About seven weeks ago, Walrus Pub & Beer Hall launched in the former Far Niente space in Commerce Court office building, in the heart of Toronto’s financial district. Owned and operated by The Donnelly Group, a Vancouver-based hospitality company, Walrus Pub is the area’s latest big, splashy opening.
And big it is, a sprawling, 13,000-sq.-ft., multi-level space seating 400 and appealingly bedecked in light woods, brass accents, 20 big-screen TVs and quirky design touches such as movie-style klieg lights mounted over the main bar area. Also on the main floor is the Ivory Room, a bright and airy high-ceilinged martini bar whose design, drawing inspiration from an idyllic London flat, features soaring walls festooned with 150 pieces of artwork and shelves lined with design, culture and art books.
Shuffleboard tables outfit the more intimate, softly lit third level, which offers access to a 150-seat patio. Plans call for a beer hall, barbershop and private dining room to open in the lower level.
Behind the stoves is Rory McGouran (formerly of Mascot Brewery and 416 Snack Bar). On the plate, it’s pub grub given a modern and creative spin. One night, for example, there is velvety carrot and ginger sparked with fresh coriander. Crunchy red pepper, seaweed, carrot and lime zest animate sesame avocado slaw brightened with sticky sambal dressing.
My favourite app, though, is the salad bowl filled with fat slices of translucent tuna sashimi atop crisp kimchi, pickled ginger, huge chunks of buttery avocado and slightly sweet black rice, all brought together with drizzles of spicy mayo. It’s an inventive blend of flavours and textures, and each component is sparklingly fresh. This beautiful bowl alone warrants a return visit!
The kitchen also dishes up thin-crust pizza made with dough fermented a full 48 hours — say, a pie anchored by nicely charred crust topped with crumbled, spicy lamb sausage, roasted red and green peppers, mozzarella, tomato sauce and dried chilies. A sprinkling of sesame seeds around the crust’s edge adds quiet nutty notes.
Mains show similar attention to detail. Tender fingerling potatoes and crunchy slaw accessorize moist, flavourful rotisserie chicken. Blanketed in toasted breadcrumbs, bucatini (long, medium-thick hollow-tube noodles) is tossed with a chunky, intensely flavoured, sweet/spicy tomato sauce and slivers of black olive, along with mussels, clams and prawns.
There are two desserts: Creamy yogurt panna cotta jazzed with blueberry coulis, balsamic vinegar, basil and shards of shortbread; and not-too-sweet chocolate sticky toffee pudding garnished with vanilla ice cream, sponge toffee and caramel.
The entire venue seats 165 people, and features a total capacity (seated and standing, cocktail-style combined) of 416. Ivory Room and the main bar each seat 20.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,500 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.