Ricarda's is a massive Mediterranean restaurant, bakery and cafe all wrapped into one. It's at the base of the stunning QRC West at Peter and Richmond and the restaurant boasts 170 seats inside, in addition to 100 or so on the indoor patio located inside the office building's lobby.
The place is designed much like a home with seating available in the dining room, lounge or right in the kitchen.
At breakfast and at lunch hour, the grab-and-go bakery counter offers a quick alternative to a sit down meal.
Pastries, sandwiches, salads and espresso-based drinks, brewed from Smile Tiger beans, are among the offerings.
In the open and airy dining room, the deep u-shaped booths are particularly inviting. A vertical grade behind the hostess station supplies the kitchen and bar with fresh herbs and adds a pop of greenery to an otherwise muted colour scheme.
The open kitchen is a central feature and you can sit up close in an "experience booth" if you're with a party of eight. By eating here, you get a meal that follows a regional theme through a fixed number of courses (three, five or seven). A devoted chef interacts with guests and cooks at the table (kind of like Japanese omakase).
The a la carte menu from executive chef Samir Girgis offers customizable salads, pasta and flat breads along with a range of apps and hearty signature dishes. Charred halloumi ($9), duck confit and foie gras empanadas ($13) and grape leaf wrapped octopus ($14) are among the selection of small plates.
I try the octopus - the tender wine-braised tentacle is imparted with a gentle smoky flavour. Marinated chickpea salad with carrots and candied cherry tomatoes in a light citrus vinaigrette are a refreshing accompaniment, while droplets of yellow tomato puree and squid ink aioli contribute acid and creaminess, respectively.
Next up is the chicken shish ($12), featuring shish tawook-style brochettes marinated in yogurt, chilis and harissa. Set over a base of fava bean skordalia and a celeriac-cucumber slaw, it's a well balanced and well-priced plate packed with veggies and protein. It's filling, but doesn't leave me sluggish (or broke) after lunch.
A Caesar ($9.50) proves an excellent alternative to ordering a tempting full spread of charcuterie. The blend of Smirnoff and Walter's mix is garnished with a Cajun spice rim, pickled banderilla and three-bite pinxtos threaded with salami, mozzarella and cotto .
In the lamb burger ($16), a big juicy patty is nestled into a brioche bun, slathered with a warmly spiced fig jam and dressed with soft goat cheese, pickled cucumbers, peppery arugula and a charred scallion and onion relish.
Finally, an order of Toulon flat bread ($19) arrives at the table. The long focaccia-like crust is topped with duck sausage, 'nduja, potato, onion, fresh rosemary and a runny egg. Once broken, the yolk serves a dip, coating the crust in a luscious yellow sauce.
Corn panna cotta ($8), pistachio cake with orange saffron curd ($8) and a chocolate ganache torte ($8) are some of the standouts on the dessert menu.
For me, a cappuccino and cookie are the ideal way to cap off this meal and the option to have it to stay or to go just sweetens the deal.
The bakery cafe opens at 6 a.m. 364 days a year, while the kitchen keeps cooking until 2 a.m. Christmas is the only day Ricarda's plans to close.
Photos by Jesse Milns