Joanne Kates re­views much-hyped col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Susur Lee and Drake at their King Street hot spot, Fring’s

Plus He­mant Bhag­wani is back at the top of his game with In­dian Street Food Co.

Midtown Post - - Table of Contents - JOANNE KATES Joanne Kates trained at the Ecole Cor­don Bleu de Cui­sine in Paris. She has writ­ten ar­ti­cles for nu­mer­ous pub­li­ca­tions, in­clud­ing the New York Times, Ma­clean’s and Chate­laine.

FRING’S 455 King St. W. $80 Din­ner for two

Fring. What is a fring? The server says it’s a sauce made ba­si­cally of ketchup and mayo. Which only slightly blows my mind. I’m still try­ing to fig­ure out why one of the best chefs in the world (yes, the world!) opens a restau­rant called Fring’s in col­lab­o­ra­tion with a rap­per. Susur Lee’s name is on the menu as chef and owner; his part­ner is Drake, and it’s tough to get a reser­va­tion at Fring’s. Go fig­ure. I’m still scratch­ing my head. Fring’s is gor­geous, ware­house chic at its hy­per-coolest. There are old brick walls punc­tu­ated by curlicued iron art­works.… A big slab of il­lu­mi­nated mar­ble. Per­fo­rated met­al­work screens in pretty pat­terns. A fab sculp­ture with coloured lights on the ceil­ing above the maître d’ sta­tion at the en­trance where very busy and clearly very im­por­tant young women don’t meet your eyes. Mon­go­lian lamb­swool on the backs of the club chairs down the middle of the din­ing room. The clever aes­thetic of Susur’s wife Brenda Bent is the im­print here, at its most en­ter­tain­ing.

The menu is a hy­brid of bar food and fu­sion. Okay, we’re at King and Spad­ina. Makes sense. Al­though I mourn for Susur’s haute cui­sine, if this new MO is fan­tas­tic, I’ll make do. But c’mon. Crispy chicken slid­ers? The menu says they’re with melted ched­dar cheese and re­moulade; the server says the sauce is mostly fring — mayo and ketchup — and the re­sult is the same fried chicken sammy that’s be­ing overused all over down­town. It’s the quiche of the post-mil­len­nium.

Then there’s the Asian — spicy tuna tartare with tem­pura crisps and corn sesame chips. The tuna is nice if you like a $24 app. We can’t find any tem­pura crisps, and the chips are good. I like Loblaws’ corn chips too. Not so dif­fer­ent.

This from the chef who’s famed in culi­nary cir­cles for his iron-fisted con­trol of both his kitchen and the front of his house. Whose bar was not high, but strato­spheric. Who was begged by fi­nanciers with deep pock­ets to open restos in New York and Wash­ing­ton. Jet­ted to Sin­ga­pore first class to cook for bil­lion­aires. And was worth it!

Susur Lee’s name is on Fring’s, but clearly the mae­stro isn’t in the kitchen.

One evening we wait an hour for our main cour­ses and both ar­rive luke­warm. The beurre blanc on the $32 prawns has thinned out, and the so-called French potato cake seems like a combo of left­over pota­toes and over­cooked peas. The $38 lamb chops are gristly. The J.K. fries we or­dered (clearly a homage to Jamie Kennedy, an­other great Toronto chef no longer in the kitchen) never ar­rive. No­body of­fers us dessert.

I un­der­stand if Susur Lee, at sixty-ish, hav­ing been stand­ing on his feet sweat­ing in kitchens since he was 15, no longer wants to do it. I re­spect that choice. I also un­der­stand about brand­ing and how tempt­ing it must be to put your name on the pro­ject — and the menu — and reap some ben­e­fit from all those years of hard work. But I can’t help feel­ing sad, as a fan of Susur’s su­perb artistry, that it’s come to this. I knew all was not well with Amaya on Bayview. My pre­vi­ously most beloved In­dian resto had slipped. First there was the adul­ter­ation of the cook­ing, the lit­tle slips like over­cook­ing the lamb chops and too much cream with the prawns. Then they started sell­ing Groupons and the ser­vice went to hell. You could just tell the heart had gone out of the place. It didn’t help that owner He­mant Bhag­wani had ex­panded at a fe­ro­cious rate — up to eight Amayas at one point. Talk about di­lut­ing the brand.

But oh joy, Mr. Bhag­wani came to his senses. He closed some of his Amaya branches and gave the oth­ers to some­one else to run, de­cid­ing to fo­cus 100 per cent on the Bayview Amaya, which he knew had lost its vi­sion. This man is very smart. He closed Amaya, did a breezy reno to make the room more ca­sual and fun, and re­opened it as In­dian Street Food Co.

Which is now a dream come true. Lovers of In­dian food will be over the moon here. They start you with a splen­did lit­tle lassi scented with saf­fron, pis­ta­chio and al­mond. The app that puts a big smile on my taste buds is chaat: Crispy puffed rice with pome­gran­ate, potato, ta­marind chut­ney, chick­peas and yo­gurt — sweet, hot, fab­u­lous.

Most of Mr. Bhag­wani’s new items are in­spired by the street food of his home­land. I per­son­ally was too chicken to eat street food in In­dia, but I ate in peo­ple’s homes and did no­tice that the in­ter­est level of the spic­ing of the food seemed to in­crease in in­verse pro­por­tion to the pre­ten­sion of the sur­round­ings. So bring on the street food!

Street-in­spired spicy chicken tikka is the most ex­cit­ing tast­ing tikka I’ve ever tasted, and serv­ing it on but­tery flaky paratha with mint chut­ney is in­spired. Tamil kothu roti (from Sri Lanka) is equally jazzy — chopped paratha with raw cab­bage, chilies, ex­otic sprouts, onions, co­rian­der and lemon. Su­per­charged savour! Char­coal grilled prawns come in a sweet lit­tle tif­fin box with crunchy noo­dles and mango slaw. Arvi tuk is a splen­dour of jumped up flavours: A base of crunchy fried taro topped with ta­marind chut­ney, kachum­ber (In­dian chopped salad), chili spiced yo­gurt and thin slices of watermelon radish. Su­per yummy!

Best of all: Mr. Bhag­wani has done away with tip­ping. He adds a 12 per cent ad­min fee to ev­ery bill and splits that among his staff — from dish­washer to maitre d’ — equally! Which creates a pretty de­li­cious at­mos­phere when the Visa ma­chine hits your ta­ble and there’s no tip but­ton to push.

Clock­wise from left: the gor­geous din­ing room at Fring’s, ISFC’s char­coal grilled prawns and their arvi tuk

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