Tucked into side of The Hudson Bay Company at the corner of Queen Street West and Bay Street in Toronto is the home of Bannock. This space originally housed The Bay’s signature label line, which I never saw anyone shopping in. It’s nice to see the space transformed into a yummy eatery.
With a total of 4,348 square feet, Bannock is part grab-and-go café, part coffee shop, and part dine-in restaurant. The architecture reflects the menu – eclectic and approachably Canadian – featuring antique pine and hemlock reclaimed from one of the Queen’s wharfs that sat under the waters of Lake Ontario at York Street for over a hundred years. The owners Oliver and Bonacini also own the likes of ‘Canoe’ and ‘Auberge Du Pommier’ in Toronto.
Bannock’s honest approach to food is rooted in familiar, wholesome ingredients that are reflective of Canada’s rich regional and cultural diversity, delivered in an innovative and playful way. Everyday classics are revitalized as the Chefs pay homage to traditional Canadian comfort foods, putting our cultural favourite’s front and centre. Bannock breads are integrated throughout the entire menu including artisan sandwiches and pizzas. Bannock garnishes are also added to soups, salads and main courses.
I have been meaning to come to Bannock for ages. I decided to make a reservation for my best friend and I for our birthdays last week. When we arrived we were seated at a lovely banquette table for two with a great view of the restaurant.
Marcel our waiter greeted us jovially and presented us with menus. He provided us with some interesting recommendations for specials and left us to decide on our meal options.
My friend and I opted for the pickerel taco + cucumber apple salad on a steamed bun with caviar tartar as appetizer for each of us. The bun was warm, doughy and indeed very comforting. The cucumber salad had a chili punch to it. We were advised by the server that the wine we ordered would make for a nice compliment to the appetizer. The cucumber was fresh, crunchy and was a contrast to the softly steamed bun. The caviar tartar was something to marvel over. It was lush and oozed goodness throughout the taco. Happiness.
The wine we ordered was the Pinot Grigio, Argento, Mendoza for $32. It was a perfect accent to our evening. It anchored our appetizer and entrees choices. It’s a great feeling when you are sipping away at a sweet but mild white between bites. Very soothing and amplified the flavours within the meal.
For entrees my friend ordered the Seared B.C. Albacore Tuna. It came with wax beans, smashed fingerlings, roots crudités, banga cauda. The Seared B.C. Albacore Tuna was prepared beautifully on the plate. The tuna was generous and could be swallowed whole – it was that soft. It looked like Turkish delights only larger in depth and quantity. The smashed fingerlings, roots crudités, banga cauda provided the colour and the background sounds to the main meal. It was light enough that my friend felt satiated and had room enough in her belly for more wine, martinis and dessert. Isn’t that the best feeling after having a gourmet and pristinely prepared meal? Perfection.
I ordered the Ontario Venison Chuck Chili which came with great northern beans and bannock. Bannock, also known as fry bread, skaan/scone or Indian bread, is found throughout North American native cuisine. Today, bannock is a growing culinary trend across Canada with non-aboriginal people. The bannock in my meal was prepared on site at Bannock. It was lovely.
My friend and I had a conversation if the venison would make a good choice for dinner. Would it be too gamey? It wasn’t. Again, perfectly prepared and plated. The Venison Chuck Chili had a kick to it. The spring onions added a nice texture next to the chunky chili and soft northern beans. The bannock that was placed to the side was a gentle addition to be either eaten alone or to sop up the chili. The venison was robust and very filling. My friend actually helped me finish my meal. The bowl wasn’t heaping but if you do order this dish either be prepared to take some home with you or have your friend help.
After dinner we ordered two Niagara Martini’s to start us off on the right foot for our dessert journey. Additionally we ordered a warm smore’s pie and a canoe fireweed butter tart.
The Niagara Martini’s indeed were lush. We were glad to end our evening with these martini’s as oppose to starting with them. They were light enough and kept the giggles and celebratory mood through our desserts. The warm smore’s pie and a canoe fireweed butter tart were supreme. The warm smore’s pie could be enough of a trigger for choco-holic’s to land them into a Chocaholic’s Anonymous meeting. Ecstasy. The slightly toasted marshmallows infused with the chocolatey brownie. Definitely campfire worthy without the sticky mess. Civilized but also pure debauchery.
The Canoe Fireweed Butter Tart is a good choice is you slide onto the other side of the sweets scale. I personally prefer my butter tarts with raisins. This one did not come with raisins but regardless it was just as buttery as I expected. The crust was flaky but also sturdy enough to hold together the treat. Very posh and would be perfect if you were wanting something sweet and light after a heavier meal.
The service that accompanied our meal from Marcel and Jackie was genuine, warm and dedicated. It’s nice to be seated in a nice restaurant and not feel rushed and most importantly treated like a regular after one visit. Classy yet comfortable.
The Café/Coffee Shop is open for breakfast and stays open well past dinner hour. The dining room is open for lunch and dinner Monday to Saturday and is open for brunch on Sundays. Check out Bannock when you have a moment – A truly Canadian and comforting experience.
401 Bay St., Toronto, M5H 2Y4