[REVIEW] Hopgood's Foodliner Toronto Restaurant Review
Since my trip two summers ago to visit my sister in Halifax, I have been eager to re-experience the east-coast culture. The air seems clearer, the people seem friendlier, and the seafood is obviously fresher. Not too long ago (February 2012), ex-Hoof Cafe chef, Geoff Hopgood decided to create a restaurant that embodied this Maritime culture, and I have to say I'm embarrassed it took me so long to make my way out.
The room at Hopgood's is dark, fairly noisy, but well spaced. I appreciate when I'm not seated so close to my neighbour that I have to risk shoving my ass in their face every time I need out of the booth. We were seated in the back section, beyond the bar and the restaurant up front. Apparently, they have recently transformed their back prep-room into a "chefs table" for more intimate group events. Noted!
Service, just like in the Maritimes, was incredibly friendly and enthusiastic. Our server was eager to make drink suggestions, help up navigate the menu, and reinforce our choices. But unfortunately, also like the East Coast, service was also a little too laid back (aka. slow and semi-inattentive). We are the type who order our food and drinks within moments of being sat. We don't doddle after dessert. So we tend to get a bit impatient when we feel courses and food are taking longer then necessary. Case in point: We were sat at 8 PM. We ordered at 8:15. We got our first "round" (2 dishes) at 9 PM. Our next "round" at 9:30. Our third "round" at 9:45- at this time I decided I would just order the desserts now and let them know we were in a bit of a rush if possible. Despite the rush warning, we didn't receive our desserts for another 1/2 hour (10:15). I get that like Edulis (which I also found pretty slow), that perhaps a long, lazy service is part of the experience they're trying to create, but it just was a bit annoying when I knew that most of what we were waiting for was raw bar/pre-prepped/ quick-cook (i.e. crab dip, donairs, chocolate bar, surf and turf, snow crab).
The drink menu was innovative, diverse and intising. We tried the Kentucky Cookie (Lazzaroni amaretto, bourbon, lemon, egg white, simple syrup), the Black Manhattan (Bulleit bourbon, averna amaro, bitters), and the Rosemary Paloma (Reposado tequila, lime, rosemary syrup, Ting grapefruit soda, Maldon salt). The Kentucky was strong but very sweet- one of those drinks that slip down way too easily. At the other end of the flavour spectrum, the Manhattan was a heavy hitter with a bitter edge- exactly how my partner likes it. For me, the Paloma was a little heavy on the salt (it definitely overwhelmed my palate which masked the delicate notes of the rosemary), but I liked the use of the grapefruit.
The food menu at HF is what I would call "continuous". That is, there isn't a strict divide between the first and second courses (hell, some people might even consider the donairs a dessert!) I definitely like this style of eating because it encourages sharing and exploration and is almost a little rebellious.
Hot Crab Dip and Triscuits
Totally addictive. The dip had lots of delicate crab flavour, and a substantial meaty texture, and I loved how the sweetness of the crab balanced out with the saltiness of the triscuit crackers.
One of the most delicious things to ever grace my lips. The pillowy soft house-made pita was overflowing with perfectly seasoned meat that while tender had that typical hearty texture of meat cooked on a vertical spit. Slathered in an addictive sweet-garlic sauce based on sweetened condensed milk, I was licking my fingers to relive the messy taste experience for the rest of the night.
Surf and Turf (Lobster and Beef Tendon)
I loved the sweet, moist lobster against the crunch of the fried tendon. The pickles lent an mild salty sweet note, and the Marie Rose sauce (essentially a British mixture of ketchup and mayo) brought the luscious creamy tangy element. We were both expecting a much more substantial dish, but actually appreciated the dainty portion.
Crispy Ham Hock and Sauerkraut
This dish was totally my style. The ham hock "cake" reminded me of a swiney version of a fish cake, only with bigger, bolder savoury flavours and a denser consistency. The interior of the "cake" had a texture somewhere between pulled pork and chorizo, juicy and sumptuously fatty, while the exterior was as crispy as a panini-pressed grilled cheese (with extra butter). The portion was appropriate and balanced out with a lovely tangy potato salad, and a briney bed of sauerkraut.
Cape Breton Snow Crab
This is a must order. We eat a LOT of seafood every year in Florida, but these were probably some of the best snow crab we have ever tasted. It was a half crab, with lots of meat on board, and I'm grateful the chef took the time to help us out with the shelling (last New Years Eve I cut myself pretty badly on a crab shell and bled for most of the night- not hot).
The bread that accompanied the crab was dense with a nice sweet aroma.
Served like an old school home-made treat, this was NOT your typical chocolate bar. A base of blended Rice Krispies cereal is mixed with decadent white chocolate and then topped with sweet toffee candy. It's then coated in chocolate, ad sprinkled with a little maldon sea salt for that sweet and salty combination. The result is a perfect sized treat to end the meal that hits all of the pleasure buttons. Next Halloween, I will be trekking all of the way out to Roncesvales to pick up a few of these.
Another stellar dessert. A beautiful apple sponge cake, topped with a layer of caramelized toffee with a subtle brulee-like crust and served alongside an apple puree, and salted caramel sauce for swiping. The big surprise, however, was the seemingly simple fresh apple salad that when tossed with coarse sugar yielded a gentle satisfying crunch.
So for 3 cocktails, 5 savoury and 2 sweet dishes, the bill came to about $325 including tax and tip- pretty pricey for a really casual-non-tasting-menu meal. However, it's important to note that we were eating a lot of quality seafood, which can obviously drive the cost. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Speaking about food alone, this was one of the best meals we've had all year, with everything tasting delicious. Next time I visit, I might try telling our server that we specifically would like to be out at ____ PM before we even start our meal. I'll let you know how that goes. Thanks Hopgood's Foodliner for a fabulous meal, and congratulations on your recent accolades (aka. enroute magazine top 10 new Canadian restaurants)!