Yunnan Noodle Shack
Yunnan Noodle Shack is Toronto's first-ever solitary dining experience.
A concept made popular in Japan, it's a unique way to have a meal. While you can technically dine alone at any restaurant, this restaurant features private booth-like seats for the ultimate solo experience.
Run by duo Jane Yu and Andy Su who have been in the restaurant business for over a decade, they wanted to challenge themselves to bring something to the city that no one was offering.
"People have lost their senses to feel themselves, in a world where we're constantly on social media and spent years isolated indoors - the world has changed," explains Su.
Every detail in the space has been thought through intensely, a process that Yu jokes drove her insane sometimes. However, it was well worth the process as the experience feels like a journey from the moment you open the doors.
A clear bell opens your ears upon entry and the soft waft of incense envelops you in the entryway. The Chinese characters for "it's our first time meeting" welcome patrons on a canvas curtain over the doorway.
Inside the dining area, there are three rows of 25 seats each measuring 36 inches- a conscious decision Su made to ensure it was wide and comfortable enough for solo diners.
To not isolate people who dine together, the privacy panels smartly fold to share the space for groups.
Staying true to the existing model of solitary dining establishments around the world, orders are placed after scanning a QR code with one's phone, although there are physical menus available for anyone who require it.
Su tells blogTO he hopes the service, food, and atmosphere are all but a tool for people to explore themselves and the food while here.
"I really would like people to have a conversation with themselves. Think about the flavours they're tasting, the textures you're feeling. This moment is for you."
Thoughtful details like a phone stand, a call button for a water refill or the bill, and deep drawers to stash your bag and coat can be found at each seat.
There are also always five sets of cutlery at the table to symbolize the five elements of Wuxing. Every chopstick is engraved with the Chinese character for Fortune.
Serving food from Su's home province of Yunnan, he wanted to use this opportunity to introduce his native town of Kunming's cuisine.
Often called "Spring city" for its year-round warm temperatures, it's rich in truffles and chilis.
The menu consists of pork-bone broth soup noodles and dry noodles. With the exception of wontons and one dry noodle dish, all the noodles on the menu are rice based.
The Kun-Ming Style Traditional Noodle with Gravy ($18) comes topped with tofu, pork, and meat croutons. The noodles are a perfect texture of chewy and the croutons offer an interesting textural crunch.
Every order comes with a side of pickled vegetables. Currently, it's a sweet but sour cabbage that refreshes your palette in between bites. Dry noodles come with a side of pan-fried egg and pork bone broth. Soup-based noodles come with a tea egg sans broth.
A unique offering is the Crispy Honey Blood Cake with Meat Croutons ($17). Blood cake is a delicacy found in many cultures as a sausage, but most famously in Taiwan. The texture is similar to a tofu.
The rice noodle is bouncy and texturally somewhere between sweet potato noodles and shirataki noodles. It's important to mix well before eating because the flavours are at the bottom of the bowl.
The Beef Finger-Meat Skewers ($7) come in Chili Spice or Five Spice. The cut of meat comes from the rib and is tender and juicy.
The Finger Lickin' Crispy Potatoes ($3) is a must-order in the Chili Spice. It's a tangy spice that doesn't linger but is more of a salty spicy delight like chilli crisp.
For the curious, you can also order a whole side of Blood Cake with Ginger in Chili Oil ($5).
There's a Refreshing Cold Rice Noodle ($16) with shredded cucumber, carrots, and Chinese lettuce that's perfect for warmer days but also for anyone who is vegetarian or vegan.
The thin slices of the vegetables work well with the bouncy noodles to create a juicy bite.
The Hot and Sour Wontons ($16) was my favourite. The dough was perfectly chewy but the gradual build of the spice throughout the meal was special. I left mouth-watering but thinking about wanting more.
Su hopes to take people away from a moment in their busy days, into the warm and moody space he's worked so hard to create. "I hope people are able to refresh themselves here and then when ready, continue on with their day."
He describes the space as Yin, where it's solitary and quiet despite his carefully curated playlist of jazz. Next door, he's building a Yang- a dessert shop that will be brighter and boisterous.
Yunnan Noodle Shack is located at 43 Baldwin St., open every day 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner.