I’m more of an eater than a drinker. However, my greatest ever cocktail experience was at Barmini by Jose Andre’s, which was an Avant Garde cocktail lab with your own personal bartender/concierge. I was certainly impressed with the drinks, glassware, food and service. Nowhere has ever come close to this experience other than maybe Alinea’s The Aviary in NYC. Toronto has never had anything like this experience, but I’ve been hearing for years about Bar Chef at 472 Queen West. I’m embarrassed to say I finally made it in!
It is dark, small, lounge, with chandeliers, exposed brick walls, table top candles and a wall of apothecary bottles filled with bitters, tinctures etc. There is a mammoth collection of bottles on display behind the bar. A HUGE whiskey selection with bottles from Ireland, Scotland, Japan, India, Sweden and so on. Every top shelf liquor and spirit are on display. Absinthe, Scotch, Gins, Rum, Tequila, Cognac, Beers, Mezcal and Vodka. You name it, they try to stock it. They really shine when it comes to cocktails. They incorporate mists, foams, gels, edible flowers, smoke, elixirs, infusions, syrups and spices. All handcrafted into wonderful creations. Their overture section incorporates fresh herbs, bitters, and syrups for complexity and strength. They run from $17-$20. Their parfumerie series is contemporary in style, booze heavy with complex and composed to savour. They are also in the same price range. The splurge series is called Modernist and takes on more of a culinary approach to the craft, incorporating aromatics, and ingredients which create an immersive and sensory experience. These drinks are like art, and these cocktails are prepared in the kitchen and not by the bartenders. They run from $31-55. I’m not a big drinker so I splurged on this section because I was only having one drink. Was it worth the price tag? For me, yes. I tried my husband’s Spring Thaw, made with sparkling wine, gin, chamomile, grapefruit and orange blossom air, edible flower petals, basil, Campari and vanilla spherical granita. I didn’t know whether to eat it, drink it or admire it. It was almost too pretty to savour. I tried the strawberry and basil spritz, made with sparkling rosé, rose infused Aperol, toasted chamomile and saffron bitters, mint, cryo poached wafer, strawberry cream, and Aperol granita, basil granita and grapefruit granita. It was like being presented with a beautiful flower arrangement and drinking down the happiness of a summer day.
We enjoyed these creations with some small plates that paired beautifully with our cocktails. We dined on a charcuterie and cheese plate with orange blossom honey and seasonal fruit preserves. We tried the seared scallop ceviche with avocado cream, passion fruit and mezcal gel and a black rice cracker. The edamame hummus had a nice kick to it, and the Mexican slow cooked beef brisket and chuck on homemade tortillas were delish. In all there were 9 tightly edited snacks to choose from. The warm and friendly servers could tell you what every ingredient and component in our drinks as well as our snacks were, and that was no easy feat. They saw our disappointment when we were told there were no desserts, and sent out a sweet alcoholic infused gel that exploded in your mouth. It was similar to chef Ferran Adria’s famous liquid olives.
Nice to see that Toronto has some innovative, creative mixology going on, and this is under the tutelage of Frankie Solanik. His goal is to engage and challenge you into an immersive, emotional and memorable drinking experience. He has created cutting edge mixology and Barchef one of the best places for inventive cocktails in Toronto!