Toronto’s Splendido has forever been a pantheon honouring the gods of fine dining and service, but as of 2014 the restaurant has been going through a number of changes as Chef Victor Barry took solo control of the spot earlier this year, with his Front-Of-House comrade-in-arms Carlo Catallo moving on to expand his successful County General project to Leslieville and beyond.
With an all-star team including wily veteran Jeffrey Graves, Young Blood Sommelier Ellen Jakobsmeier, and service savant Adly Gawad, Barry looks set to elevate even higher Splendido’s already enviable reputation.
We were lucky enough to grab a couple of seats at the restaurant’s recent Chef Collaboration Dinner, where Chef Barry invited a few of his best pals to cook alongside him in the kitchen for a sixteen dish culinary odyssey. Of course it didn’t hurt that the friends in question were Auberge du Pommier‘s Marc St. Jacques, Patrick Kriss, Famiglia Baldassarre’s Pasta Master Leandro Baldassarre, Campagnolo‘s Craig Harding, Nota Bene/Carbon Bar‘s David Lee, The Cheese Boutique‘s Afrim Pristine, and Nadège Nourian of her eponymous Queen West shrine to all things pastry.
I feel that my pictures below will go some way into bearing testament to the delights of that evening. It was without a doubt an extremely special gastronomic experience, and was enhanced even further by Ellen’s skilled wine accompaniments. She’s a lady with a lot of talent, that is for sure.
After dinner I sat down with Chef Barry to discuss the changes at Splendido and his hopes and aspirations for the restaurant’s evolution.
Good Food Revolution: So Victor, I’m intrigued… Why the move back to tasting menus?
Victor Barry: We’ve moved back to tasting menus because we want guests to enjoy the full dining experience that we don’t believe is currently available in Toronto. We want to provide an enhanced dining experience for our guests, rather than the traditional appetizer, main and dessert.
We offer two menu options. Our 5-course menu allows guests more control over their choices and complete awareness of what they may be eating. However, by choosing the seasonal tasting menu, guests are opting for what we define as the complete Splendido experience: 10 courses and 10 snacks served en surprise. By choosing the seasonal tasting menu, it is an opportunity to place your trust in us, and allow us to lead you “down the rabbit hole”.
GFR: Hmmm… What options will there be for Splendido diners? What about those customers who prefer a little more control over their experience?
VB: There are always a variety of dining options at Splendido. We start with Yes, and we take it from there. If you are interested in only one or two courses, absolutely, but we want to encourage guests to place their trust in our hands.
We specialize in designing custom menus for our guests. Often business guests impress their clients by ordering our 65-day aged steak, cut to size of their choice, with all the sides one could desire. Many of our guests have vast cellars, and we are always open to crafting premium menus to pair with specific bottles, or wine tasting themes.
GFR: It could be said that fine dining tasting menus like these are somewhat scarce in Toronto these days. Why do you think that is? You obviously see a demand.
VB: First of all I don’t believe there is a scarcity of tasting menus in Toronto, in fact I see a lot of them. At the level of restaurant we are aspiring to, there is a scarcity of menus of our caliber, for sure. Our guests are well-traveled, and are looking for world-class experiences. We aim to blow their expectations out of the water. The only rule for our menu is there are no rules. Creativity and performing beyond our guests’ expectation is our sole concern.
GFR: And with this incarnation of Splendido, the third you have been involved with, how would you describe the overlying philosophy?
VB: No guts no glory.
GFR: Splendido has historically been known for its exceptional level of service… and I noticed that you have recently brought local legend Adly back into the fold… I’m guessing that this was very much a conscious decision to elevate the service to yet another level?
VB: We are very excited to have Adly back at Splendido. I don’t want to say that he is bringing the restaurant back to another level, but he is fitting back into exactly where he belongs. To quote Adly “I’m not back, I’m forward”.
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And that was a dinner I won’t forget. And those wine pairings! Most impressed.