Toronto has long prided itself on being one of the world’s great multicultural cities. According to city stats, there are more than 140 languages and dialects spoken in Toronto, and half the city’s population was born outside of Canada. For foodies, this means lots and lots of opportunity for sampling cuisines from around the globe—without leaving the city limits.
This diversity was part of the inspiration behind The Gladstone Hotel’s new menu, which features a mix of North and Central American and Asian influences. Chef Mario Paz was also inspired by his own travels, after backpacking—and cooking—his way from Peru to Mexico, then across the ocean to Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand.
Typically, the Gladstone’s kitchen gets overlooked amid the mass of restos on Queen and King West. Rather, the hotel is better known as an event space and a place to get rowdy with a karaoke microphone (sadly, the Gladstone’s famed Karaoke Nights ended last month, after a burst pipe damaged the Melody Bar). No doubt the Gladstone hopes its foray into international fusion will boost its position on the foodie scene. I headed to the Gladstone recently for a media tasting night, to run through samples of the new menu, which quietly came into effect a few months ago.
The cocktail on offer was the Blackberry G&T, which is dangerously refreshing (and at $11.30, dangerous on the wallet as well). Beefeater24 is mixed with muddled blackberries and mint leaves, making it the kind of drink that goes down far too well on a summer afternoon.
First up were appetizers of mushroom salad rolls and the house chorizo, both of which actually sit on the Gladstone’s catering menu rather than the regular dinner menu. The rolls are filled with vermicelli noodles, spring onion, radish and truffled hoisin sauce, but it’s the mushrooms you taste above all else—but without the woodsy taste that turns so many people off fungi.
The chorizo, meanwhile, is served up on crispy polenta and topped with avocado salsa. It’s a beautiful presentation, and the chorizo is flavourful without being too spicy. There’s minimal avocado taste, though, so if the salsa is what lures you in, be prepared for it to disappear under the chorizo.
From there, it was onto the blue crab salad and saucy rib ‘nibblers, both offered as appetizers ($10 and $9, respectively) on the dinner menu. The salad is a wallop of fennel flavour (thanks to fennel-roasted tomatoes) with mild, creamy crab atop a charred romaine heart. The coconut-lime dressing was hard to taste beyond the fennel, and the dish isn’t the most exciting option on the menu, but it’s ideal if you’re after something light.
The ‘nibblers, on the other hand, are absolute perfection. Ontario lamb ribs are doused in a sweet hoisin barbecue sauce with a side of celeriac slaw. The lamb falls clear off the bone at the slightest tug, and the sauce is sweet, tangy and sticky. Lamb can be a hard meat to get right, but Chef Paz has put out a clear winner with this dish.
Next up, four mains landed at our table, offering up a world tour: the jerk, the Texas tempeh burger, pad see ew and vindaloo pork. The jerk ($13) is a lunchtime item, and features nicely spiced pulled jerk chicken in a coco bread pocket, topped with standard slaw. It’s tasty, but the real gem in this dish is the side of rice n’ pea fritters with mango chutney dip—a deliciously sweet and crunchy pairing.
Another star on the menu is the Texas tempeh burger ($16), which will appeal to both vegetarians and the hardiest of carnivores. Organic tempeh is served burger-style, with toppings of battered onion rings, wild mushrooms, sweet barbecue sauce and a heady aged cheddar that dominates your taste buds on every bite—in a good way.
The pad see ew ($13.50), which comes with wilted mustard greens and savoy cabbage, is good, but succumbs to the same fate that afflicts every Southeast Asian dish in pubs across the city: it’s nowhere near as memorable as what you’ll find in the city’s staple pad Thai haunts. The bit you will remember? The peanut-candied bird chilli garnish. Nibble it cautiously.
The final main we sampled, the vindaloo pork ($18), stars local pork tenderloin with brown butter confit grapes, new potatoes, endive and a sweeping of spicy vindaloo sauce that will hit you in your lungs if you take too big of a dip (as I did). Great curry flavour and a lean cut of pork makes this another standout on the menu.
We closed our meal with the Mexican chocolate fudge brownie ($10). This vegan dessert infuses Guagillo chilli into a dense brownie, which sits atop gooey salted caramel sauce. Not too sweet, and with only the slightest hint of chilli spice, it’s a good ending after some of the rich dishes on offer.
Admittedly, the Gladstone’s new menu isn’t really tackling any new ground, but it is a good option for an upgraded pub night. The dishes all have the unmistakable sense of comfort food (there’s a heavy Southern influence in there), but with lighter presentation and, of course, plenty of international inspiration. It’s comfortable and familiar, with a dash of multicultural flair—just like Toronto itself.
The writer was a guest of The Gladstone Hotel. The restaurant did not review or approve this article.