There’s no shortage of great bars and impeccable restaurants in Toronto. This city is home to a world-class dining scene, and the best part is that the food runs the gamut, covering an incredibly diverse range of cuisines and cooking techniques from all over the world. With all the top-notch options to choose from, we can’t help but fall in love with restaurants that take things a step further, providing diners with a whole experience along with delicious fare.
The combining of flavours, colours and textures in a dish is art in and of itself. Sometimes a meal comes so beautifully plated, it almost feels sinful to dig our forks in and indulge. Now, pair that culinary art with visual art and you have one heck of a dining experience.
There has been a shift in the Toronto dining scene as of late, with an increasing number of restaurants looking to bathe their walls in murals and art works from local artists — and we’re here for it. Some have constantly changing collections adorning their walls, while others are wrapped head to toe in fully immersive art pieces. Here, we peer inside five restaurants where show-stopping art is paired with excellent fare. Drink it in with all of your senses.
Sofia Restaurant & Bar
99 Yorkville Ave.
Like any Yorkville gal, Sofia is always dressed to the nines. Designed by the award-winning Studio Munge, the Italian restaurant is already an opulent space, made all the more enchanting by the curated selection of art hanging on its walls. Sink into a plush red velvet chair, under the glowing light of the white chandeliers; listen to live jazz music; and take in art pieces from the likes of Banksy, Basquiat and Warhol, along with up-and-coming local artists.
Constantly curated and refreshed, Sofia’s art collection always has something new for returning guests to gawk at. See something that catches your eye? All of the art pieces are available for sale. The works come from their in-house gallery space, Taglialatella Galleries, which is located right next door to the restaurant and also well worth paying a visit.
If you can pry your eyes away from Sofia’s captivating art pieces, you’ll be met with a menu of decadent Italian dishes. Think burrata with wild mushrooms and truffle honey; grilled octopus; and ahi tuna crudo. Follow that up with a plate of pasta, like cappelletti stuffed with veal, pork, prosciutto and mortadella, paired with a martini or a glass of wine from their list that goes on for days.
225 King St. W., Suite 100
Minami is the latest dining concept from Aburi Restaurants Canada, the group behind other hit sushi spots Aburi Hana, Miku and TORA — and it's even more artistic than its predecessors. The new locale follows in the footsteps of its older siblings, specializing in aburi (flame-seared) sushi, along with bento boxes and bowls.
Beautiful nigiri slices are incredibly fresh here, while rolls come in creative flavour combinations that put the basic California maki to shame. The menu goes far beyond sushi, with must-try dishes like charcoal aburi chicken and crispy Brussels sprouts with bacon. There’s a good argument for drinks stealing the show, however, with a lengthy list of sake and beautifully crafted cocktails like the cotton candy-topped Shinjuku.
The food and the art here are as harmonious as they come. Applied onto translucent glass, a hand-painted mural of speckled blue and red koi fish swims alongside Minami’s entranceway. The artwork, created by Japanese artist Hideki Kimura, also completes the atmosphere of the bar lounge on the other side of the glass. A well sought-after muralist, Kimura is known for his dynamic art, which often features the imagery of whimsical koi, frogs and lotus flowers. In the dining room, Kimura’s second mural draws eyes with a stylistic intersection of swimming koi, Japanese maple leaves and cherry blossom branches.
The art blends seamlessly with Minami’s dramatic design, which also includes a glowing back-lit screen, ribbed and arching over the banquettes; and a stunning custom-designed installation by Moss and Lam Studio that sees 90 panels of sheer fabric painted in red and orange hanging over the bar.
EPOCH Bar & Kitchen Terrace
181 Wellington St. W.
Inspired by the gastropub movement of the 1990s, the Ritz-Carlton’s new Epoch Bar & Kitchen Terrace is all about capturing the trends of the past and reimagining them. The food here leans towards traditional British dining and pub culture, but if you’re picturing the dusty drinking dens of old, don’t. The Ritz is all about luxury and Epoch echoes just that. Bask in the glow of soft, flattering lighting (hello, first date hotspot), while you sip on a selection of thoughtfully crafted cocktails.
Drawing on the romance of travel and the area’s historic role in TIFF, interior design firm DesignAgency brought nods to cinema and travel into the restaurant’s décor. In the dining room, a panelled screen printed with a panoramic landscape transports guests to a far-flung escape. DesignAgency also commissioned a special art series for the space. A collaboration between Toronto celebrity photographer Caitlin Cronenberg and Canadian artist Heidi Conrod, the artworks see Conrod’s brushstrokes playfully layered onto Cronenberg’s stunning shots of celebrity icons.
Outfitted in natural tones and backed by floor-to-ceiling windows, the indoor space flows seamlessly into the beautifully-landscaped outdoor terrace. Outside, the bar frames another work of art — Anish Kapoor’s Mountain sculpture sitting just beyond the terrace in Simcoe Park.
Cry Baby Gallery
1468 Dundas St. W.
Few galleries let you walk around with a drink in hand, and fewer still would have that drink be an impressive, handcrafted cocktail. Lucky for us, Cry Baby Gallery came onto the scene in late 2019. Part art gallery, part speakeasy cocktail bar, the space is business in the front, party in the back.
When you pull up to the entrance on Dundas, just east of Dufferin, you’ll see the gallery through the large front window: white brick walls lined with art pieces. Head inside and at the back you’ll find a big black curtain shrouding the cocktail bar behind the gallery. Place an order from the rotating seasonal menu of unique cocktail creations. There are nibblies on offer, but this is a cocktail bar first and foremost.
Once you’re set up with a lip-smackingly juicy cocktail, feel free to sip on it in the gallery space as you mull over the group or solo show of the moment. The art here is curated by Mony Zakhour, who himself is a local artist and a staple in Toronto’s arts community. In addition to the ever-changing local art exhibitions, Cry Baby also hosts events like art auctions.
221 Richmond St. W.
Remember going to the Rainforest Cafe as a kid? Well, this is like that — all the whimsy and wonder (and animals!) — but cool and for grownups. Meaning “jungle” in Spanish, Selva is a deep dive into the imagination, with colourful creatures lurking around every corner.
Clandestinos Art, the award-winning duo behind the stunning Reflections mural at last summer’s RendezViews patio pop-up, is back with their surreal and vibrant visuals. After partnering on the beloved downtown patio, The Fifth brought the artists (known individually as Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack) back to reinvent the building’s lower level. Completely painted with Clandestinos’ murals right down to the floors, Selva is an immersive multi-sensory art/restaurant/bar experience unlike any other.
The art doesn’t stop at the décor. Nuit Regular’s vibrant dishes are admirable compositions in and of themselves — and they taste as good as they look. A departure from her native Thai cuisine, Regular has found a way to harmonize her cooking background with the flavours of South American cuisine. The result is a stellar menu of ceviches and tacos with plenty of grilled delights, from corn and broccolini to chicken and wagyu beef. Cocktails here come on tap and the beer list is pleasantly Collective Arts-leaning.