I have been gathering recommendations for my trip to Toronto. There is so much to see, and so much more to eat, that I couldn’t hope to do it all. So I have relied on the referrals of others to steer me right.
First on the list was “Patois”, a Caribbean meets Asian, soul food, fusion restaurant. There is nothing like this in Vancouver, and therefore immediately worth my trying.
The restaurant’s name, “Patois”, is Jamaica’s national language. It refers to the blend of traditional speak with English influences. Like the food here, the language it isn’t afraid to take on new cultures and redefine itself.
Walking in, it was everything I had hoped. A unique decor to describe, a creative cocktail list worth sampling, and food like no other. The restaurant was alive at 8pm. With its garage door entry open, it allowed the warm night air in, and the illusion of a sidewalk patio for those seated out front on high tops.
I was content with grabbing a seat by the bar, as the other tables were full. The bar, in my opinion, was the best seat in the house anyways. My metallic high top chair gave me a behind the scenes look at the bartenders at work. They used exotic ingredients and it was quite the show watching these able-bodied women chop apart a pineapples for its flesh, and crack into coconuts for their juice, but more on that later. The bar was dressed with whole pineapples and jars of the fruit fermenting in water. Wooden tumblers held green lacquer chopsticks, but most were more comfortable with the fork and knife wrapped in a blue lined napkin. The utensils perfectly matched the Chinese style white and blue plates with a painting of a fish on it.
The wall behind me was my favourite. A selfie worthy backdrop with a tropical theme, it matched the Jamaican influenced and the reggae music playing overhead. It was a wall of soften pink paired with various green palm fronds. It’s beachy vibe and the row of inflated floaties handing from the ceiling would inspire my cocktail choices later on.
The actual bar itself was healthy with rum and Jamaican beer. Intermingled with the bottles and their jiggers were decorative pieces like a gold pineapple, a green stone bok choy, a durian elephant, and a vase in white and blue to match the dish ware. They were certainly speaking to their Asian influences here and towards the back. In the dining area they decorated the ceiling with Chinese characters and pin yin, along with a sketch of their pineapple mascot smiling and waving in pants. Their logo was similar, a pineapple with the Chinese character for double happiness at its centre. I am obsessed with pineapples right now, so all this just made me like this place even more.
This setting just screamed fun, and the food and crowd screamed back. You can’t help but to happy in such a space and the staff spoke to this. Everyone was so enthusiastic, especially our server. He was buzzing around the room seeing to everyone in his area and the bar. He answered my questions, described items with gusto, and reassured my choice with ease.
Noting the drink and dinner specials on the wall I inquired about the “Habanero and the giant peach”. With this, the server’s face immediately lit up. He declared it their newest and best cocktail, describing it as a Thai basil mojito made with organic peach and habanero soda from a Toronto based company, and white rum. He was right. One sip, you were hooked. I had two. You get everything the name promised and lots of it. The heat of the chilli and the sweetness of the fruit balanced well the sharp flavour of the rum.
With the restaurant laying down the tropical vibe, I was also compelled to try their “Coconut and rum”. It was a simple recipe: take one young coconut and to it add a shot of Bacardi Rum. Half the fun was in the show they put on to crack open the fruit.
The bartenders used a wooden mallet and a tool that had an iron ring at its end. With a few precision pounds of the ring, it was inserted into the flesh of the coconut. With a tug towards you, it made the perfect cap, giving you access to coconut milk and meat. They go the extra mile here and garnish the coconut with a bamboo pick and a tiny drink umbrella. The embellishments worked well to set a tropical tone. You are advised to drink the coconut water down a little before adding in the rum. I though this would be a great way to start a night of drinking as coconut water hydrates. When drink was done, I would not let any of the coconut go to waste, I made sure to scrape all the meat clean and eat it for dessert. Both cocktails were $14 a piece, a little steep, but worth it for unique taste and different experience.
I started with the “tuna poke” dinner feature. It was albacore tuna, plantain, coconut, and crispy shallot. Topped with chilli slices, cilantro, and a creamy mayo sauce. You ate them with these crispy black sesame rice crackers. It was really fresh and packed full of flavour. My only complaint, there was not enough of it, and at $16, it was a little too much to order another serving; especially when I can try something else.
There was so much to go through and so many creative things to try. Like the “Jamaican patties” with beef, bacon, Swiss cheese fondue and Sriracha. And the “Dirty Fried Rice” that included red Chinese sausage, Cajun spices, peas, and farm eggs. Several tables were ordering the84 Jamaican rub fried chicken with Asian style pickles. The Hong Kong style lobster with jerk butter was especially tempting at $48. Similarly the “jerk chicken chowmein” and the “Jamaican Oxtail” with Plantain Coconut Rice, Chicharron, and Bok Choy were tempting.
But if you couldn’t decide and had enough in your party to share, they offered a taste of almost the entire menu as a sampler platter. The “Whole Shebang” offered the whole menu, including half the lobster for $109.99. It suggested sharing this between 3-4 hungry people. Sadly I was just a one. I contemplated about joining a group, but didn’t want to interrupt anyone to ask.
As tempting as trying it all sounded, I ended up getting what I thought was the most unique. Something I have yet to see and wondered why it wasn’t more common of a thing. Using Chinese sweet cocktail buns instead of regular white bread rolls they offered a “Chinese “Pineapple” Bun Burger”. It was described was “double patties, an oyster sauce mayo, hickory sticks, and pickled cucumbers”. However the cucumber was replaced with shredded lettuce and I could not taste or feel the crunch of the hickory sticks. What I did make out were the two juicy and meaty patties, though I wished they were more pink in the centre. It was lightly seasoned to allow the flavour of the salty oyster sausage and custard-like sweetness of the bun to shine. The mix of fried shrimp and beet chips were a nice side. Like the traditional burger side fries, they offered a different flavour and a break from the meat and bun. I think this is the first time I have ever had a burger without using ketchup.
Dessert was also something I wanted to explore, but at this point I was too full from harvesting all the coconut meat. So was disappointed to be missing such original sounding desserts. Like “5 Spice Cheesecake Stuffed French Toast With Rum Raisin Caramel” and “Almond Panna Cotta W/ Chili Rhubarb & Goji Granola”.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
For so many reasons I would love to come back, and for anyone visiting Toronto I would definitely recommend this gem. Great food and friendly staff in a one of a kind atmosphere. This was one of my favourite restaurants of the trip and a great place to start of the night. Don’t deny your cravings.