reduce the oiliness. But, these were addictive, I couldn’t stop snacking on just one more before the dish finally got taken away.

Branca fries

The smoked collards ($6) could be a meal in itself with the creamy sauce, smoked pork pieces and chick peas. With such heavy meats, the side was too decadent as I’d much rather have something plain and light; perhaps the green salad would have been a better option.

Branca smoked collards

Do yourself a favour and save room for the panqueques ($7). Filled with a sweet and salty dulce de leche, the crêpes are rolled and lightly brûléed on top to give it a touch of crunch. The non-sweetened chantilly cream added creaminess without adding another layer of sugariness to the already flavourful dessert. I wonder if Branca would let me return for just a helping of this dessert.

Branca crepes

Service is attentive and friendly, although following suggested order sizes (one starter, main and side per person) would leave tables with too much food - two starters, three mains and two sides was more than enough for our table of three.  At Branca, ingredients are left to its own devices. Some diners will appreciate this, allowing them to enjoy the true taste of the protein. Others may find dishes uninteresting, but I guess that’s when all those sauces will save the day. Regardless, bring a carnivore to Branca … I’m sure they’ll thank you as they leave dinner in a blissful meat-filled dream.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 1727 Dundas Street West

Follow me on twitter to chat, be notified about new posts and more -

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!

Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this: