Its success in simplicity and warm ambiance in a cozy south Annex location is what attracts people over and over.
Harbord Room exterior by Mary C.
Rated #59 of Canada’s Best Restaurants in 2015, with accolades since its opening, Harbord Room is a restaurant that has found popularity without doing much more than being good at what it does. There’s nothing flashy about it. Over the years, Harbord Street has become a cluster of beautiful shops and restaurants, nestled between the student-heavy University of Toronto area to the north and Kensington Market to the south. Harbord Room drew attention to the area as one of the best new restaurants in 2008 and hasn't shown signs of slowing down since.
Bar view by Yawen Z.
Décor & Atmosphere
Designed by Bradley Denton (Czehoski, THR & Co., and Le Petit Castor), you wouldn’t know its fame just by looking at the space. Seating is for just about 20 people, with spots at the bar crammed in the narrow room with tables against the walls. Dim lighting shades the salmon pink walls, with candles sitting in a brick fireplace and tea lights throughout the room. Tables are marble with studded leather chairs, and a pulley system directing the ceiling fans is reminiscent of an antique farmhouse. The space is snug and the pink is odd, but somehow they pull it together to be homey and comfortable. The charming servers warm up the room with being welcoming and attentive, far from the haughtiness seen at other top Toronto restaurants.
Menu & drink by Asia Nelson
Food & Drink
The dinner menu, led by Chef Cory Vitiello (found previously at the Drake), is short and sweet, consisting of elegant comfort food with hints of Iranian, Italian, and Moroccan flare. Dishes like the charred leek and eggplant borani with Za'atar and pomegranate ($9) to the warm octopus salad ($14) with toasted almonds, piquillo peppers, and chorizo are unobtrusively Mediterranean. Small sharing plates include oysters by the piece and a housemade terrine and charcuterie board ($21).
Warm octopus salad by Claudia Y.
The Moroccan-style braised beef ($25) was my favourite dish of the evening. Flat bread is served with cauliflower salad, couscous, chermoula yogurt, and a bowl of sweet beef sprinkled with crispy onions. Their famous ‘dry-aged West Grey farm beef burger’ ($19) is stacked high and cooked medium rare, juicy with a soft egg bun and a slice of sharp cheddar. Hand-cut fries are perfectly crispy and served with lemon aioli, slaw, and homemade ketchup. Although the menu is always changing, this burger is their token menu item. In 2012, Toronto Life rated the Harbord Room all-beef burger #1 in the city, and blogTO did the same in 2015. Other items to note on their menu include the sous-vide market fish with soy ginger dashi ($31) or the free-range, bricked chicken with buttermilk grits and charred green tomatoes ($27). For dessert, the basque-style cheesecake and ruby red grapefruit and olive oil cake ($10 each) are worth saving room for. They offer a late-night menu after 10:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Drinks here are a specialty, with a long list of wines, beers, spirits, and cocktails featuring local ingredients and playful combinations. Their geisha sour ($12) includes Beefeater 24 gin, Dolin vermouth, matcha tea syrup and lime, with floral notes and hints of lavender. The wine list is traditional, with a few nudges to local Ontario wineries. Beers on tap include Beau’s Lug Tread lagered ale and Muskoka Brewery harvest ale ($7).
Burger, pasta, and grilled asparagus by SY
What Harbord Room masks with its subdued décor it makes up for tenfold with its dishes and terrific service. In the place of flamboyance it values simplicity and masters delicious food in an undeniably welcoming environment.
And the great minds behind this soon-to-be (if not already) 'token' Toronto restaurant aren't retiring anytime soon. In 2013 the owners of the Harbord Room (David Mitton, Cory Vitiello, Mike Logue, Liz Campbell, and Curt Martin) opened THR & Co. down the street as an accessible version of the Harbord Room with some success. It was closed in 2015 to open the second location of Flock, a casual fast-food restaurant "handcrafted by The Harbord Room's Cory Vitiello", serving rotisserie chicken and fresh greens.
"I'm officially never leaving the block,"
Vitiello boasted on Instagram. He's also the latest star of the Food Network Canada's Chef in Your Ear program. It's clear that Vitiello is a restauranteur to keep an eye on in Toronto's food scene.
Dark chocolate tart by SY