I was so excited to finally try Bar Raval and I was not disappointed. We enjoyed top notch tapas and pintxos and felt like we were transported to Barcelona or San Sebastián. This trendy Spanish haunt with inspiration from Basque Country, is located at the corner of College and Palmerston at 505 College Street, in the former home of Teatro. It’s the sister spot of Bar Isabel (another hugely popular restaurant in Toronto). Run by Grant Van Gameten along with Mike Webster and Robin Goodfellow, they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner 7 days a week. This is no easy feat when you see how packed this place is. We thought we would come extra early on a Sunday night and we were lucky to squeeze two standing room only spots at the bar. We were served by a lovely female staff member and Mike Webster himself.
The room is pretty spectacular with curved Gaudi-inspired custom mahogany panels. People were also seated outside on the sidewalk or on the patio in a tented area. Both were on the cool side temperature-wise, but it didn’t deter people from sitting there. You kind of feel privileged to grab a seat or a standing room only spot. There has been a fever pitch buzz since they opened in February 2015.
The small, intimate space can hold about 40 persons. It is tight, crowded and fun. They cleverly have lots of hooks below the counters to hang a handbag or a coat. You eat with your hands or toothpicks, you drink and talk to your neighbours. The dishes are small so you can try a lot of things, and the menu is weighted heavily on seafood. We tried a lot of delicious dishes including the canned scallops, the razor clams in a verde salsa, some serrano ham with manchego cheese on homemade bread, and a great dish on bread with bacon, sausage, peppers and a quail egg. Another wonderful dish was the mushroom tower topped with a shrimp. The octopus was good, but a tad salty. Things were fresh, flavourful and well seasoned. The menu is divided into cured meats, cheeses, hams, tinned seafood, and top quality seafood such as cockles, clams, squid, shrimp, scallops, anchovies, mussels, and razor clams, plus little sandwiches, peppers, fried foods and grilled foods. There are more than 50 small dishes. Knowing some of my friends who are picky eaters or diet restricted – this place is not for you. They did say they can accommodate vegetarians and vegans though. You can eat reasonably priced here or it can become more expensive depending on what you order.
The bar is unique, really one-of-a-kind – unlike anything else I have seen in Toronto. They served everything from sherries, sparkling wine, wines and fabulous mixed drinks. People were eating and drinking with abandon, me included.
There was one choice for dessert, the Catalan cheesecake. It was quite good although I do prefer the cake at Bar Isabel. I want to go back and try many other dishes. I also want to try breakfast when they serve homemade donuts and other baked goods.
We were one of the few without tattoos or piercings and the oldest in the room but we were made to feel comfortable, and the staff couldn’t have been more helpful, friendly and patient with us.
The next day I had to return to try some breakfast and lunch items. Pastries and sandwiches were displayed on the bar. Everything looked great and I took home a box for sampling. One item that didn’t make it home, but was devoured in my car was the dulce de leche donut with candied, crispy jambon, and it was unbelievable!
So sip, taste and laugh the day or night away. I think Toronto needs more unique places like Bar Raval!