I wake up the morning of my long-haul flight from Sydney to Toronto and feel the imminent doom approach: a swollen throat, I can barely swallow, and my head feels like it’s about to explode.
It gets progressively worse throughout my 24-hour voyage, but I’m on my way to taste the culinary masterpieces of world-renowned Michelin Star Chefs Alfonso and Ernesto Iaccarino, at Don Alfonso 1890.
Nothing – not even the flu – can stop me from experiencing one of Toronto’s best new restaurants.
Toronto is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world. There is no lack of options when it comes to food, with more than 50% of its habitants being foreign-born, you can count on eating your way around the world. There are endless amounts of authentic cuisines at your fingertips.
One thing it is lacking, however, is Michelin-Star restaurants. It’s not because they aren’t worthy, believe you me the city offers some of the best food in the world.
Instead, the Michelin Guide has never entered Canada’s shores. No-one seems to honestly know why, but everyone makes guesses: a small market, lack of interest or advertising.
Whatever the reason, restaurateur and Liberty Entertainment Group owner Nick Di Donato believed Canada deserved a Michelin-Star restaurant or, at least, more Michelin-Star chefs.
In partnership with Chefs Alfonso and Ernesto, Nick established Don Alfonso 1890’s first North American location. Showcasing flavours of the Amalfi Coast, Italy in a space designed to evoke “elegance and sophistication”, every part of the experience is a work of art.
I enter the building in historic Old Town Toronto, the first of Toronto’s named neighbourhoods. Marble flooring, tall white pillars, and a glimpse of the upstairs mezzanine tell me this restaurant was designed to impress.
I’m led by a welcoming host past a wine cellar and open kitchen to the restaurant’s dining room; a grand white-and-gold space with high ceilings featuring contemporary art sculptures, including ‘Crane’ by renowned artist Philippe Pasqua.
There’s an abundance of wine on the menu – more than 650 bottles in the wine cellar – and eccentric cocktails like an Aperol Bubbletea Spritz or The Modern Martini Pairing, which comes with caviar, but I opt for a classic, the Margarita. It’s delicious.
A white Umbrian truffle risotto: rich, creamy and delightful. It’s perfect.
The restaurant offers two C$150 eight-course set menus: a Classic Menu and the meatless Contemporary Menu. Though I’m not a vegetarian, the latter looks so appealing that I decide to try it.
The dinner launches with a selection of freshly baked rolls complete with rosemary-infused olive oil. I tell myself not to eat too many because I know there are plenty more courses to come. It’s hard to hold back; they’re warm and moreish.
The first course is a selection of canapés, each depicting something from nature. There’s a carrot tartare on a parolee crisp, a vegetable coal crisp with sea asparagus, purple potato on a turmeric crisp and my favourite, fava bean on a cheesy pecorino chilli crisp. The crisps are the colour of fallen leaves set on a white ceramic log plate and one taste is enough to warm up the palate, subtle yet significant.
Everything on the menu features a Canadian twist. It uses local produce and concepts to complement its Italian origin.
Next comes the Chef Selected Organic Seasonal Vegetables, resembling mini sculptures bursting with flavour. Pieces of squash, pumpkin, cauliflower, beetroot and chives work together to represent the earth, wind and snow. Horseradish-flavoured ice cream is the cherry on top that brings the whole plate together.
The third course, Rendition of Traditional Baked Egg, consisting of slow-cooked egg yolk surrounded by a unique combination of fluffy burrata foam, baby French greens, topped with black truffle caviar and fleur de sel.
I can’t call what I just experienced simply a meal; it’s an oeuvre. And it’s about time Canada experiences this level of culinary art.
I’m particularly excited by the next dish they bring me, courtesy of the chef. It’s a white Umbrian truffle risotto: rich, creamy and delightful. It’s perfect.
Each dish I experience at Don Alfonso 1890 is imaginative and no opportunity for creativity is over-looked. Post-risotto comes a cloud of bread that, once cut by the server, reveals a bed of organic black oyster mushrooms in potato and garlic broth.
My sickness is starting to creep over me again, but I can’t resist trying the delectable Ravioli Del Plin with Provolone del Monaco dotted with vegetable coals onion sauce of Montoro, and celeriac and saffron emulsion.
With apprehension, I tell my server – a charming man who doesn’t miss a beat – that I’m not feeling well, and he is completely understanding. The dinner doesn’t usually end here, and I wish it could continue, but he cuts it short for my sake and brings out the pièce de résistance: Chef Selection of House Made Petit Fours.
The variety of desserts comes out on a sea of fog (dry ice), and I’ve never been so mesmerised by mini sweets. It’s an exquisite end to a sensational meal.
Although, I can’t call what I just experienced simply a meal; it’s an oeuvre. And it’s about time Canada experiences this level of culinary art.