Confession: I went into BarChef with a bad attitude, having already decided that I wouldn't like it. Touted as Toronto's answer to "cocktail culture" (whatever that is) and boasting drinks in the $20 range, neologisms like "mixologists" on BarChef's website were just the homemade maraschino cherry on the dry Manhattan of my disdain. As a no-frills drinker who sticks to beer and dive bars, I have a natural aversion to trendy hotspots. Especially when it seems like the words "trendy hotspot" might actually have been written into the business plan.
That said, my friends and I sat down to a round of cocktails off BarChef's $8 Recession Menu and one boozy, refreshing sip of my My Tie, with its perfect, harmonious blend of rum, fresh orange, homemade almond orgeat, and soda, quickly had this dour pragmatist singing the praises of barchefery (neologism mine).
Everything at BarChef is made by hand, or done the hard way; from the rows of medicinal-looking jars on the counter housing the bar's pharmacopeia of homemade bitters and syrups, to the 20 lb ice block from which chunks are hand-chipped as needed. Every good chef knows that quality ingredients are the first order of business and we had to agree that our drinks - respectively the My Tie, the Four-Seven-Two made with bourbon and homemade cola bitters, and the Elixir with vodka and homemade grapefruit bitters - were the best we'd ever had. Although we'd planned for one cheap drink each and a quick exit, we were unable to resist the temptation to have another, exciting round.
After the reasonably-priced but profoundly impressive Recession Menu, the Sweet or Sour Menus are a logical next step up. These drinks are slightly fancier and, of course, more expensive. I could've put away ten or twelve of the bananas-foster-tasting Caramelized Banana, a $12 concoction of salted butter, coconut puree, banana and spiced rum, if my wallet would've allowed it. My friend sung the praises of Van Gogh's Downfall, and assured me that the bitters, orange blossom water, lemon, cloves, and star anise were the perfect complement to absinthe's strong taste.
The fourth menu category is the Molecular Menu, Barchef's true specialty. Drinks on this menu range in price from $20 to $45 and are mixologized (I think I've really got the hang of this) with the focus on experimentation and presentation that are characteristic of molecular gastronomy - the scientific study of chemical processes that occur in cooking (i.e. What would happen if we blowtorched this egg white?).
Our knowledgeable waitress won us over to it by bringing us a round of Mojito Raviolis to sample; a blend of mint, lime, sugar and rum contained in a tiny gelationous bubble that burst delightfully in our mouths with a pop. A Freestyle off the Molecular Menu was the next drink to visit our table, but I found the spicy Sidecar-inspired seafoam, dense egg-white topping, and decorative plate of burning hickory chips to be overwhelming and even a bit silly. We asked the waitress to take the hickory chips away while fanning the smoke out of our faces.
Turning our pockets out to pay the bill, we had to admit that the drinks were beyond good and the experience was fun, even if the atmosphere was a bit overstyled for our tastes. The room is long and dark, with tall tables and high chairs in the back and a lounge area in the front. The bar boasts live DJs on Friday and Saturday night, which I'm told get busy, and the rest of the time it's whatever's on the iPod - an unexpected mix of R&B, classic rock remixes and hits through the ages.
There is a small menu of reasonably-priced snacks, from edamame and fries to oysters. Expect to keep company with older drinkers with a taste for the finer things, the style-and-status-conscious King West set, and loyal followers of the bar's co-owner and award-winning mixologist, Frankie Solarik.
Writing by Jessica McGann
- Beers on Tap:
- Signature Drink:
- Anything made with a blow torch
- Bar Snacks:
- R&B, classic rock remixes
- Live Music:
- Who Goes There:
- The style-and-status-conscious King West set, and loyal followers of the bar's co-owner and award-winning mixologist, Frankie Solarik
- Tuesday to Sundays from 5:30pm to late