Flavour of the Week: Madrina

Michelin-starred Catalan chef Ramon Simarro brings tapas to Toronto

What's the vibe

Old meets new has become something of a cliché but given the location of Madrina, inside the central square of one of the Distillery District’s most iconic Victorian buildings, it’s perfectly fitting here.

Though the patio might seem like the perfect place to enjoy Catalan tapas, walk through the door and you’ll feel like you’ve just entered a bar in La Rambla. You’ll spot the Iberian hams first, just waiting to be carved and served on a charcuterie board. Studio Munge’s design is seamless, with cool tiled floors, brick walls and terracotta touches that work perfectly for the Barcelona-inspired vibe inside Madrina. The orange accents behind the bar contrasted with the red and bright white chairs ensure that come December, we’ll still be channeling those Spanish summer vibes.

The 37-foot bar serves drinks and traditional tapas including aperitivos, conservas and montaditos as well as cold bar delicacies. Or grab a seat at one of the tables – low or high – and dive into the full menu at Madrina.

Translated from Spanish, Madrina is the “whimsical and spirited godmother you always wish you had” – and if she cooked this good, we’d have to agree.

What to Drink

You can’t come to Madrina without trying their sangria, available in both blanco and rojo. The blanco, which sees deliciously ripe chunks of apricot, mango and peach floating in a fishbowl’s worth of white wine, was our favourite. Alternatively, enjoy by the pitcher in one of their funky vase-shaped jugs. Beverage Manager Andrew Thisby explains that despite early attempts to jazz up the sangria, he quickly realized during the testing phase that it was better to keep things simple, and we’re inclined to agree.

There were, however, plenty of opportunities for Thisby to flex his drink-making muscles, on the cocktail menu. The striking Spiced Margarita with tequila and blue curacao sees charcoal ice cubes floating in the tipple (Thisby’s omage to the ocean’s melting polar ice caps). The Arugula Gimlet is another surprising ( but delicious) option, which combines gin with the plant plus some thyme foam for a veggie focus not often seen in a cocktail.

What to Eat

Design aside, Chef Ramon Simarro is the feather in Madrina’s cap. The Catalan chef, who has worked in many of Spain’s Michelin-starred restaurants (Via Veneto and Alkimia in Barcelona) makes his Canadian debut here, bringing tapas to Toronto.

Chef Ramon Simarro instructs us to close our eyes as we take a bite of the El Bulli olives. The result is a silky smooth, intensely flavourful spoonful. Though Simarro is quick to eschew credit for the dish, it’s a powerful reminder of his clout in the restaurant game; the dish is an homage to world-famous Catalan chef Ferran Adrià’s liquid olive creation, in which olive juice is made to resemble a real olive through a spherification process.

This creativity and experimentation is seen time and time again throughout the menu. Classic tapas fare like Patatas Bravas is given a new spin with layered potatoes that are structured like millefeuille(puff pastry). The Ajo Blanco, a popular Spanish cold soup, is reimagined here, with citrus and pepper marinated yellowfin tuna loin served on a plate with creamy almond and garlic cream in place of the liquid portion of the dish.

Dessert comes in the form of ‘Sweet Tapas’. The final course was created by Canadian World Chocolate Master and Chef Pâtissier from fellow Distillery restaurant Cluny Bistro, Chef Chris Kwok, and Chef Simarro. The colourful Manchego Cheesecake, with raspberry crumble and raspberry sorbet is a fitting end to this vibrant menu.

Written by Katie Bridges for Foodism