hazel restaurant toronto

Restaurant that was supposed to open before lockdowns hit finally becoming a reality

A hot new restaurant from one of Toronto's top chefs is finally on the road to opening after a two-year delay due to lockdowns.

Hazel is a modern French-Asian concept by Romain Avril (Neruda, Lavelle, Goldie). He had found a space for it right before lockdowns hit and destroyed his plans, having left Neruda in March 2019.

"I wanted to get back into a cuisine that was more personal to me and open my own shop," Avril tells blogTO. "We had found a space at Queen and Bathurst and were ready to get going."

During lockdowns, Avril hustled doing private dinners, catering, consulting, teaching cooking classes, getting into YouTube and TikTok, and working on his first cookbook co-written with pastry chef Richelle Tablang set to be released this year.

"I have always wanted to open my very own restaurant, I just knew the timing had to be right," says Avril.

"I also want my mentality and my approach to what hospitality should be and how chefs should behave versus the old school mentality. Offering opportunities to everyone based solely on talent as well as offering a safe place for people to work and create in, similar to what Chris Locke has done for a while now at Marben."

Before Avril can get back to creating his vision of Hazel as a full-blown restaurant, he'll be test driving it with a series of pop-ups at host restaurants as well as private dinners at places in Toronto and Ottawa.

The pop-ups should be four- or six-course tasting menus that emphasize seasonal, local ingredients, using refined techniques to make them shine rather than "smothering" them in truffle and caviar as Avril puts it.

"Although these could be added sporadically," he adds. Currently he prefers, "Working with local suppliers and representing the terroir of Ontario and Canada while adding my French touch and true love for Asian flavours."

He's hoping to open a brick and mortar for Hazel in Yorkville or a neighbourhood in the west of Toronto, but will go wherever the journey takes him.

"I also don't want to limit this entirely to one city, or one country, if an opportunity presents itself and I cannot find the investments in Toronto," says Avril. "But I don't want to think of this scenario."

When the physical restaurant becomes reality, he's hoping to create a modern yet laid back vibe, and to offer a tasting menu, a la carte menu, bar snack menu, cocktail program, vegan options and even a full vegan version of a tasting menu.

Pop-ups should be starting mid-2022.

Lead photo by

Jesse Milns

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