Besides Cava and Bar Raval, I never had any interest to go to a Spanish restaurant in Toronto, because quite frankly they weren’t very good. I am happy to report that is no longer the case with the opening of Labora Restaurant at 433 King Street, just west of Spadina. Chef Bragagnolo, although Italian, knows a thing or two about how to cook Spanish food. And not just any Spanish food, because he worked for the Adria brothers at two of my favourite Barcelona restaurants, Tickets and Bodega 1900. Yes the Adria brothers of the famed El Buli.
Towards the end of 2017, he opened what he calls a food hall, but I liken it more to a tapas and pintxos, with a long Bar displaying an array of delicious small bites, a juice bar and Spanish imports for purchase. Chef Bragagnolo was inspired by the food markets in Spain, like the Boqueria in Barcelona and the food markets of Madrid. He was also smitten with the costal regions of Mallorca, hence you will see a seafood-heavy menu along with a meat focus.
But come nighttime, there is a sit down restaurant in the back where the chef and his staff are busy in an open kitchen where you see them preparing and cooking up a storm, for his full service and tapas restaurant. There are large size family or friend tables, along with booths and seats around the bar or open kitchen.
Our server Melissa was adorable and very knowledgeable about the cuisine and didn’t steer us wrong when making suggestions.
I recommend starting with some Cava or vermouth, which is a perfect accompaniment for all the regional specialties. The menu is divided into snacks, cured meat and cheeses, tapas and pintxos, and large format. We started with Spanish olives, marinated in lemon and orange. We had the pan tumaca, something you will find over most of Spain, a tomato rubbed, toasted bread. We topped ours with 24 month-aged Serrano ham. A standout for me is the Bocata de Calamar, a perfectly cooked, tenderly fried calamari sandwich with pickled pepper and aioli. A reasonable $9.50 for a filling sandwich. Next up the roasted, creamy, eggplant, with pine nuts, honey, raisins, tomato, parsley and some crispy strips of I am not quite sure what, on top. The Setas Ganbarra is a pan full of roasted wild mushrooms, topped with an organic egg and herbs, which is tossed tableside. Another standout is the Ontario prime ribeye, cured and cut thin like a carpaccio, with honey mushrooms and black truffles shaved tableside and served with thin crispy bread – it’s altogether heavenly. We also had a tender and sweet langoustine, and then ended with the “dirty” rice, a pot brought steaming hot to the table, with cod, octopus, blood sausage, chorizo, peas, mushrooms and asparagus. On Sunday’s they do large format paella.
We washed this down with their Labora cola, made with carbonated Spanish vermouth, lemon juice and lemon wheel, made tableside. We also enjoyed the Sangre, a dry gin, with sweet vermouth, Campari, blood orange and grapefruit oil.
For dessert, we had the almond and olive oil cake, with chocolate ganache, and the crema Catalan, with saffron, cinnamon and Catalan cream.
We enjoyed each and every dish. Each bite brought an appreciation for the simple and perfect preparation and flavour pairing. Each dish is cooked fresh to order, and cooked properly, I might add. The chef delivered many perfect bites, at moderate prices to boot. They played a cool music list in the background, but you were still able to talk.
Labora has robust and flavourful food that seduced me and makes we want to return for more. Recommend.