The Carbon Bar Experience (Toronto)

The Carbon Bar Toronto

Tip to restaurants: when you proclaim a menu to be an “experience”, be confident you’ll be able to provide the entire package. It’s not a “tasting menu”, where food is king; you’re now promising diners something more that extends beyond the stomach. Which is exactly why The Carbon Bar needs to rethink if they’re able to execute on the “experience menu”, unless you want a frustrating start and ending to be what diners remember.

When a group of friends and I went for the Carbon Bar experience menu ($49 per person having dropped the fish course), we were expecting tons of food, served family style, which would leave us in a meat coma.

What we didn’t expect was having to wait over half an hour for a reserved table. Just like a restaurant expects customers to make their reservations within 15 minutes of the set time, I also assume a reservations means a table will be available within 15 minutes of the scheduled hour. How many times have you been warned when getting a table that it’d need to be vacated by a certain time to accommodate a reservation? The fact that the Carbon Bar didn’t communicate this to a couple that was holding up a table for a large group is a sign of poor management.

Afterwards, to appease the group with no more than a "Heard you waited a while, sorry about that” from the server? That’s even worse. Bringing me to my second tip to restaurateurs: if you’ve screwed up, apologize and compensate - we added extra items to our meal, something inexpensive like the KFC could have easily been comped helping to ease the frustration a bit.

Nonetheless, once we were seated and the food started arriving, the experience improved. Sensing we were in hangry moods, a platter of fried delights arrived quickly following the wine. Fried mac 'n' cheese, beef croquettes and fried oysters were all accompanied by tailored creamy spicy dipping sauces.

The crisp exterior complimenting the gooey filling of the mac 'n' cheese absolutely delicious. Plenty of seasoned pulled beef was found rolled into each of the croquettes. And the fried oysters were a decent size providing crunch and a slight taste of the ocean.

There could have been more variety to the snacks, the sample menu on the website a much better representation. Where was the fresh or saucy elements to add interest? We diversified the snacks by adding on orders of the Korean fried cauliflower ($9), an amazing dish that is reminiscent of fried chicken yet has a creamier center. The spicy, sweet and savoury sauce was spot on to awaken the taste buds.

The following appetizers were more varied, with the tuna ceviche a great dish for helping to cut the greasiness of the previous fried products. Big chunks of soft big eye tuna and pineapple were tossed in a zesty lime and Serrano chili mixture that added heat without being overpowering.

I enjoyed the lighter dressing used in the black kale ceasar, given the other ingredients used in the salad were bold: large chunks of chewy oak smoked bacon, crunchy garlic croutons, salty parmesan and my favourite - soft boiled egg made with beet juice to give it a lovely pink hue.

Of the appetizers, the one that was a waste of stomach space was the pulled pork tacos. The corn tortilla, although warm and seemingly of the artisan variety, had dried out hard bits. Moreover, the pork so dry that extra tomatillo salsa and avocado crema had to be added in hopes of reviving it.

Trust me, don’t fill up on the snacks and appetizers … save room for the main event! The pit master platter was the most glorious part of the entire experience, filled with slices of juicy beef brisket infusing my mouth with a rich beef flavour, spice-crusted pork ribs that have a light heavenly smoke, and moist sizzling pieces of buttermilk fried chicken. Although Carbon Bar provides bottles of their house made sauces (espresso and sweet & spicy BBQ), the meats were flavourful enough to enjoy on their own.

As if there wasn’t enough food, we decided to add on orders of mac and cheese ($19). The stomach room it consumed was well worth it, the sauce a well-balance creaminess with sufficient amount of gooey cheese and the pasta left with a bite. As if there wasn't enough meat, the dish also incorporates generous portions of brisket.

Being so full, I couldn’t even try the other sides, except the handful of crunchy hot-from-the-fryer shoestring fries. The TBC coleslaw and stewed beets looked beautiful, but I simply couldn’t eat another bite…

That is, until dessert arrived. I couldn’t help it, they both looked so good! The Kentucky Derby pie is like a pecan pie on steroids – large pecan pieces amongst a rich butter tart batter and flaky crust with drizzles of bitter chocolate on top. On the side, a whisky infused whipped cream to add a kick of bitterness to cut through the sweetness.

The warm apple crumble incorporated plenty of diced apples amongst a buttery salty crumble giving the dessert a salty caramel taste. With plenty of spices, crunch from nuts and cooled with the creamy vanilla ice cream, it was a delicious dessert.

Throughout the meal, our server did a great job – being attentive and working with others to ensure the entire table was served at once. The dishes were also split well with plates spaced nicely amongst the table to ensure everyone had access to all the food and passing not really required.

Sadly, the euphoric experience didn’t last and a sour note ended the meal when we asked a lady clearing the table for the bill. Despite she was actually working at the table, she snappily noted she wasn't our server so couldn't do it … but would find the right person. Come on, if you’re intending to find your colleague anyways, what's the point of telling customers? Just do it! To us, you're all a team and one restaurant; I frankly don't care about your internal division of labour.

It’s such a shame the Carbon Bar experience was ruined by less than ideal service at the beginning and end. What a difference compared to my past visits to the restaurant when the friendly service was something I remember fondly. On the most recent visit, I had even thought the experience improved enough to increase their rating to an 8 out of 10.

Although the food was fantastic, poor first and last impressions should never be part of an experience. So sadly, the Carbon Bar has slipped a point. Go for the food, if you happen to get great service from everyone, count yourself lucky.

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 99 Queen Street East

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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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