What’s the vibe?
The latest opening from the Vancouver-based Donnelly group will feel familiar to those acquainted with their other Toronto operations, which include Belfast Love and Death and Taxes.
Quirky salvaged items, original artwork and wooden bar stools are paired with neon pink signage, rows of flat-screen TVs and stylish light fixtures, creating an atmosphere that’s trendy yet inviting and cozy at the same time. It’s already attracting a buzzy after-office crowd (the prime downtown location at Bay and Wellington doesn’t hurt), with many diners lingering beyond a single post-work pint to play pool or catch the live music performances hosted on Thursdays.
The deceptively large, split-level space includes a main bar and restaurant, along with a dedicated martini bar called the Ivory Room, with a lower-level beer hall, outdoor patio and cafe all slated to open in the coming months.
What to drink?
Martinis are the drink to order here, with the restaurant offering over 24 iterations of the cocktail that range from classic variations to recipes developed specifically for the Walrus by beverage director Trevor Kallies.
There’s also a selection of refreshing tonic cocktails made with gin or vodka that are sure to become favourites when the patio opens in the summer, along with a more general cocktail menu. We loved the Yo Toki Suntory, a mix of whisky toki, green tea honey syrup, ginger, turmeric, lemon, soda and mint that tasted like a spiked version of a health juice.
The draught list emphasizes local brewers like Blood Brothers and Henderson, while the wine menu focuses on New World wines, including a few Ontario wineries.
What to eat?
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Chef Chris Stewart draws on his background in fine dining for a menu of well-prepared pub classics. Though concise, the menu caters to office workers grabbing a quick lunch with fast, lighter options like salad bowls, as well as to the late night crowd with comfort foods and shareable starters.
The crispy chicken sandwich is the unexpected standout, served on a Martin’s potato roll (the same buns that Shake Shack uses) with an addictive black pepper mayo. It’s deliciously indulgent without being greasy.
With the exception of the aforementioned roll, most of the restaurant’s ingredients are made in-house, including the delicate pizza dough – we sample the lamb pizza, a special feature dish that’s rightfully rumoured to be making its way onto the permanent menu.
While starters like the fried chicken bites and fresh oysters are great for sharing, we recommend ordering your own chocolate sticky pudding for dessert. The crisp toffee pieces sprinkled on top are a satisfying complement to the wonderfully gooey pudding.
Dinner and drinks for two: about $70
187 Bay St, Toronto, 416-363-7261, donnellygroup.ca/walrus