|Location||7713 Yonge Street|
|Dinner for two with drinks||$350|
Don’t let Frilu’s modest locale in Thornhill deter you from making the trek to experience this locavore gem. Its unique tasting menu makes it an enticing choice for anyone who appreciates the intricacies of fine dining.
Co-owner and executive chef John-Vincent Troiano (Tutti Matti, Acadia) brings immense passion and in-depth knowledge to his first restaurant. He studied in Norway under the tutelage of Rene Redzepi, acclaimed chef of the Michelin-starred Noma. While Frilu’s cuisine is unabashedly Canadian, the menu features a delicious hybrid of Scandinavian and Asian cuisines and techniques.
When I entered Frilu for dinner on a Saturday evening, the Scandinavian influences were evident in its décor — minimalist design, sleek cutlery and stemware, and elements from nature in the form of a moss installation on the back wall, were all in perfect harmony with the indoors. Frilu’s ethos made perfect sense when I learned that its name is an ode to being at one with nature. Although there were 22 seats and a small bar with a prime view of la cuisine, the ambiance never felt cramped with a room full of guests.
Troiano’s co-owner and partner in life, Sandra, ensured everything was running smoothly at the front of house. Her team’s strong attention to detail and attentiveness was evident from the moment I entered to the moment I left. Once my date and I settled into our chairs, we were welcomed by a sommelier/server who was very adept at her craft. She personalized our beverage tastings to complement the menu and provided some truly unique pairings ($65 for alcoholic and $35 for non-alcoholic).
Frilu’s contemporary $95 10-course Canadian tasting menu incorporated influences from Scandinavia and Japan, as well — a true reflection of our multicultural country.
The “Solstice Snack” was a beautiful way to start our culinary journey at Frilu. Charred lettuce smeared with pumpkin seed miso, and rye crisp and raw beef were two delicious bites. Beyond being satisfying, they were a just-right contrast between tastes, textures and temperatures. We had a glass of Burrowing Owl Chardonnay to accompany us through the first few courses.
Strong impressions continued with the “Oyster-Oyster”, a dainty preparation of the de-shelled bivalve topped with caviar “pearls.” Our server explained that they were sourced from a Canadian supplier, Maison BeauSoleil. Their salty sweetness with hints of hazelnut flooded my mouth, and the preparation was commendable — lightly poached and topped with mushroom, eggplant and a healthy dose of olive oil and vinegar. While I enjoyed the unexpectedly warm temperature of this dish, the overpowering acid levels detracted from the delicate protein.
Influences from Scandinavia were apparent in the next dish, “Turnip in Dirt” and although its literal name made no room for un surpris, the flavour profile was delightful and shocking in the loveliest way possible. The root vegetable had been confit in duck fat, lending to its firm-but-soft flesh that allowed my knife to slide through. Brown butter and prosciutto “dirt” and dollops of contrasting purees of lemon and turnip top decorated the plate, showing how Troiano used elements of the vegetable that might typically be tossed. Smearing everything together and taking a bite was blissful, with a strong hit of citrus on the finish.
The turnip was the crescendo of the tasting menu pour moi, as everything else felt less polished afterwards — except for “Ground and Sea.” A delicate envelope of French-style scallop mousse and herbs that contained celeriac and beef garum. This omelette-like dish was unexpected and offered a light texture juxtaposed with a rich and layered flavour profile.
Frilu has made a name for itself with its saké pairings, and the next dish proved it. “Cod Roe with Dark Flour” was a rich buckwheat pasta (Troiano sourced this from a fellow culinary friend) with smoked butter. Its smokiness wafted from the kitchen to the dining room before it was placed in front of me. Shaved smoked cod and smoked butter created a rather heavy first bite, but not in an off-putting way. I went back for another bite, and then another…until le plat was clean. In between bites, the saké provided an uplifting hit to balance the heaviness of the dish.
“Northern White” featured a meaty fillet of cod that had been prepared on a Japanese charcoal grill with a napa cabbage puree. Foam covered the entire dish, making it hard to decipher what could be hiding underneath. Other than being slightly overcooked, I wasn’t compelled to finish it.
Beef often dominates the meaty centre of a tasting menu, but Frilu offered something a little different with “The Bitter Bison”. The meat had been cooked on the bone, lending to its tenderness and flavourful taste. Its natural sweetness was punched up by the accompanying brown sugar infused Japanese sweet potato puree, red wine and mushroom jus, and almond and burdock root dust. While I enjoyed the thoughtful plating, the bison was slightly overcooked and the whole dish was stifled with sweetness. The wine pairing, a Cuvée Emma Merlot, was right on point and something I’d return for.
“Waterfowl, Marsh 2019” transported me back to my days of living in Japan. It was an elevated rendition of donburi — a Japanese staple consisting of meat, vegetables, and rice. Troiano’s rendition combined perfectly coal-roasted duck breast, with furikake-seasoned rice, crispy dehydrated kale, and mushrooms. I just loved the tableside pour of burnt-onion broth to complete the dish and dug in tout de suite. The only thing that detracted from its perfection was the chewy texture of the mushrooms, which hadn’t been fully rehydrated.
The palate cleanser “Aged Peaches and Crème” came as a surprise with its creamy texture and tart taste, courtesy of the Canadian goat milk base. Peaches aged in whiskey balanced the tartness from the crème. I appreciated the creativity of offering something different before heading into the dessert course, but it felt heavy instead of cleansing to my palate.
Dessert is tough to botch, unless you’re an overachiever who under delivers. Luckily that wasn’t the case at Frilu. “Filbert and the Earth Apple” fused the goodness of chocolate, sunchoke and hazelnuts in a harmonious and memorable dish that was showcased Troiano’s ability to push the envelope. The Jerusalem artichoke ice cream was my component favori.
Taking a page from some of the most influential Michelin-starred restaurants, Troiano offered a perfect bite of white chocolate and mint powder as a petit four, which I could have consumed by the pound.
Other than executing an exquisite meal, storytelling through food is one of the best talents a chef can possess when it comes to a tasting menu, and Troiano didn’t fall short in this category.
As I left the restaurant that evening, I noticed a quote on the wall by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen: “There’s a bench, a stove, sweet smelling air and time to think at leisure.” This is precisely what a visit to Frilu encourages its guests to do — to pause, appreciate the small pleasures in life, and be in an environment that provides a respite from the hustle and bustle of downtown. So, is it worth the drive to Thornhill? Absolument!
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.