Showing posts with label albacore tuna. Show all posts
Showing posts with label albacore tuna. Show all posts

So what exactly is Ocean Wise?



The Ocean Wise seafood program started in Vancouver when a restaurateur approached a member of the education team at the Vancouver Aquarium to ask how they could ensure they were serving sustainable seafood. Good question, they thought. It’s definitely not something where information is readily available for companies, let alone consumers. With that, they developed the Ocean Wise seafood program to assess sustainable options, connect suppliers and restaurants, and allow restaurants to promote these options to diners.

As a foodie, I knew about their sustainability program. For years, I’ve seen their logo grace menus and tried to order those options to ensure my meal has less impact on the Earth. So, when they reached out to ask if I wanted to attend their first complimentary walking tour for the public, I didn’t realize I’d learn anything new about the organization.

The first being that they are so much more than the little logo that’s found on menus. Rather, they are based out of the Vancouver Aquarium and are Canada’s national sustainable seafood program, with the vision to ensure the world’s oceans are healthy and flourishing.

The Ocean Wise Seafood program is part of the Ocean Wise Conservation Association (OWCA) which focuses on: researching about the oceans to arm everyone with knowledge, educating others about what it takes to be sustainable, running the Great Canadian Shoreline which supports volunteer led clean-up projects and limiting the use of plastics, and actually saving marine life through the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. For consumers, the Seafood Program helps diners make better choices when it comes to eating habits.

Secondly, I learnt they’re not a certification, but are rather a recommendation body that assesses fisheries and then acts as a middle person between fisheries and restaurants. For example, if you’re a chef who really wants to serve a seared tuna appetizer. They determine if there’s a sustainable tuna option and then recommends options as to where the company can purchase from.

Over 700 partners in Canada participate in the program, covering thousands of locations, and it continues to grow as establishments really want to do the right thing. Overfishing is a big issue and as the world’s population grows and more people eat seafood there’s a risk that these populations will become extinct. Already, about 90% of the world’s fish options are considered fully fished or overfished. As consumers, we need to start eating from underutilized species to ensure other generations can actually enjoy seafood in the future.

I’m a big fan of sushi and have heard about the rarity of tuna. Therefore, when Palm Lane, the first stop of the walking tour, served tuna, I was a bit intrigued. In reality, it’s the blue fin tuna that’s reaching dangerously low populations, while the Albacore tuna, especially when line caught (essentially fished one-by-one rather than using a net method that can scoop up a lot of other marine life), is a sustainable option.

Palm Lane already prides itself by having a large portion of their menu plant-based - the only protein they do serve is Albacore tuna. It’s used in the Osaka salad ($14.25; sample size shown below), which is essentially a deconstructed sushi roll. A bed of nappa cabbage and romaine is topped with a host of vegetables you’d normally find in Japanese cuisine (edamame, nori, pickled vegetables, avocado) and heartier ingredients (sushi rice, sweet potato tempura, and delicious fluffy fried tofu).  Crowning everything are slices of delicately seared tuna that’s simply seasoned and goes so well with yuzu wasabi dressing.  It’s seriously delicious.


Ocean Wise recommends sustainable species based on four criteria:
  • Is it a healthy and resilient species?
  • Is there an effective and adaptive management plan?
  • Lastly, is it harvested in a manner that limits damage to the surrounding environment?
Assessments are written to the Seafood Watch standard. The assessment will ultimately classify the species into two categories: Ocean Wise or Not Recommended. Species are regularly reclassified as new information is known and fisheries are re-assessed at least every 5 years to ensure their harvesting methods are still in line with the recommended practices.

Kasa Moto, being a Japanese restaurant, serves a lot of seafood. Therefore, they were a great stop to showcase how many dishes could be considered Ocean Wise! We started with the scallop ceviche ($18; sample portion shown below) that takes a meaty Hokkaido scallop and soaks it in a sweet, tangy, and slightly spicy passion fruit and sea buckthorn marinade. Cucumber and grapefruit slices add a bit of textual and flavour contrast against the delicate scallop without taking away its natural flavours.


