Frilu (Thornhill)

Chefs who are taking the risk of leaving Toronto to open restaurants that are not on the subway line should be commended. Indeed, weeknights can be quiet, but people living in the suburbs also need a selection of fancy restaurants, especially ones serving tasting menus. I love the suburbs during the winter - who wants to struggle with paid parking and brown slush when you can drive somewhere with complimentary parking on site?

Frilu is located amongst a quieter drag of Yonge Street, but blink and you may still miss the small single lane pathway to the parking lot (located at the back of the restaurant). At least in Thornhill making a detour is a relatively easy affair.  

Their seasonally changing tasting menu aims to showcase local fresh Canadian ingredients. While the restaurant’s name is derived from the Norwegian concept friluftsliv, surprisingly their dishes are less Nordic and more Asian, possibly influenced from Chef and owner John-Vincent Troiano’s time working with Chef Hashimoto serving kaiseki cuisine. Followed by stints at Michelin darlings Noma and Benu, you can see how these experiences built Frilu’s menu.  

The 2018 fall rendition of the menu is dubbed “harvest moon, changing leaves” ($95) and consisted of ten dishes. After speaking to the couple beside us, they insisted the wine pairing is a must ($60). Indeed, they were right. The pairings were spot on going perfectly with each dish. Given my friend and I were driving, they even let us split a pairing, or the equivalent of about two glasses per person.

Frilu aims to “excite and surprise” guests, so one dish that will span across all seasons in the Lar-Eo. Inspired by an Oreo, Frilu’s biscuit drops the chocolate and uses black quinoa and blueberry instead, which sandwich a creamy centre made with lardo (whipped pork fat) spiced with star anise.

We’ve advised to eat the savoury cookie like an Oreo - twist it open and lick the centre – the creamy white filling silkier and lighter than the original offering. While the quinoa cookie is an interesting idea, it’s also a bit mealy and dry. If Frilu really wants to start with something whimsical, they should take the dish one step further and serve it with a warm cup of cream consommé. It would help balance out the dry cookie and give the diner the whole experience of dunking an Oreo in a cup of “milk”.

Maybe they thought the cava paired with the Lar-Eo would be sufficient. It did help cut through the fat and added a refreshing contrast against the earthy spices, but didn’t revive a dry biscuit.

Make sure to spoon some of the sake and sherry broth that comes with the Great Lake trout dish onto the fish. The rainbow trout is cured with Prosciutto giving the fish a salty cured flavour with a smoother texture. However, by itself, the trout is rather plain and really benefits from the sake broth, which although is hard to gather in a spoon, does give the dish that extra punch of flavour.

Once again, the drink pairing was perfect. The sakura sake helped mellow the cured taste and also went surprisingly well with the thickened chicken jus in the next dish, one of my favourite of the evening.

Frilu’s take on agedashi swaps the fried tofu with one made with glutinous burdock root flour. The smooth chewy base was topped with generous amounts of uni and sat in a pool of thick roasted chicken jus. The combination of the three ingredients was heavenly. The only mediocre element being the radish slices, which while adds a contrast against the dish’s softer elements was overpoweringly strong. Perhaps if they were cut thinner or lightly blanched, the pungent raw bitter flavours wouldn’t be as pronounced. 

Another rich dish followed, a cube of venison tongue sous vide in coffee and basil for 45 minutes, rendering it tender while still having a bit of chewiness common with the cut of meat. A strongly flavoured dish with a hint of smokiness and an umami saltiness from anchovy, it’s balanced by a bold red wine that could stand up against the flavours. Seeing the shavings on top, thoughts of frozen foie gras danced in my head, but it was actually hazelnuts that were surprisingly soft and added a light nuttiness.

Frilu’s blog points to the pumpkin patch as being most symbolic of the fall season, sort of like the star dish on the menu. A small squash is roasted than some of the innards is combined with bone marrow to create a piping hot spread on warm toasted pumpkin seed bread. It’s definitely something you can smell before you even see.

The centre of the squash, containing the bone marrow spiced with nutmeg and cinnamon, was absolutely delicious on the crusty bread. However, once that meagre portion was gone and you’re left with plain roasted squash … it just tastes so … plain.

Other portions of the “patch” need more seasoning - whether it be adding salt to the squash-only portion or the bread itself. The easiest fix would be to give the diners a side of salted butter, so once you get to the non-marrow portion, there’s something else to add to the bread that’s still flavourful.

The hen of the woods really featured the ingredient in its fullest form: a thick wedge of mushroom that’s simply prepared with fermented mushroom paste and mushroom vinegar. In the end, it’s a dish for those who really like mushrooms, whether it’s the meaty middle or slightly crunchy ends.  

Sadly, the dish that sounded the tastiest was the worst of the evening. It started off well with lightly poached lobster in brown butter, warmed through but still tasting raw. But, then it was covered with beef floss (similar to the pork version that’s widely used in Chinese cuisine paired with congee or wrapped in sticky rice), which added a lumpy gritty texture to the lobster. Maybe I could have looked past the floss it there wasn’t so much horseradish added to the puree that it completely covered everything. The flavours only improved with a swig of Riesling, which did help temper the harsh horseradish.

By this point of the meal, we were two hours in and still feeling hungry. Thoughts of whether adding a katsu sandwich ($9) to the menu certainly crossed our minds. If this happens to you, just be patient.

The last savoury dish, roasted duck with rice, is probably the heartiest. An aromatic burnt onion jus is poured over sticky rice and duck at the table. The amount of jus poured was just a little uneven - mine was light (I would have loved more), while my friend’s was drowning and salty. Small slip aside, it was tasty: the duck tender, well-seasoned, and the skin lightly crisped; while the burnt onion jus going great with the sticky rice. A well selected dish to end the meal!

 “Earth apple” was the first dessert and while there were apple flavours, there’s also strong coffee elements, which worked remarkably well with the fruit. Dried sun choke slices adds a crispiness against the silky ice cream. Overall, the dessert went nicely with the madeira wine (port was also available for those who like something sweeter). 

To end, a Dora cake that kind of brings the meal full circle – another sandwich product that brings out the kid in us (although this dessert would be more widely known in Asian cultures). The buttery Castella pancakes were so good and Frilu swaps the traditional red bean paste for a creamy mascarpone. If only they left out the cubes of pear; they were too hard and really threw off the entire pastry.

In the age of seeking peace and happiness, friluftsliv is the concept of immersing ourselves with nature. For example just going out to a park for a long walk, while focusing on nature and not taking selfies along the hike. It’s supposed to provide a sense of spiritual and physical wellbeing.

It’s a great concept, but after sitting in a restaurant for almost three and a half hours, I can’t say that Frilu preaches the concept well. In speaking to the front-of-the-house manager, she explains they want to recreate an experience of connecting with people over food. While I appreciate having this time with my friends, we all agreed, the meal was much too long and needs to be trimmed by at least an hour.

Who knows, perhaps it’s just another symptom of living in the digital era where our patience decreases and we constantly want to be entertained. Sure, it’s a great experience to dive into the dishes and expertly matched alcohol pairings, but the long lags in between are hard to sit through, maybe it’d be bearable if I was dining in a forest. 

Overall mark - 7 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Thornhill, Canada
 Address: 7713 Yonge Street

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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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