By Andrew Wagner-Chazalon
It may seem odd to begin a restaurant review by talking about the music in the lobby, but bear with me.
The lobby lounge at the Shangri-La hotel in Toronto is an urban oasis, a perfect spot to sit in an armchair and enjoy a drink before going in to dine at Bosk restaurant. The chairs are comfortable and a perfect distance apart to enjoy conversation, the cocktail list is intriguing and speaks to the creativity we will find within the restaurant. There’s a 68-item tea menu, a five volume bookcase of wines, spirits and cocktails, and a dim-sum menu should you prefer to dine in the lounge. And the live music – solo guitar on the night we visited, but string quartets or piano on other nights – is pitched at a perfect volume: just loud enough to mask conversation from other tables, not so loud that you must struggle to hear the person seated next to you.
Why does that matter? Because it speaks to an attitude of attention, a detail-oriented mindset that elevates a restaurant from “good” to “excellent.” A good restaurant might have live music; an excellent one will ask how that music affects the customer’s experience. And Bosk, the main restaurant at the Shangri-La hotel in downtown Toronto, is indeed excellent.
Drink options are creative without being gimmicky, with an air of classical elegance that evokes memories of a 1930s cocktail bar. I opted for a Forza Forza, made with bourbon, amaro and sweet vermouth. My companion chose a compendium of gin, mead, honey, lemon and prosecco. The honey is from the hotel’s own hives, located three floors above us on a patio from where they can pollinate the parks and gardens of downtown Toronto. It’s a nice touch – when you’re dining at University and Adelaide, you don’t expect to find ingredients that have only travelled a few hundred feet.
We later learn that the chefs at the delightful Bosk restaurant have been working with area breweries and wineries to craft other beverages, including some that incorporate the hotel’s honey into beers and wines.
Endless Attention at Bosk Restaurant
After cocktails, we’re led to our table through another bar. I notice that the tables have illuminated text on them – lyrics from Joni Mitchell songs. Do they ever feature other songwriters, I ask? No, comes the reply: the building owner is an enormous fan, and while the lyrics change, it’s always Joni Mitchell. Attention to detail.
Bosk offers two menus: a two- or three-course pre-theatre menu, and a three- or four-course seasonally adjusted menu. Prices are by the course – $39 for two courses on the pre-theatre menu, or $42 for entrees on the main menu – although a couple of the entrees have supplemental charges.
Despite the Asian elements in the lobby and hotel exterior, the menus are not dominated by classic Asian-fusion elements. This is simply modern fine dining, with a great many Canadian references and flavour influences chosen to accentuate and honour the principal ingredients.
Our waiter walks us through the menu with confidence, pointing out a few of his favourite dishes here and there. My companion begins with the seasonal gathered greens, a light salad featuring pomegranate, beets and almonds, and dressed with an orange vinaigrette. It’s a simple dish, but executed with precision and aplomb. The dressing is perfectly balanced, light and refreshing.
I begin at another end of the flavour spectrum, with seared foie gras. Rich and creamy foie is served on a creamy cassoulet of celeriac and cranberry beans, with a crispy duck confit and salted kohlrabhi. It’s delicious and decadent.
Extensive Wine List and Pairing Options
Bosk restaurant is known for its wine list – it has twice won the Best of Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator. A wall of bottles decorates one wall, and the list itself runs to 20 pages. We ask for pairing suggestions, and are delighted as our waiter asks a few key questions, contemplates our food order, and then presents his suggestions. A McLaren Vale Shiraz for me – robust enough to support the foie gras, but not too overpowering for my halibut main. For my companion, a surprise: mead. Expecting something earthy and sweet, she is delighted instead when it turns out to be an elegant wine with floral notes, a hint of honey of course, and just a touch of sweetness.
It goes beautifully with the flavours-of-the-forest Garganelli she has for a main. Chanterelle mushrooms and hand-rolled pasta, paired with the creaminess of confit egg and Yukon gold potatoes, all flecked with shavings of black truffle. Elegant and delicious.
My halibut is beautifully presented, with detailed and delicate morsels artfully placed about the plate like prizes on a tiny treasure hunt. Tiny cups of shallot are filled with walnut oil and olive jus vers. There are artichokes, and pommes purees and partially-dehydrated grapes, all begging to be tasted in varying combinations. It’s an adventure and a complete delight.
By this point in the meal, we have absolute confidence in our server and the kitchen. So much so, in fact, that we’re not surprised when dessert simply arrives. “I took the liberty,” he says, and we’re glad he did. There’s a Caramel Mocha, starring a caramel mousse and rich chocolate “devil’s cake”, an espresso cream and crisp pralines, all topped with a single coffee bean in gold leaf.
Carrot and Ginger is autumn on a plate: a creamy goat cheese bavaroise (similar to a pastry cream) with a hint of seasoning – cardamom, perhaps? – a carrot and ginger sorbet, tiny discs of tamarind cake, and sprinklings of pumpkin granola.
The coffee is, of course, superb. And we finish with a couple of tiny sweets from the pastry chef – a strawberry marshmallow and a caramel-pecan chocolate. Exquisite details from a team that truly understands just how much details matter.
Visit the Bosk restaurant website to learn more: http://www.shangri-la.com/toronto/shangrila/dining/restaurants/bosk/
Andrew Wagner-Chazalon has been writing professionally for several decades. He has lived in the UK, Australia and Canada, and currently enjoys luxurious things in Muskoka, a region the New York Times calls “the Hamptons of the North.”