From New Zealand, we’re served a vibrantly red Ora King salmon. These are farmed in an enclosed bay to ensure that they don’t affect other wild life and in an area where the salmon has adequate space to swim around. Ocean Wise explains that they don’t necessarily think that only wild options are the best. In order to be sustainable, we’ll need to raise some of the seafood we eat… unfortunately, Mother Nature won’t naturally create enough marine life to support the world.

Where farming becomes dangerous is when they overcrowd the fish and add antibiotics and other chemicals into the water to ensure the fish resist diseases in the close quarters. Therefore, Ocean Wise only recommends farms that meet their criteria for sustainable aquaculture practices.

The pressed Ora King salmon sushi ($19) is prepared aburi style so the already fatty fish is topped with garlic aioli and blow torched quickly, melding all the fasts together so it starts seeping into the rice. Indeed, it makes for a rich and decadent bite as all the flavours melt onto your tongue leaving a sweet smokiness.


I’m also delighted to hear one of my favourite dishes, miso black cod ($45; sample portion shown below) is also part of the Ocean Wise Life program. This fish arrives closer to home, coming from the west coast of British Columbia. The sablefish (another name for black cod) is oven baked until flakey and paired with grated ginger and carrot, a spear of pickled asparagus, and vinaigrette to give it a refreshing finish. 


Having eaten at Kasa Moto when it first opened, I love their revamped menu. It leans more towards traditional dishes where the seafood is left relatively neutral so its natural flavours are more pronounced.

Example of the Ocean Wise symbol on Kasa Moto's menu
So, what information do we need to make sure something is sustainable? If the Ocean Wise symbol isn’t available (say you’re at a grocery store), you need three pieces of information: (1) what species the marine life is, (2) where it’s from, and (3) how it’s harvested. Then, you can go to their website and enter the information where you’ll get the same yes or no recommendation.

For our last stop, Mercatto created an Albacore tuna dish especially for the tour. The fish is one that’s used at their various Toronto restaurants, customized to local tastes. For our visit, they paired the seared tuna with a creamy fregola augmented with Ontario asparagus shavings. It’s not part of current menu, but I highly suggest serving it as a special.


It’s at Mercatto where Chef Doug Neigel really gets to the crux of why they are part of Ocean Wise. Yes, of course, they want to do what’s right and be sustainable… but, it’s also something that clients want. Like any business, restaurants are catering to their customers’ tastes. So, if you really want to see Ocean Wise recommendations on a menu, as a customer you should suggest it. In fact, this desire is what caused Mercatto to source a sustainable calamari option for all their locations.

I’m glad more restaurants and consumers are starting to think about sustainability. Hopefully, it’s not too late to turn it around for the impacts that we have already made. With that said, it’s just the start and there’s still so much to be done. I hope customers will quickly demand that the industry begins thinking about animal welfare as well. Sure, something is sustainable, but are we also harvesting marine life in a way that’s humane?

It’s a good start that we’re not overfishing Albacore tuna, but if they are taken out of the ocean and put into small packed cold holding tanks or worse yet, removed from water so they end up suffocating for hours until they actually die, is there a better way of getting that fish to plate? I’m hopeful that we’ll soon get there.

To end this on a positive note, a special thanks to zoologist Kristen Rodrigo (who was also part of the tour), for sharing a quote that should be an inspiration for everyone. It comes from Anne Marie Bonneau, a zero waste chef, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

By no means are we perfect, but let’s do what we can. For a start, let’s go out and look for the Ocean Wise symbol below when we’re ordering from restaurants or buying seafood at stores. Then, let’s graduate for politely asking for it at places where we’re regular customers. If millions of people enact small changes, it may be all we need to make changes big enough to save the Oceans.


