Lake Inez – Nuanced flavours of Asia in a unique setting
|Location||1471 Gerrard Street East|
|Dinner for two with drinks||$125|
If you walked through Little India three years ago, a pan-Asian restaurant would have stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the never-ending strip of mom-and-pop Indian restaurants. Toronto has witnessed this neighbourhood transform over the past few years, and new restaurants like Lake Inez have been an inevitable part of that transformation.
In late 2016 when Lake Inez opened its doors in a space that was, by no surprise, formerly an Indian restaurant, I wondered if it would drown like a piece of chicken in a khadai of creamy golden korma. But, over a year after its opening, it served, what I consider to be one of the finest Asian fusion experiences in the city.
Owners Dennis Kimeda (The Wren) Patrick Ciappara and Zac Schwartz have transformed the previously tired space into a work of art—literally. Walking into the restaurant was a sensory experience. Delicious smells wafted into the main dining space. For the eyes, the main focal point was a wall-sized stained-glass mosaic of Kate Bush and Virginia Woolf in angelic form (that Schwartz spent hours creating).
On a chalkboard by the bar, there was a list of 24 draft brews that showcased Ontario’s ever-expanding craft beer scene—from Bellwoods to Blood Brothers. Je n’aime pas la bière, so I chose a cocktail. It was like the bartender took the best flavours from each Asian country and concocted a perfectly balanced drink. In addition to creative cocktails, Lake Inez’s wine list shines a light on les vins du province.
Service was laid back and efficient. When it came to the food, our server was well-informed about the dishes and their ingredients. I was impressed that she could rhyme off the definition of “arare cracker” without sounding like it had been rehearsed. The menu had five sections: snacks, smaller shared plates, larger shared plates, starch and desserts. Chef Robbie Hojilla (Harbord Room, Hudson Kitchen) creatively profiled many regions and flavours of Asia—from Japan to Thailand. My guest and I were drawn to almost everything.
First to arrive were the Japanese deviled eggs ($6 for two pieces)—a mixture of creamy golden yolks, kewpie mayo and yuzu kosho. These were not the deviled eggs maman would take to a potluck in the 90s. Nori and roe garnishes took this snack staple of the past into the present. One bite satisfied my appetite, as well as my nostalgia.
Next up were the Filipino BBQ pork skewers ($8 for two pieces). Although fatty pork shoulder isn’t normally ma viande preferée, I enjoyed the lemony-lime zip from the 7Up marinade. Charred over a Japanese grill, the gooey concentrate of 7Up mixture and soy elevated the tender meat’s taste.
When it comes to food, there’s no denying that I’m un petit peu hard to please. My guest and I concurred that the roasted squash salad ($14) was a showstopper. With a base of arugula and a dynamic duo of acorn and delicata squash, it appeared basic—but it was far from it. When combined with pumpkin seed pesto and Thai dressing, my mouth didn’t know what hit me (in a good way, of course). Supérbe!
If I had to choose two items from the menu again, it would be the spicy charred Brussels sprouts ($14) and the market fish curry (market price). The Brussels were potent from the chili jam, but they didn’t get all of their force from their heat, which is a common mishap at most Asian fusion restaurants. Balanced by oyster sauce, lime and anchovies, the flavor profile had the right ratios of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, and bitter—a hallmark of a chef who knows his stuff.
Thai flavours were alive in the market fish curry. Notes of cilantro, Thai basil and kaffir lime practically transported my taste buds to Khao San Road in Bangkok; however, I would have punched up the chili un petit peu. Using a Japanese grill to prepare the skin-on snapper lent a slightly smoky fragrance to the dish. It was a generous portion, so a bowl of jasmine rice was necessary to ensure this deliciously comforting dish didn’t go to waste.
I commend Lake Inez for stepping outside of the box and bringing the nuanced flavours of Asia to Little India in a concept that’s unique, well-priced and extraordinaire. Ma seule critique is that the service was a bit rushed, partially due to multiple dishes coming out at once. Whether you stop in to enjoy a craft brew and some snacks, or savour a meal while admiring the rich interior detail, you’ll most certainly devour every last bite.
Mme M. xoxo
Le 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.