Donna's – No 3 – Canada's Best New Restaurants 2019


October 23, 2019

We’re calling it granny chic. The owners of this brick–clad, fuchsia–trimmed local hangout named it “Donna’s” to evoke hip grandma vibes, like a bohemian lady–of–a–certain–age with retro style and serious cool factor. And they nailed it with the 1970s rec–room decor: rows of houseplants, vintage art posters, a vinyl collection and a logo straight from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. It’s all a perfect fit for the slightly shy cooking from a trio of Momofuku alums that, paradoxically, stands out for its polish and precision.

A selection of salads
Exterior view of Donna’s front window

The mix of backgrounds here – chef Peter Jensen is a Dane married to front–of–house boss and Canadian Ann Kim, and chef Jed Smith is British – might be the reason it’s hard to pin down the provenance of Donna’s dishes. A speckled stoneware plate of blushing slices of cold roast pork is topped with a buttercream–coloured stripe of shaved endive. Dressed with a light hand, they’re topped with tarragon and sprat–oil aioli and dusted with black pepper.

It’s what I imagine eating at a picnic in the Scandinavian countryside. The salad of petits pois, frisée and sugar snap peas resting on a bed of puréed peas and spiked with a bright pickled–jalapeño–juice vinaigrette, charred onions and a squeeze of lemon, could be part of a French Sunday lunch.

A smorgasbord of beans cooked with perilla, tomatoes and a touch of chili, house-cured ham, pickled mussels and greens
An assortment of images taken at restaurant Donna’s

And just like a seriously kick–ass granny, there is a rebellious undercurrent and wisdom that comes with all these homey feels. Wanting to break the brutal mould of the top–tier–restaurant lifestyle, this trio has intentionally created a workplace with a better work–life balance that’s family–friendly and promotes diversity and tolerance in the kitchen – with the hopes it will trigger a neighbourhood effect. With a framed manifesto in the window that begins “Zero tolerance for transphobia, homophobia, physical harassment…,” Donna’s is taking it to the streets. Respect to the elders.