Disclaimer: The above food samples were from a complimentary walking tour run by Ocean Wise Life.  Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


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Laissez Faire (Toronto)


You do you … the modern day equivalent to living a laissez faire lifestyle. It’s a romantic thought, being able to live as you please, be as you please - and at the new Laissez Faire – eat as you please. Their menu strays from their French name and also offers Italian dishes for good measure.

It’s not always done well, the porcini truffle arancini ($13) are the worst I’ve ever had: the risotto so dry that the ball starts to crumble and the mixture bland so everything relies heavily on the marinara (thankfully, fresh and delicious). As a plus, since it is deep fried rice, even being the worst it’s still edible, but certainly not one you’d want to serve a true Italian.


The squid ink tagliatelli ($21) is 100% better. Dark ribbons of pasta encompasses a seafood flavour but not in a fishy way. It’s covered in a sauce that’s not overly thick but salty enough to really give it a briny sea essence. Plump sweet clams and crunchy bread crumb provide a nice contrast to the pasta, while there’s just enough dill fronds to add a hint of freshness without morphing the dish’s earthiness.


Safer sharing plates are some of the cold seafood options. While we weren’t advised what the oysters were that evening (only that they were from PEI), the dozen ($32) tasted clean and fresh, accompanied with the traditional vinegary onion mignonette and grated horseradish. 


Meanwhile, the albacore tuna ($17) has a real nuttiness from the black and white sesame crust. It’s slowly seared so the seeds are just lightly toasted and the tuna wrapped in a thin cooked ring and warmed through. Really swipe the fish around the plate to get all the herby aioli on the plate.

For something incredible, you have to be willing to dive all-in … calories and cholesterol be damn! Just bite into the pork belly ($17) and enjoy the crispy skin that’s the perfect ratio of fat for flavours and skin for chewiness. A thin sherry gastrique and bits of pomegranate add a slight sweetness against the otherwise savoury dish. It’s so good that a table of four may want to double the order so you can each have another piece.


The duck confit ($21) was another strong dish with the traditional crunchy skin encapsulating soft rich meat. Pairing the fowl with salad was a great idea to keep it lighter and allows a diner to still enjoy some starters.


Aside from the food, two things really stuck out for me. Firstly, the odd portion sizes at Laissez Faire. While the small and large plates weren’t overly big, the sides like roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnips ($14) were massive. Who knows, maybe it’s their way of making diners eat their vegetables. Yet, there’s so much bacon incorporated into the dish that vegetables seem secondary. Moreover, the sauce is way too sweet and the pickled mustard seeds, while a great idea, needs to be applied with a lighter touch. Maybe it’s me, but I want my vegetables to actually taste like vegetables.


Portion sizes were wonky in the dessert department as well. The apple tarte tatin ($11) is barely sharable compared to the brioche panna cotta ($14), which actually resembles a regular-sized dessert.

Nevertheless, both are decent – the apple tatin served as a deconstructed version consisting of well-poached apples with a thinned caramel sauce on top of a piece of really buttery pastry. The flavours are bang on, just the form was a bit disappointing as I was actually hoping for the traditional tarte format. The panna cotta has the requisite creamy texture with a strong vanilla flavour. I could have done without the bits of crunchy brioche crumbles, which takes away from that lovely silky texture; yet, I can see some liking the contrasting texture and hint of saltiness it adds to the dessert.


The second thing that stuck with me, albeit I didn’t realize until I was writing the blog post, was how wildly inaccurate the prices charged for the desserts were from the published amounts. On the menu, it’s listed as $9 for the apple tarte tatin and $11 for the panna cotta, while what’s actually charged is $11 and $14, respectively. Perhaps a $1 difference is reasonable when there’s a last minute change, but to add $3 to each dish is terribly inconsistent. Sadly, the caliber and size of the desserts definitely aren’t worth the augmented price.

