It’s fascinating to see just how much buzz a restaurant can generate weeks – even months – before officially opening. Such is the case with Patria, a Spanish tapas-style restaurant nestled between condos right next to its sister restaurant, Weslodge, on the King West entertainment strip.
Foodies, bloggers and Toronto media whet their appetite when word leaked that hospitality moguls Hanif Harji and Charles Khabouth were behind the project, which stemmed from a three-month culinary excursion to Spain over a year ago. We got our first taste of the concept in mid-Spring when Storys (another Harji-Khabouth partnership) hosted a three-day Spanish pop-up restaurant, which all but confirmed that Toronto was ready for a diverse tapas experience highlighting the “it” foods of Spain’s diverse culinary regions.
Here we are now, mere weeks (two, at most) away from the official opening. There’s a bit of a wait for some Spanish ingredients to clear customs on their way into Canada and the final few days of an intensive two-week staff training program are about to conclude, but Harji and Khabouth sit cool and collected watching it all slowly take shape.
“It’s the whole experience, from when you walk in to the food,” says Khabouth. “It’s really non-existent in the city.” Indeed, the first thing we notice upon walking in are the giant Spanish painting draping the walls, illuminated ever so slightly by a mix of custom-designed light fixtures by Toronto’s Commute Home.
The drink menu is neatly scribed along a large sheet of paper that hangs almost from ceiling to floor, highlighted by white and red wine sangria, aperitifs and digestifs not otherwise found in North America, and even a must-try Spanish beer. Their wine list is a select offering featuring 75 per cent Spanish varietals chosen by an esteemed Sommelier and, again, exclusive to what can be found in the city.
Ultimately, though, Patria will be judged on its food, which is exactly where it truly shines. Executive Chef Stuart Cameron shows off an incredibly diverse skillset, mastering everything from intricately slicing the star-of-the-house jamon iberico to crafting authentic seafood paella. Assisted by Chef de Cuisine Claudia Gibson and a specially designed woodfire oven, Cameron has created a menu that caters to pretty much any palette or price point.
Quality is at the forefront here; local fishers are called every morning to see what’s came in, which will often result in some shifting of the daily menu. “Our menu is influenced by the quality of product,” he says. One tip: come in on Friday if shrimp is what you’re after. Tuesdays are a safe bet for squid, while Spanish octopus will be available daily.
We started our tasting with a simple pan con tomate, nothing more than house-baked bread, tomato and olive oil. This was followed up by a plate of D.O Valdeon and D.O. Monte Enebro, two very distinctive cheese varieties atop sour dough bread finished with a strip of quince jam.
On to the tapas…The Pulpo a la Gallego (Spanish octopus, potato, paprika, olive oil) certainly stood out, as did a plate of leek and Manchego croquettes complemented by a side of Caballa en Escabeche (mackerel Escabeche, smoked olive oil and pine nuts).
The highlight was certainly Patria’s Jamon Iberico de Bellota, a 36-month-old slice of heaven courtesy the acorn-fed black-hoof iberico pigs of the Mediterranean region.
We capped off our lunch at Patria by trying every dessert on the menu, resulting in a nearly impossible task of picking favourites. A fried milk and saffron ice cream with olive oil combination was the standout of Cameron’s imaginative approach to el postre, followed closely by a serving of easily the most precious almond cake we’ve experienced.
It’s safe to say Patria has brought the Spanish experience home – from cuisine and service to design and aesthetics. There’s one thing we will keep a secret, though, which is that the restaurant will be featuring a tapas-style brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays that exceeds anything currently on offer in Toronto.
Patria will be open seven days a week from 11am to 2pm.