I was bundled up tight on that particular January night.
As I walked swathed in my scarf along Cumberland Street in Yorkville—Toronto’s posh uptown neighbourhood—I nearly missed my dinner destination on the left: Bar Reyna, an unassuming two-storey building with a purple awning at its base. I might not have noticed it there nestled between Caplansky’s Deli and a parking garage, but perhaps this fact was fitting.
Upon entering the bar, I realized I had come across a hidden treasure.
Instead of seating me at one of the few tables by the window, the hostess led me down a hallway that made me think I was about to get a tour of the kitchen.
“I’m taking you to our secret garden,” she said to me.
A wave of warmth from pulsing heat lamps immediately hit me in the face as we entered Reyna’s year-round patio. Low-lit lanterns and Christmas-style balls hung from the 20-foot angled ceiling above my head. Smooth lounge music matched the flow of the servers’ turquoise gypsy pants. I felt like I had woken up from a state of hibernation.
“Would you like still or sparkling water while you wait for your guest?” a server soon asked me.
“It’s just me,” I replied back.
Certainly it was a place perfect for solo dining, just as much as it seemed to complement the casual dinner party to my right and the elegant date night happening on my left.
I found myself at Reyna in the middle of a sober month, but the one-of-a-kind cocktail list still caught my eye. One drink called Her Royal Highness stood out: a $30 mix of vodka and rum, sweetened with regal additions such as saffron and rosewater. With my sparkling water in hand, I turned to the food menu and picked the Chicken Shawarma “Your Way”, as per the recommendation from my server.
To my pleasant surprise, “my way” this dish would be indeed, as she was willing to accommodate my gluten allergy by offering lettuce wraps instead of the house-made flatbread. Before this centerpiece, however, I was able to get a taste of Reyna’s flavour with some bite-size appetizers.
Zucchini fritters came first—gluten-free on their own—which would cause a ruckus if they were ever to be taken off the menu, according to Reyna’s owner Nicki Laborie. The stuffed falafels came next, decorated with a mint relish. One bite and you’ll experience an explosive zest that you might not expect from this part of town.
I found myself noting the sauces of these pretty nibbles as being the most memorable, and realized that these flavours are intentional, created on purpose to jolt your taste buds awake. I was surprised to learn that these tangs came from the creativity of 24-year-old chef Omar Ma.
To end my night, it was Ma who proposed an off-menu, gluten-free ice cream and ganache spread, topped with dried, crushed rose petals.
I had missed out on Her Royal Highness, but something about saying, “I ate rose petals for dessert” made me feel like royalty. I finished my night by wrapping myself back into my scarf—this time refreshed as I walked out once again into Toronto’s chill.
The unsaturated winter often drives us into a strange type of inertia. If you’re looking to invigorate all five of your senses, Bar Reyna is the place to go.