The tip-to-tail food movement’s still going strong, and Toronto’s newest pop-up restaurant, The Feasting Room, is the latest restaurant to join the charge. The concept is simple: every week, the restaurant chooses a new protein and then serves you a multi-course tasting menu using different cuts from that animal. I decided to make a reservation during “lamb week” because lamb is so darn fun.
The Feasting Room makes use of Little Italy’s Orbit Room during its pre-bar hours and they do a pretty decent job disguising the bar as a restaurant. At our table, we were presented with a a twine-bound wine-list and a post card that hinted at what cuts would be served to us. We passed on the wine pairing (an additional $35 per person; we wanted to restrict our consumption since it was a Sunday night) and stuck to the regular tasting menu.
Our server happily informed us that, in addition to our six-course meal, two amuse-bouches would be on their way.
The first snack was house-made lamb neck pastrami served with pickled green beans and Kolzik mustard. It had a subtle smokiness to it and a modest pepper kick to it. It made for a very tender and tasty starter.
The second amuse was ballsy. Literally. Lamb testicle croquettes with a smoked mint aoli. While we’d seen our share of lamb balls while in Basque country, we were never adventurous enough to try them. When they’re breaded, deep fried and placed under your nose, you’re going to give it a go – and I’m happy we did. Think of chicken nuggets, but more tender. They were soft, fried bits of goodness and paired well with the mint aoli.
We officially started our meal off with a grilled lamb heart salad. This take on grilled heart was really interesting; heart wasn’t the salad’s centrepiece, but instead was an accompaniment to the rest of the parts, which included rocket, green beans and shallots, and it let the pickled walnut dressing be the focal point. The meat was surprisingly tender, sliced thinly and dispersed throughout the salad. The salad was a great start to our dinner.
Our next course was lamb liver parfait, “sealed” with a layer of fois gras and sided with pickled blueberries and peaches. Here’s where lamb gets tricky. Offal such as liver will normally have a stronger taste than your standard cuts of meat, but gamey lamb offal has the chance of overwhelming the palate. I admit that the first bite of pate did leave a stronger-than-accustomed aftertaste, but that was quickly chased away with the subsequent chomps. The fois fat helped to take some of the gamey edge off and, very quickly, we were in pate love. I was making little capped snowmen with the pickled blueberries.
“O hello, Frosty da Parfait Snowman!”
We shamelessly scraped the jar down to the glass. Yum.
We them moved northward and had a zombilicious serving of lamb brains mixes with cauliflower three ways (puree, florets and dried chips) and tahini. If you’ve never had brains before, fear not. It had a rich and creamy feel with a relatively mild taste. Pairing brains with cauliflower was a playful palate take on cauliflower gratin, and the finishing spices of sumac and zatar that were mixed with the deep-fried florets were an intelligent interpretation of comfort food. And no, I can’t avoid the brain-related pun. Sorry.
It feels like we’re still riding the poutine wave, with every restaurant offering their take on the Quebecois dish. The Feasting Room offered a neat angle, making a semi-pulled shank poutine that was served with sheep’s milk cheese curd and French-style potato. This dish worked very well when a bite of cheese made it to my fork and mixed with the potatos and lamb. The cheese offered a kick and a saltiness that worked really well with the rest of the dish. Without the cheese, the dish was good but not spectacular. So like to kids in those horrible 1980′s commercials: “(more) Cheese please!”
Our server brought us two mini casserole dishes and proclaimed that we were about to eat the chef’s take on steak and kidney pie. The kidneys were pan seared then deglazed with Worcestershire sauce and chicken stock. They were then placed in a casserole with lamb leg, veggies, a Guinness sauce and house-make spatzele. The kidney was by far the strongest and gamiest of cuts we tried, having a strong sharp taste to it. The small casserole made it difficult to cut up the kidney and mix it with the spazele and other large, awkward cut of meat. The cute casserole dish could have worked if the meat was in smaller pieces or there was less kidney. Otherwise, a different vessel might have elevated our enjoyment of this dish.
The menu was completed with a sheep’s ricotta cheesecake, topped with raspberry coulis and compete and accompanied by a espresso cup’s of vanilla-dusted whey. It was a neat yin-yang dessert that played on the “nothing is wasted” theme of the restaurant. The ricotta gave the cheesecake a refreshing flavour to it instead of a typical sweet-and-creamy cream cheese cheesecake. Pouring spoonfuls of whey as cheesecake chasers was definitely the tasty way to go.
We were stuffed and really enjoyed our meal, but made sure we didn’t linger too long. At 9:30, the restaurant morphs back into a bar, so unless you enjoy audibly hearing about the bartender’s recent escapades, book a reservation to eat before 7:30.
Words by Richard, photography by Robin