The award for grace under pressure goes to the kitchen at Toronto’s St. Regis Hotel, where the annual ranking of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants was celebrated this week.
Can you imagine having to cook endless rounds of canapés for more than 300 of the country’s top chefs, restaurateurs, food journalists and discerning judges, followed by a private dinner?
No one complained. At least not loudly. In fact, it seemed as though everyone was in an exceptionally festive mood for the fifth anniversary of the list, which becomes larger every year with supplemental awards such as Farm to Table (Vancouver’s Nightingale), Eco-Friendly (Calgary’s River Café), Pastry Chef (Celeste Mah at Raymonds in St. John’s) and Most Innovative Chef (Antonin Mousseau-Rivard of Montreal’s Le Mousso).
I was fortunate to be in Toronto for the awards ceremony. This year, I edited a supplemental publication, Canada’s Best Bars. Tough job, I know.
When the top 10 restaurants were announced, Toronto’s Alo was chosen No. 1 in Canada for the third year in a row, with chef-owner Patrick Kriss also winning Outstanding Chef and taking home awards for Aloette (No. 35) and Alobar (No. 65). Alo Food Group’s Christopher Sealy also won best sommelier.
Toronto was the highest-ranked city overall, with 26 restaurants in the roundup. Montreal came in at a close second with 25 restaurants, including Joe Beef (No. 2) and Toqué! (No. 3).
Vancouver placed third with 13 winners – 16 in total for British Columbia.
Vancouver’s St. Lawrence placed highest, at No. 5 – the only B.C. restaurant in the top 10 and a remarkable leap from 2018, when the classic French restaurant with Québécois flourishes made its debut at No. 20.
I gave chef-owner J.C. Poirier a little squeeze on the arm when the Lifetime Achievement Award was bestowed on his mentor, Toqué!’s Normand Laprise.
“He made an indelible mark on his city’s cuisine … turning it away from something French and recognizable into something whimsical and Québécois and all its own,” Jacob Richler, editor-in-chief of Canada’s 100 Best, said from the podium about Mr. Laprise.
In an odd twist, Mr. Poirier’s cooking at St. Lawrence, which has dusted off the French canon and revitalized it with Québécois flourishes and West Coast ingredients, has made a similar mark on Vancouver.
As Mr. Richler noted, there was a lot of movement on this year’s list, with roughly a quarter of the restaurants being new entrants.
Notable first-timers include Halifax’s Bar Kismet (impressively landing at No. 15), Regina’s Avenue (the first Regina restaurant to appear on the list, tied with Quebec’s La Cabane d’à côté, at No. 66) and Toronto’s Giulietta (No. 9, the highest placement for a newly opened restaurant since Alo made its debut at No. 7 in 2016).
Congratulations to Toronto’s Bar Raval, which retained the title of Best Bar for a second year, and Vancouver’s Keefer Bar, which came in second, also for the second year in a row.
Beyond those two bars, it was far from business as usual with many shakeups on the list. Most notably, Toronto’s Civil Liberties soared to No. 3 (up from No. 30 last year).
Four of this year’s top 10 bars were new, including Botanist at the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which placed ninth. Vancouver did well overall with eight winners in total.
As editor of Canada’s Best Bars, I don’t vote. Mr. Richler and I, however, did make some changes this year that may have affected the overall rankings.
First, we beefed up the judge’s panel with more bartenders, brand ambassadors and industry representatives. While spirit writers and well-travelled customers who actually pay for their drinks (as opposed to “influencers” and bloggers) add a valid viewpoint, we strongly believed it was important to include the people who work in the industry and know it best.
We also eliminated restaurant bars from the list. The way we see it, a bar along one wall of a dining room is not a bar – it’s part of a restaurant. If the bar is in a separate room – or separated by a long corridor, as is the Botanist – and has its own distinct identity, then it qualifies as a standalone watering hole.
You can find the entire list and read more about our methodology when it goes online in the next couple of weeks.
B.C. restaurants among Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants
5. St. Lawrence stlawrencerestaurant.com
11. Hawksworth hawksworthrestaurant.com
16. Kissa Tanto kissatanto.com
22. L’Abattoir labattoir.ca
31. Boulevard boulevardvancouver.ca
34. Cioppino’s cioppinos.wordpress.com
37. Nightingale hawknightingale.com
39. Botanist botanistrestaurant.com
54. La Quercia laquercia.ca
59. Bearfoot Bistro bearfootbistro.com
60. Savio Volpe saviovolpe.com
76. Pilgrimme pilgrimme.ca
78. Masayoshi masayoshi.ca
87. Ancora Waterfront Dining ancoradining.com
88. Bauhaus bauhaus-restaurant.com
94. The Courtney Room thecourtneyroom.com
B.C. bars among Canada’s 50 Best Bars
2. The Keefer Bar
16. The Diamond
19. The Shameful Tiki Room
30. Lobby Lounge
35. The Cocktail Bar at Hawksworth
49. Grapes & Soda