Toronto | 505 College St. | thisisbarraval.com
According to Grant van Gameren, tables and chairs are so two years ago. After topping this list in 2013 with Bar Isabel, the Spanish-influenced charcuterie Jedi went on another Iberian vacation. He returned home convinced that seafood preserved in tins tastes amazing, that bar snacks are more fun stacked atop bread and skewered with a toothpick, and that both are ideally consumed standing up at a bar, cheek by jowl with strangers.
While we wait for the house-smoked mackerel – briny chunks carefully fitted into a tin like suitcases in a car trunk – I can’t resist running my hand over the mahogany bar and gawking at the walls, a sinewy tangle of nuevo art nouveau. Barman Mike Webster pops a plastic gadget in the top of a bottle of Basque-country Bere cider and shows us how to pour it from on high into a tumbler, aerating the drink a mouthful at a time.
A new rush of hungry bodies surfs us over to a wine barrel in the middle of the space. Tapas and pintxos (stuff on a plate vs. stuff on bread) find us anyway: fat cubes of tangy Manchego, a creamy-saline shrimp bisque slathered atop a baguette round, and a plate of acorn-fed jamón. The sweetbread bocadillos are tiny sandwiches smeared with yellow mustard, and I find myself fighting my friends for the last morsels.
The staff, a living gallery of forearm tattoos and nose piercings, carries all the delicious things – many of them topped with adorable fried quail eggs – through the crowd with ease. We call out for more rosé cava, more fino sherry, more vermouth on the rocks. And more Basque cheesecake, to really call it a night.
Design of the year:
Raising el Bar
The natural curves of Spain’s century-old art nouveau movement got an update from modern technology when chef/owner Grant van Gameren commissioned local design firm Partisans to create Toronto’s atmospheric Bar Raval.