We often think of Maple Leaf Square as a place of meeting before a concert or sporting event (welcome back Toronto Blue Jays!). It’s where I would have connected with friends for what would have been an epic BTS concert last May, if it were allowed. I still have that ticket by the way! There is also a great choice of eateries beyond the commuter grab and go. The immediate area has gone through a major transformation in recent years and one could easily spiral into a blissful food coma. It’s become of one the most interesting food destinations in the city.
During pre-covid times restaurants and cafes here were always buzzing – you could hardly get a seat let alone coveted patio spot as local office tower crowds claim their spaces and others wander to local attractions. Now that the city is easing into reopening we are rediscovering and discovering what’s new. We’re thrilled to learn that Bar Le Germain right at the pulse of all the action has not only survived the roller coaster lockdown but is coming through with a creative new menu from Executive Chef Johnson Wu and his team.
Chef Wu has been in his role for over four and a half years now with Le Germain and tells us at the beginning of the year, he was given the green light to revamp the menu. Like many restaurants in the city, they had to shift to focus more on take out options to accommodate the lockdown restrictions.Wu had some very creative ideas swirling. “We wanted to do something a little more fun and different,” said Wu. He tells us the menu had always showcased Canadian continental cuisine with much loved and expected dishes. But when the owners of the restaurant tried a few of his dishes with more Taiwanese and Korean flavour profiles they suggested that he incorporate a few of them into the menu. Yes, you can still get an epic burger or the crowd pleasing Steak Frites here but it’s his ‘Wusian Fusian’ dishes that made us look twice and has given us a whole new reason to visit with, or without, an event to attend.
Expect the unexpected here. Wu tells us the dishes may sound familiar but the flavours and ingredients may surprise you.
The menu offers some mouthwatering and very filling mains but you can definitely make a meal out of the shareable snacks including the intriguing Umami Noods, Taiwanese Poutine made with braised pork belly and a meat sauce that is commonly used in the Taiwanese street food, Kimchi Fries, and 24 Hr Pork Belly.
So, what did we try? We visited twice and here’s what we’ve tried so far…
We were told the Togarashi Octopus is a customer favourite. Marinade with sweet soy and Togarashi (Japanese chili pepper seasoning that blends a variety of pepper, sesame seeds, orange rind and other ingredients). The octopus is sous vide first then quickly grilled and torched before serving warm with a fish stock mayo and Taiwanese pickles. The result is succulent pieces of Octopus that are well balanced with the marinade. This could quite easily serve as a main if you don’t plan on sharing.
The Torched Salmon is another favourite with flavours you may be familiar with but presented in a different way. The rice is marinaded with soy, sesame oil and a hint of black vinegar. There’s spicy mayo and wasabi. It’s then layered with a saucy topping with a hint of sweet and citrus that’s full of flavour — we can understand why it leaves you wanting more even though the portion is substantial for a snack.
The Tartare Cheval is made with horse – a neutral taste and not gamey at all. But what’s interesting about the meat is that it picks up the flavours of whatever it is served with. This particular dish has about 15 components and the presentation is beautiful. In this you’ll find homemade pickles, Sambal (chili sauce), soy, sugar and rice wine vinegar, Thai basil, and lemongrass. He also uses Thai curry three different ways in this dish. This includes a powder he uses that is mixed with the tartare, and little specks of seasoning on top that melts naturally into the dish giving it next level goodness. The Thai curry is also added to the crispy tapioca chip that accompanies the tartare. He’s also replaced the expected raw egg with a duck egg, Tamari and lime emulsion. The duck egg itself is sous vide until it achieves that soft poached egg texture and when it’s all mixed together it’s a happy balance of flavours and textures. “When people try beef tartare they think of the mustard, pickle, and shallots, but using horse, the flavours are pretty similar but when you try this dish I hope that you think ‘oh wow, that’s nothing like I’ve ever tasted.’ Wu tells us that this has actually been one of the top three menu items with patrons.
For those who love a good fried chicken sandwich, his chicken ‘sammiches’ should definitely be on your list to must-try if you haven’t already. The Stuffed Korean Fried Chicken Sammich is made with kimchi fried rice stuffed leg with a Gochujang glaze and topped with Taiwanese pickles, slaw and garlic mayo — it’s a juicy medium heat type of hot mess that is ridiculously good. The Torched Umami Fried Chicken Sandwich is a milder but still flavourful choice as the chicken itself is marinated with Miso and topped with Dashi Mayo and a drizzle of Unagi Sauce (Unagi is eel, and is very common if you’ve never had. Japanese grilled Unagi is absolutely delicious and one of my favourites over rice.) These dishes come with perfectly crisp housemade thin cut fries. Very filling.
The Weekend Brunch menu also brings up a few interesting takes on the unexpected. Chicken Waffle is a favourite with many but at Bar Le Germain, Wu and his team creates it with a twist. “A lot of times with Chicken & Waffles, the waffle is so big. We went with a bigger piece of chicken with bits of waffles instead. This is a play on a favourite concept with similar flavours but yet different,” said Wu. In the Torched Umami Fried Chicken & Glazed Waffle, he doesn’t use buttermilk but instead the chicken is marinated in miso, mirin, and soy. It’s also finished with a light drizzle of unagi sauce, garlic mayo and Gochujung. The waffle itself is glazed so it’s sweet like maple syrup but it’s not maple syrup. Highly addictive.
Also on the Weekend Brunch menu is the Kaya Brick Toast — think French Toast that is layered with flavours and textures. Made with a thick cut of dreamy Japanese Shokupan (milk bread) toasted and buttered on both sides and served with strawberries, ricotta, vanilla, Thai basil and a drizzle of dark, and caramelized house made Kaya (coconut jam) with Pandan. Best eaten with a steak knife.
A recent collaboration with Romeo’s Gin celebrates and compliments the creativity the menu. We tried the Romeo’s MarTEAni — an Earl Grey infused gin, with lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white. The Romeo’s Exotic features Romeo’s X Gin with watermelon, muddled cucumber, pineapple and lime juices and bitters. Both refreshing and perfect for weekend brunch…and yeah, before a game or event.
Bar Le Germain is located at Le Germain Hotel (75 Bremner Blvd)at Toronto Maple Leaf Square near the Scotiabank Arena. For more information visit germainhotels.com The restaurant is open daily from 4:00 pm to 10:00 pm, and Sundays from noon till 8:00 pm. Available for dine in, patio dining, take out and delivery.