Maybe it all comes back to the laissez faire attitude – who cares if prices are incorrectly charged, the Italian dishes aren’t necessarily the strongest, or the sides are the same size as mains? Just go with it and pop another bottle of bubbly to forget about the situation – oddly, we did end up getting a BOGO 50% off deal for the Prosecco without realizing it. After all, it all works out in the end… just chill out.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 589 King Street West

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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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Maki My Way (Toronto)


Started in 2015, Maki My Way currently operates two locations in downtown Toronto in the Theatre and Financial districts. Amongst the busy theatre row restaurants, this establishment is definitely more low-key and their quick-service concept is ideal for those who want a fast affordable meal.

If you couldn’t tell by their name, Maki My Way creates customizable rolls where customers choose not only the ingredients inside the maki but also the sauces, garnishes, and wrapper as well. Starting at $8.50 for a set number of choices (one protein, two vegetables, two garnishes, and two sauces), additional items above the standard are about $0.50 apiece.

We created a light summer roll made with Cajun albacore tuna (additional $1.50), asparagus, avocado, tempura bits, and masago all wrapped in a soya sheet that’s a lighter alternative to seaweed. Rob, founder of Maki My Way, finds the soya wrapper also absorbs the other ingredient’s flavours more. The crunch of the asparagus was essential against the otherwise softer ingredients and I was pleased with our creation, the highlight of the meal.


Despite not waiting long, the kitchen brought over an order of edamame ($2.50) to tide us over. They were nice and hot covered in enough salt for flavour, without leaving me thirsty.


Personally, I found these were a better way to start than the chicken karage ($5.50); if white meat is used, it needs to be marinated as the chicken was a little tough and dry. Luckily, there was a liberal dousing of mayonnaise based sauce on top that helped rehydrate the appetizer.


For $9.50 there was a hefty portion of springy yakisoba noodles tossed in a sweet teriyaki glaze and an equally sizeable pork katsu on top. Although well flavoured, similar to the karage, the katsu was overdone so the pork bordering dry and chewy. Personally, I think the noodles would have been better with slivers of meat instead, since the stir fried noodles itself were very good with all the vegetables (asparagus, broccoli, red peppers, and carrots).


The environmentalist side of me was a little disappointed to see disposable containers being used even for dine-in customers. Understandably, it helps simplify operations but with the amount of people visiting even during our lunch meal, the throw-away containers do a great disservice to Earth.

Cutting down on waste is key, as this fall, Maki My Way may be expanding after Rob visits  Dragon’s Den to pitch a franchise deal. He noted he’s taking the next step as customers who visit their King locations often ask when they can order customized maki closer to home. For picky eaters or those with food aversions, being able to choose what to add to a roll is a great idea. Good luck facing the dragons in the den.  

Overall mark - 7 out of 10
Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will always provide an honest opinion.


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 293 King Street West

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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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Maki My Way Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

La Banane (Toronto)


Most restaurants tend to feature an in-your-face bar: at Lavelle, theirs gleams and at Lena it takes up half a floor. La Banane replaces theirs statement bar with a cold seafood station instead – oysters, shrimp, and crab are displayed prominently and as enticingly as any bottle of alcohol.

In the end, it’s the Alaskan king crab ($52) we settled on, which takes a bit of work, but the crab’s salty tang is a succulent treat. In terms of condiments, the tried and true cocktail sauce was good, but the thick helping of crème fraiche needed an extra boost of herbs to stand up to the crab.


Covered with a thick paste of dill, brown butter, and caper tapenade, the topping on the albacore tuna ($16) was tasty but the thick layer excessive against the ratio of fish. After scraping some off, the briny bite goes wonderfully with the delicate fish, the rest I used to dip pieces of complimentary pretzel bread into.


Having seen pictures of their Eurobass en croute ($32), an entire fish wrapped in a salt pastry, it’s a dish I wouldn’t miss. First presented fully intact, the fish is then whisked back to the kitchen to have the top layer of pastry and skin removed before being re-presented with an ample boat of tangy yuzu beurre blanc.


