Address: 1087 Wellington St W
Hours: 5:30pm – midnight (Mon – Thu); 5:30pm – 2am (Fri – Sat); closed Sunday
When looking for a place to go for a nice anniversary dinner with my wife, one stuck out from my literal list of restaurants I have yet to try – Bar Laurel. We’re both fans of Spanish tapas, and a special occasion was just the extra motivation we needed to make the trek out of our more central haunts to go to Hintonburg.
A reservation I had made earlier in the week for that Saturday only got us seats at the bar, so if you’re a larger group, you might want to plan ahead a bit more than we did. The cozy restaurant is fairly minimal in its design, with some cool light fixtures and artwork from local artists standing out against the dark walls and wood.
We decided to order a of couple dishes at a time so that we could take the evening at our own pace. For our first two, we went with very common, but nonetheless delicious, tapas dishes – Iberico ham, and patatas bravas.
Round one came out of the kitchen almost right away. Iberico ham ($20 for 25g), is world-famous for the nutty flavour that the pigs acquire from foraging in forests and eating acorns. I fell in love with it back in Halifax at a fantastic tapas place there, and was more than willing to try out Bar Laurel’s. Sliced razor-thin, the meat was rich and flavourful, and nearly melts on your tongue, although it wasn’t as impressively nutty as my first time having jamon iberico. Maybe I’m just chasing the dragon with this meat now?
The patatas bravas ($10) was comprised of chunks of lightly fried potatoes, placed on a tangy tomato sauce, and topped with an aioli and chives. Simple, tasty, and perfectly snackable.
Our next batch of bar bites were the Iberian ham croquettes, and grilled halloumi with leeks and cherry tomatoes.
The Iberian ham croquettes ($12) were the favourite dish of the night for both of us. Subtly decadent and fluffy on the inside, and wonderfully crisp on the outside, they were perfectly executed. A mysterious salsa verde brought a vegetal pop to the otherwise rich bites.
The grilled halloumi ($11) was in the pintxos Morunos section of the menu, which is a style of pintxos that is grilled on a stick. While the stick is removed before plating, if it existed in the first place, everything was definitely grilled, with the semi-firm cheese and the veggies getting a pleasant char. The leeks and acidic pops of the cherry tomatoes paired beautifully with the salty cheese.
Next on our Spanish food parade were the Iberico meatballs ($12) with shaved pecorino cheese. A simple dish, but done well here.
Dish number seis was the stuffed quail ($13). The drumsticks on quail are so tiny you almost feel guilty for eating such a tiny animal, but on the other hand, that tiny animal was cooked deliciously. Any guilt I had was soothed by the crisp skin, crunchy pine nuts, and sweet and tangy sauce.
At this point in the meal, we were well along the road to satiation, but decided that we should have some vegetables. This is where the salad with beets, olives, winter citrus, hazelnuts and feta came in. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill salad, as it came with a ton of great flavours and textures playing off one another.
For dessert we went the digestif route, since Bar Laurel has an impressive sherry list. Being the cool cats that they are, they even have sherry flights! As such, we were able to sample a few kinds of the sweet liqueur under the expert guidance of the bartender.
Speaking of which, despite being a man short at the bar, our bartender was able to handle our various orders in a friendly and efficient way, all the while making a seemingly endless number of cocktails for the whole restaurant.
The dishes that are coming out of the kitchen at Bar Laurel are consistently great, and perfect for gradually gorging while spending the evening with someone(s) whose company you enjoy. However, it seems I still need to chase that jamon iberico dragon…