“We wanted it to feel like a family room,” explains Jack Scarangella, president of Mercatto Restaurant Group and part of AlterEgo, a restaurant partnership that includes Harding and his wife, designer Alexandra Hutchison.
Initially, the hotel team had aggressively courted Mercatto to handle the food program at Anndore. They weren’t initally sure it was the project for them, Scarangella said — but when his nascent partnership with Harding flourished with the opening of Dundas West’s La Palma last year
, they began to reconsider.
To flesh out the Constantine concept, Scarangella, Harding and co. travelled to Istanbul, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, picking up new flavours to bolster Harding’s existing repertoire of Italian dishes. They borrowed the restaurant’s name from the ancient Roman ruler whose empire spanned from northeastern Europe to north Africa to the middle East.
“The core is still Italian — it’s what Craig does well, it’s what we know,” Scarangella says. “But there are flashes of dishes from Israel, from southern Greece.”
Harding’s menu is broad, with ample veg, meat and fish options; pizzas and grilled proteins make excellent use of the kitchen’s wood-burning oven. Diners of many stripes will no doubt find something that suits their palate and dietary preferences, but the usual lowest-common-denominator hotel fare is absent from the menu. (Heck, even the house burger is made of lamb.)
“We definitely didn’t want to have to change our philosophy or food aesthetic just to cater to a certain clientele, as some people are forced to do in certain hotel environments,” Harding says, noting that the adjacent Scarlet Door cafe picks up some of that slack with uncomplicated eats like paninis, breakfast sandwiches and yogurt parfaits.
“I think we’re an edgier concept — ‘here’s what we are, take it or leave it’. And the hotel owners were very supportive of us.”