Wow, can you taste the salt that permeates all the meat. Really, you don’t even need the citrusy butter sauce, although it was delicious. If only there weren’t strange orbs of zucchini dotting the fish.  Personally, I’d imagine using zucchini ribbons to replace the lattice of pastry would look and taste better.


At La Banane, seafood dominates the menu. To balance out the sea, we opted for the duck breast ($28), a protein that the French does so well. Hence, when I cut through what looked like well rendered skin to find it soggy and chewy, the dish took a dive. Another taste with the bitter grilled endive didn’t improve my perception.  


I’d stick with the flatiron steak ($25), the beef wonderfully tender and the soubise sauce incorporating an unexpected kick of grainy mustard that compliments the rich beef beautifully. The bar of pommes Anna (think scalloped potatoes but using ultra-thin slices of potatoes and butter in lieu of cream) was perhaps the best part of the meal. Why isn’t this a side that you can get more of?!


Rather, everyone seemed to get a pot of their pommes aligot ($12), the mashed potatoes incorporating so much mozzarella that its stringiness was taller than a supermodel’s legs. Think you can simply lift your spoon higher to get the cheesy potatoes out of the dish? Good luck.


Indeed, the molten fondue nature of the aligot is impressive, but you really have to love cheese. Aside from the gooey mozzarella, there’s something stronger (gruyère and emmental perhaps), just a few spoons and I had to tap out.  

We couldn’t bring ourselves to shell out the $50 to try to Ziggy Stardust disco egg. As a person who generally doesn’t like chocolate, after seeing the chocolate egg filled with truffles being presented at a neighbouring table, I’m glad we opted for the gateau à la banane ($12) instead. In spite of the cake looking like something a child makes in an Easy Bake oven, the flavours are spot on (a wonderful vanilla base with a creamy banana finish) and the slightly caramelized crust along the outside was fantastic.


For an almost healthy dessert, La Banane offers a roasted ananas ($10), the pineapple encapsulated in a lovely sugary crust that turns the fruit into dessert. It really didn’t go with the tofu pudding, but I rather enjoyed the beany hit from the tofu, which could have been a touch sweeter.


For the most part, La Banane’s food is good and the atmosphere is glitzy while still welcoming and comfortable. It’s their service that needs fine tuning. By no means are they unfriendly or inattentive, if anything, it might be too attentive.

Working in pairs, rather than a person per section, it seems like everything gets repeated – being asked if I wanted water when there’s already a glass in front of me or wondering if I needed a drink while waiting for dining companions. Moreover, I understand the importance of ensuring people are happy with their food, but when a group’s deep in conversation and dishes are relatively clear, I’d rather not have someone interrupt at each course. If anything, a touch point in between the appetizer and main course and at the end of the meal would be sufficient.

Perhaps I’m being nit-picky. After all, I’d rather enter a French restaurant without the Parisian snobbery. As for the overall experience, La Banane’s seafood is fresh and their sauces très délicieux, but all these best new restaurant accolades? I don’t get it. For me, they’re like a banana: dependable, but common.

Overall mark - 7.5 out of 10


How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 227 Ossington Avenue

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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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La Banane Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato


CLOSED: The Grove (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 1214 Dundas Street West
Type of Meal: Dinner



Articles about the Grove proclaim it as modern British cuisine with a fine dining flair; but, I didn’t get that impression. It’s multi-course a la carte menu allows you to choose three ($40), five ($50) or seven ($60) courses from a selection of eight savoury and three dessert dishes.  To me, the dishes didn’t seem very “British” but rather what you’d find in any continental or wine bar type restaurant.  Perhaps Britain and Toronto are just converging along the same dining styles; nonetheless, I was a bit taken back by the customary sounding options.

After ordering, the Grove started us off with two amuse bouche of deviled eggs with blood pudding crisps and whole radishes with a lemon aioli type dip.  The deviled eggs were enjoyable with a hint of heat and mustard, while the blood sausage crisp added a nice contrast against the smooth egg yolk. 




