CLOSED: Babel (Toronto)

We all know that COVID has hit restaurants badly. If you’re a newly opened restaurant or one beginning during the pandemic, it’s even worse. O&B’s latest addition, Babel, is unfortunately one of these restaurants that has been affected since operations only began in late 2019, when COVID was a mere whisper.

Their Mediterranean inspired menu relies on the 12-foot open concept hearth, where fires are ablaze and the force for cooking their dishes. It’s a shame, as from our patio vantage point, we couldn’t see it. Babel did try to make up for it by putting two blazing torches on the patio. They are beautiful, adding much needed light to the dark parking lot and an element of ambiance, but they’re more for décor as they don’t release much heat for warming.

Yet, their staff did everything they could to make us feel comfortable and welcomed. First, moving the table from the patio and onto the walkway beside the restaurant to give us more light and blocking some of the wind. The “heating lamp” was pushed as closely as possible; a second one later added until the other reservation for the night arrived. A fuel warmer, something you’d normally use under chafing dishes, was brought out to warm our hands. Pots of boiling water were substituted to the ice variety to warm us from the inside. They really tried to go above and beyond, which certainly helped as despite the frigid temperatures we stayed for two hours and didn’t want the evening to end.

With the dishes made with fire being marketed as a specialty to the restaurant, we had to try a couple. The smoked charred eggplant ($13) is a beautiful plate: the eggplant smeared into a thin layer and topped with pistachios, pomegranate, and edible flowers; drizzles of tahini and date molasses giving it tons of flavour with each bite. While more interesting than the typical dips, the delicate creamy eggplant does get covered with all the other ingredients, so if you really want the flavours of the vegetable, perhaps try the stuffed eggplant instead.

The beef tenderloin kebab ($30) arrives more done than we hoped – closer to medium well compared to the medium rareness described – but likely due to the hot metal cooking skewer being left in the kebab to help retain the heat longer. No harm done as being a tenderloin cut, the beef remained tender anyways. With the beef sitting on the pilaf, the rice becomes well seasoned with the juices soaking into the grains.

Both fire-cooked dishes were good, but so were the deep-fried falafels ($9), a green harissa mixed into the batter giving it lovely green hue and more flavour. Crispy outside and fluffy on the inside this is exactly what falafels should taste like.

They go nicely with the fattoush meets Caesar ($14), a salad that’s exactly as described: take charred romaine and drizzle it with a light Ceasar dressing and some of the ingredients typically found on the salad (parmigiano and filets of anchovies) and augment with other things found in fattoush – cucumbers, tomato, onions, and of course, crunchy pita bits. While it didn’t look overly exciting, it ended up being a decent salad.

We would have liked to see more chicken and less chickpeas in the shawarma ($17), a strange addition making the hand-held even messier to eat. After having shawarma in Dubai, I realize they are best kept simple: tons of chicken, a little bit of lettuce and pickles for crunch, and just enough garlic sauce and tahini for flavour but not to soak the bread. Babel’s probably looks better but is cumbersome to eat, especially when it’s served in a halved pita rather than in a chewy wrap. I’d also reduce the seasoning on the fries, as they were salty even for a person who likes things flavourful.

Truth be told, some of my favourite dishes of the night doesn’t even sound Mediterranean. The Babel wings ($17) was a perfect patio eat, the sole dish that arrived and stayed piping hot. We literally could see the steam being emitted from the wings as we bit into them. And the dry spice rub coating the skin was fantastic – slightly sweet but also bursting with other flavours like sumac enhanced with earthier tones.

The chef had to substitute tagliatelle in the spaghetti aglio e olio ($23), which was fine by me and perhaps worked even better to capture all the oil-based sauce. This was dish that gets cold quickly, but even warm was delicious, the pasta done nicely and just flavourful enough without being overly garlicky. The shrimp were also cooked perfectly and there was plenty of it with the pasta.

Can I have a knafeh ($10) to end? Of course! A thin layer of cheese sat on the bottom, enough to have the toasted crispy vermicelli stick to it with hazelnut and pistachio pieces sprinkled on top. There was just enough cinnamon syrup for sweetness but not to soak into the dessert. It’s one of the lighter renditions of the dish I’ve had. Normally, a small wedge of the dessert is all I can stomach; at Babel, I probably could have eaten it entirely.

Maybe it has something to do with eating outside in the cold, our bodies are burning so many calories just to keep us warm through the ordeal. At least that’s what I tell myself – dining in the cold will help work off all the fried food and carbs I just ingested (those who understand science and nutrition, don’t bother correcting me). Plus, the experience made me feel like a real Canadian. I may not ski, but I can eat in the cold. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 305 York Mills Road

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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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