Casa Madera: An unforgettable sensory experience with bold, inventive flavours￼
|Restaurant||Casa Madera (inside 1 Hotel)|
|Location||550 Wellington Street West|
|Dinner for three with drinks||$550 per person|
In the world of hospitality, high end hotel restaurants are an interesting breed. With dependable, steady traffic from hotel guests, they’re often busy enough to keep turning tables, however, this can also become a crutch. These restaurants can fail to reinvent themselves and can wind up rebranding or shuttering completely.
This was the case at Toronto’s former Thompson Hotel (now 1 Hotel). First, in 2010, we witnessed the opening of NYC-based Italian restaurant, Scarpetta. Then, after it shuttered a few years later, the hotel’s flagship restaurant became Colette. These restaurants had international pedigree, but over time, patrons realized there were far better dining options in our vibrant city.
In August 2021, luxury brand 1 Hotel opened in the former Thompson Hotel. And shortly after, Noble 33, a U.S.-based restaurant group with properties in Los Angeles, London and Scottsdale, announced it would be unveiling its first Canadian restaurant concept: Casa Madera.
Described as a fusion of Mexican and Mediterranean fare, my experience at Casa Madera certainly made a lasting impression. Firstly, no expense was spared when it came to the space’s design. Casa Madera, which translates into “wood house”, captured that description beautifully. The spacious 180-seat dining room had greenery suspended from the ceiling, lush living walls and plenty of live edge tables made by a local Toronto designer. There was also live entertainment in the form of belly dancing, music and DJs.
Swanky restaurants that gloat about immersive dining experiences can sometimes miss the mark when it comes to the main event—food and beverage.
True to its immersive experience, Casa Madera prides itself on an eclectic and theatrical cocktail program. The beverage menu contains pages of alcoholic concoctions as well as non-alcoholic and low-proof selections. Every single one is guaranteed to be showstoppingly stunning, and perhaps even lit on fire table-side, as is the case with the Solstice ($25) – a tequila, passionfruit and spice-infused creation.
Rest assured that executive chef Olivier Le Calvez doesn’t skip a beat when it comes to the food, either. The Mexican-born chef infuses his knowledge of Mexican and coastal cuisines to deliver an inventive menu using many ingredients from a 100-kilometre radius. Some organic crops—from onions and peppers to herbs and edible flowers—are even picked from the on-site garden pavilion.
Upon first glance, the menu was overwhelming—appearing to be all things to all people at varying price points. That’s the predicament with fusion restaurants—they can have an identity crisis, or “fusion confusion” as I like to call it. Many of the dishes you’d expect to be there: Ceviche Blanco, Al Pastor Tacos and Pacifico Striped Bass. However, others seemed to fit better at an American or an Italian restaurant, like the Risotto, Casa Tomahawk or Champagne and Caviar (with a whopping $1,500 price tag, I might add). Some simple menu editing could have provided greater alignment to the restaurant’s overall philosophy.
All that said, the majority of dishes were impressive in presentation and in taste. The Chile Pulpo ($38), for example, rested on a vibrant backdrop of sweet corn puree, and was dusted with chives, marcona almonds and chile de arbol. I longed for a bit more heat in this dish, but it was well-executed nonetheless. Same with the Kobe A5 ($110), a tiny but melt-in-your-mouth starter that was garnished with whisky-barrel-aged soy air. It was worth every cent. The Wagyu comes from a Japanese farmer who raises and slaughters only 10 cows per month—half of which are exclusively for Casa Madera.
The final dish that still pops into my thoughts is the dover sole ($75). A play on classic sole meunière, it highlighted the simple flavours of fresh fish, with caper brown butter sauce, chili de arbol, and lemon brulee, there was good reason it came highly recommended by our server. Several raw bar items were also crowd pleasers, including the Hamachi Serrano ($35) and Bahia Vieira ($35), a sea scallop and striped bass aguachile brought to new heights with bergamot, ginger, charred cucumber, sea beans, hand-torn herbs.
While the Duck Carnitas Tacos ($24) and Yucatan Sweet Corn salad ($22) were the types of dishes you’d expect at a Mexican fusion restaurant, I’d consider experiencing the unique flavours of the dishes above.
You’ll also want to save room for desserts. Yes, multiple. Casa Madera’s sweet offerings rival the main menu, but in the most complementary way possible. Each one is stunning, complex and layered with flavour. They make you stop and admire before savouring. Take the Peanut Butter Mousse ($30), for example, a gold-painted chocolate sphere that reveals peanut butter-chocolate mousse when cracked open. For those who enjoy fruitier flavours, the Blanca Y Limon ($26) is a solid choice, with lemon cake, strawberry sauce, fresh strawberries and ice cream all in an edible white chocolate bowl. After experiencing multiple desserts, I wouldn’t be opposed if the pastry chef moved into my house.
There’s no denying that Casa Madera is a feast for all senses. It’s sexy and vibey, making it the ideal destination for an enjoyable night on the town, but it goes beyond just that. With its bold, inventive flavours, excellent hospitality and gorgeous ambiance, it has the potential to last much, much longer than its predecessors and be a notable destination for diners in Toronto and beyond.
Mme M. xoxo
La rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.