Maybe it was done intentionally, but there were stark differences between the amounts of seasoning used on the seafood vs. grains.  The seafood was under seasoned while the tagliatelle (with the spot prawn) and the rye berries (with the Guinea fowl) were overly salty.  Only the meats were seasoned to a suitable level.  Conceivably, this phenomenon could arise if chefs have their own station, but, you would hope the executive chef and platers would taste the foods and realize the different seasoning levels.


The Albacore tuna was fresh and had a nice simple summer taste with the shaved fennel, slices of radish and splash of lemon.  However, since all these ingredients are relatively tame, there was nothing exciting to the dish.  If the tuna had just been crusted with spices or topped with a light sauce it would have helped.  Possibly, even the basil emulsion accompanying the guinea fowl would have worked well with this dish.
Similarly, the Lingcod was cooked to a flakey buttery texture but was bland despite the foam topping it.  Couldn’t the foam have been flavoured and salted to improve the cod’s flavour?  I enjoyed the fiddleheads accompanying the dish; it was my first time trying them and found they have an interesting taste resembling asparagus and broccoli. 


In the end, I guess it’s all a matter of preference. I found the fish under seasoned but my friend liked that she was able to taste the delicate natural flavours of the seafood itself.


The spot prawn was the better seafood dish, in my opinion.  The prawn was just barely cooked through so the meat retained a sashimi texture despite being warm.  The prawn was left unseasoned so that its sweetness shone through, but at least it was served with buttery uni and a very salty tagliatelle (this could have been toned down).  The pasta was made for bacon lovers given its equal noodle to bacon ratio.




The Grove’s meat dishes were the highlights. The Guinea fowl was cooked perfectly with crispy rendered skin and juicy tender meat.  A lovely basil sauce was included which brought back a lighter summery feel to the dish.  My only complaint was the excessively salted rye berry risotto. 
Hands down the best dish of the night, agreed upon by my dining companions, was the onglet (aka hanger steak).  The meat, despite being a thicker cut, was cooked to a wonderful medium rare and extremely tender.  A lovely essence permeated the entire dish through the use of fermented garlic.  The addition of the bone marrow vinaigrette was brilliant at contrasting against the richness of the heavy meat.


Throughout the mains they also brought out complimentary side dishes including fried chips and buttery brioche.  The fried chips were the first British taste I had that night. Various sized chunks of home fries arrived piping hot, crispy and sprinkled with sea salt.  The curry ketchup also paid homage to the growing popularity of Indian food in Britain.


The loaf of brioche was a hit at our table.  Hats off to the chef who made it rise to new heights to become light as air in the middle and so buttery that it melts in your mouth.  The sea salt topping the bread was great so that the pat of whipped butter accompanying wasn’t even required.
Alas, the famed Eton’s Mess wasn’t available on their summer menu.  So, for dessert I opted for the creamy goat cheese topped with a paper thin crustini, rhubarb compote and a thick delicious piece of honey comb.  The Grove had me with the honeycomb, what could be more perfect with creamy cheeses?
The Grove has an interesting combination of hominess and elegance.  The dining room is unfussy with wooden tables, mismatched chairs and exposed brick, dishes are served on mismatched plates and the staff are cheerful and friendly. To simplify things they offer on one type of water – ice from the tap.  However, even with this casualness they still change cutlery with every dish and refold the linen napkins when you step away; reminding you that you’re not in a regular pub.
As a warning, prepare to give yourself time for the meal; we were surprised to find that we ended up being there for three hours!  But, sometimes that’s nice when you just want time to talk and catch-up without rushing through the meal.
So many critics hail the Grove as inventive and one of their top new restaurants of 2012.  Sure, the dishes were good but I didn’t find them that imaginative or outstanding.  In the end, the Grove to me is sadly like an over hyped movie – you like it however can’t help but feel let down when you can’t understand what the mania is all about. 
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!