Bar Reyna recently opened at 158 Cumberland Street in Toronto in a two-storey Victorian house next to Caplansky’s in the trendy Yorkville area. “Reyna” translates to “Queen”, in Spanish, but Bar Reyna doesn’t serve just Spanish food but a variety of Mediterranean snacks – including small bites and shareable plates. They also have a solid cocktail program. The restaurant is the new project of Nicki Laborie, the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of View the Vibe.
I will be straight up with you and tell you that you are not going to come here for fine dining or amazing food. Rather it is a neighborhood, casual spot where you can grab a specialty craft cocktail and have a bite of something, be it Spanish, Turkish, Greek or Middle Eastern.
It’s a convivial atmosphere, where the patrons seem to be having fun. The bright spot of this 48 seat place is the back patio – a quite lovely space for dining. They are planning to add a retractable roof so it can be used year round.
The food itself is okay, but nothing spectacular.
There are a lot of deep-fried and bread items, so even though you are coming for some light snacks, the food feels rather heavy.
The deep-fried Zucchini Fritters in a roasted tomato aioli tasted more like falafel to me. There was very little aioli, and it didn’t have enough zip. The Veggie Flower Pot was huge, better for a group of at least four people. It could be such a great dish – I have had something similar all over the world, and I found overall I really enjoy this type of dish. This one fell short for me. The crudités were either pickled, like the cauliflower and fennel (I am not a fan of this) or blanched, like the broccoli, with the remaining vegetables being cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes and heirloom carrots. The tzatziki and green olive tapenade were decent, but I found the hummus bland and not the most desirable texture.
The Seabass Ceviche fared better. I liked the use of sweet potato and mint-jalapeño sauce – it had a perfect kick to it and it was served with taro chips. However, I wish there was a little more fish in this dish. The Eggplant Byaldi Pintxos with pomegranate and pine nuts on grilled toast was garlicky but good. The fries options are a cool concept but for me did not impress. Using shoestring fries, they prepared them in a number of styles: Greek, Arabic, French, Spanish and Italian. We tried the Greek, which came with wild, green oregano, shaved feta, olive oil, lemon and a feta dip. If they could be served hot and crisp they would be great, but ours were limp and cold.
The best dish of the night for us was the falafel bowl, which came with a good homemade pita, quinoa and kale salad, hummus, hot peppers, and pickled onions and Lebanese peppers. I liked the crispness of the falafel. They were not as “classic”, as the ones you may be used to, but they were darn good. I would have liked to try the Chargrilled Octopus and the brisket and ribeye Big A’s Burger, but we couldn’t eat one more thing. They offered two desserts, a chocolate pot de crème and a deep-fried phyllo pastry. Further illustrating that the choices on a whole are not on the light side.
The staff was friendly and eager to please. They may want to rethink their tiny oval plates that get overcrowded and the cutlery keeps sliding off of them. They need to offer larger plates or change the small ones more frequently.
I think the restaurant has a cute decor, with gold accents and Moroccan lanterns in their upstairs space, plus potted plants. I forgot to mention there is also a small outdoor patio on the Cumberland Street side of the house. I am glad to see that Yorkville is getting some new, much-needed spots. You are not going to have a memorable culinary experience here, but you may still enjoy the eclectic menu and the vibe.