CARBEN FOOD + DRINK
While diners can watch passersby on Wellington Street West from Carben’s windowed facade, it’s more likely that their eyes will be drawn to the artfully plated dishes placed in front of them.
Since the 2015 opening of Carben, chef Kevin Benes and pastry chef Caroline Ngo have impressed with their sense of imagination. Inventiveness is evident in Benes’ menu: the five starters and five mains on offer include such non-traditional elements as duck sausage and cuttlefish. The stunning plates arrive with colourful components — smears of glazes, dots of gels, delicate foams. But nothing is superfluous. The kind of molecular gastronomy that Benes and Ngo are serving is approachable, the wait staff offering tableside descriptions without pretension.
One of their most popular appetizers features wood ear and eryngii mushrooms served on a miso glaze, with baby bok choy, edamame, shiso, and vibrant dots of turmeric aïoli. Each mouthful is a delicious umami bomb.
Perfectly golden scallops come with pork belly as well as a bright carrot-ginger purée and red peppertomato cream; the vegetables — confit fingerlings, leeks — are cut into rounds emulating the shape of the scallops. I’m still dreaming about it.
Ngo’s desserts are equally complex. The Morning Fog features a honey and orange-blossom cruller with little kisses of lavender meringue, fragrant Earl Grey ice cream, lavender gel, and bee pollen. If you’re only looking for a sweet morsel to accompany your digestif, don’t miss the bonbons in flavours such as dark chocolate and peanut butter ganache.
An interesting collection of books and art creates a space that is, like the food, dazzling but also approachable.