One of Canada’s leading restaurant groups is the O&B Group. What began as one restaurant has become a corporation. Oliver and Bonacini have many restaurants from Canoe, Auberge de Pommier, Jump, Luma, to the O&B Canteen. The latest on their roster is Leña Restaurante in the new Saks Fifth Avenue at 176 Yonge Street, by Richmond. The space is huge and spans three floors of the heritage building. It includes an all-day bar, a large dining room, two private dining spaces and a lower level lounge, that should be open by the time you are reading this review.
The restaurant is nicely decorated, the main floor’s centerpiece is an octagon bar constructed around an original Art Deco pillar, that has backlit etched glass. They also kept some of the beautiful Art Deco railings throughout. Upstairs, the dining room is lined with original Art Deco art as well. It is quite a striking and sophisticated for a restaurant within a department store. There are brass-lined archways, plush velvet teal booths, oxidized copper cornices, grand staircases, and leather upholstery.
The menu has some of Anthony Walsh’s mother in laws family recipes.
We were first seated upstairs right next to the open door to the kitchen. I think there should either be a completely open kitchen or a closed door. But being seated next to an open archway to the kitchen is not appealing. Next, they moved us in front of the waiter’s station. The restaurant was not busy but it took three moves to get a decent table. As they say, third time is the charm.
One of the bar’s centrepieces is a large Iberico ham, which you can see being carved throughout the day. It is aged 24 months and had a nice salty flavour to it. The Lala’s Patatas Bravas (cubed potatoes), is another popular small plate, and something typical you would find in South America. They serve daily oysters, clams as well as garlic shrimp. For $69 seafood lovers can get a seafood platter which includes sardines, scallops, tuna crudo, sea bream tartar and daily additions.
I found the mushroom and lentil soup to be too salty. The heirloom tomato salad, with leeks, sherry and torn basil, was tasty but nothing extraordinary. The signature dish of Pollo Doña Aurora, was an organic chicken in a lemon and saffron braise with mushrooms and a potato purée, which was overcooked. The chicken was also bland. If they are recommending this as a signature dish, they need to cook it perfectly. For me, a dish that was well prepared was the Pan-seared Arctic Char, with corn and fregola gachas, in a lovely tarragon broth and topped with a few mussels. It was cooked to perfection.
For dessert, we had something called a White Flan, but it was nothing more than an île flottante for me. The warm churros with a cup of warm chocolate sauce is a better bet.
I found it disturbing that waitstaff kept walking through the dining room while we were eating, with empty bins and then returning with them filled with dirty dishes. Is there no dumbwaiter or back stairs?
There is the requisite craft cocktails and beers. The wine list is heavy on Spanish wines. I like that they offer 6oz and 9oz wines by the glass.
The upstairs room was half empty on a Saturday night, whereas the main floor bar and dining room were busy.
I can see the restaurant as a good option if working or shopping downtown. Would I come back for dinner on its own? I am not so sure – parking is difficult and the food didn’t live up to my expectations. It was okay, but it didn’t wow me.