If you've ever vacationed in the Med, chances are, you've seen Abrielle.
She's the type of strikingly beautiful woman who's hard to miss. She's sitting on the terrace, tanned legs crossed with her face turned towards a sinking afternoon sun. It could be 2 o'clock or 7 o'clock, but time doesn't phase her —here she stays, perched with her favourite cocktail in hand, living freely in the moment without a care in the world.
Tucked inside the recently-rebranded Sutton Place Hotel (formerly the Royal Blue Hotel), Abrielle is a coastal Mediterranean restaurant that draws inspiration from countries like Italy, Portugal, Greece and the south of France.
"Abrielle is the portrait of a woman who's very approachable; she loves to travel, eat good food and keep good company," says Rahil Hoque, chief operating officer of Ascari Hospitality Group, which owns Abrielle.
Divided into three spacious dining rooms, the 120-seat Abrielle's interior is soft and inviting. Curated by a team of experts at the DesignAgency (LOUIS LOUIX, The Broadview Hotel, Mamakas), the restaurant includes a main bar and dining area, a front dining room and a more intimate space in the back.
Bunches of delicate, dried pampas grass and other florals enhance the feminiity of the space, as does the colour palette, which sticks to a Mediterranean theme without coming across as borderline basic with only blue and white hues.
In the front dining area, cushioned lemon yellow seats—the fruit of Sicily, of course—stand out amongst leatherback seafoam green chairs.
Local artwork includes marble sculptures and busts of the female body, and subtle pops of coral pink appear through ceramic dishes, vases and lamps. Overhead lighting is provided by seashell-inspired hanging lamps.
Located in the heart of the Entertainment District, the restaurant is easily accessible for those looking for everything from a Sunday morning brunch spot to an easy afterwork cocktail.
Splitting his time between France and Mexico as a child, some of executive chef Olivier Le Caldez's fondest memories around food come from his grandfather, who owned a boulangerie shop in Normandy.
Trained in French cooking but influenced by the other half of his life spent in Mexico, at Abrielle, Calvez has created a menu that manages to honour the timeless culinary traditions and flavours of both countries.
His expertise spans 27 years, including more than a decade here in Toronto, where he designed menus for some of the city's favourite Mexican eateries, including 1 Hotel's Casa Madera and the Distillery District's El Catrin.
"We bring traditional dishes and elevate them to the point that we're not getting into molecular cuisine, with fire and foams; it's simple but the flavours are all there," Le Caldez says.
The yellowfin tuna tartare ($24) is a light and refreshing appetizer. The tuna is marinated, then sliced paper thin and served cold with halved cotton candy grapes, a sprinkle of chopped almonds and a creamy dressing made from mint oil and horseradish. This dish is packed with umami.
The heirloom tomato salad ($19) blends three different kinds of tomato, pickled pearl onion, sprigs of baby basil and whipped basil ricotta.
The red snapper ($44) is cooked perfectly with the skin on using a blend of simple ingredients for a clean finish: chopped parsley and chives, capers and olive oil and a slice of lemon. It's finished with a dash of sherry.
The charred broccolini ($16) offers a unique spin on a classic, that typically uses garlic, instead using lemon zest and preserved lemon marmelaide for a tangy, acidic finish.
The Berkshire pork chop ($48) is served bone-in, and is seared in a blend of chili spice with a side of sunchoke puree, and then garnished with edible flowers. The 12 oz. chop comes from a Mennonite farm in Ontario.
For dessert, don't miss the super moist lemon and pear marmelaide cake ($16) which is plated alongside a juicy slice of white wine poached pear, tonka bean, and dollops of brie cheese. The end result is a striking balance of sweet and savoury.
All of Abrielle's cocktails are curated by bar manager Daniel Castro and head bartender Luca Roy.
Starting off as a barback in 2006, Castro worked his way up in the hospitality industry, designing cocktail programs for Alobar and other well-known venues.
Addressing Toronto's seemingly incessant infatuation with performance cocktails (think smoking drinks, theatrics, and fire to name a few), Castro says his goal as a mixologist is to try and scale cocktails back to their original form, meaning that he chooses to focus on a select few strong ingredients that speak for themselves, with no need for superficial distractions.
"I view myself as a classicist, a preservationist of sorts," says Castro "While it's exciting to see how far the profession has come and the cool techniques people are using, for me, I focus on restraint; less is always more."
It's a far cry from what going out for a cocktail on King St. W. looks like now, but Castro is confident that the drink menu at Abrielle will provide a welcome relief for crowds who tirelessly scan the menus for a familiar cocktail, free from lengthy explanations and presentations. However, with that being said, Abrielle does still offer its tableside premium Kristal sturgeon caviar service, which is paired with two glasses of Taittinger champagne rosé.
"I want people to feel that it's not, quite literally, smoke and mirrors," he says. "Because when you strip that away, what else do you have?"
At Abrielle, the cocktail menu doesn't feature any infusions. Castro is focused on leaving ingredients—including simple syrups, botanicals and garnishes—in their purest form, so as not to take away from the original flavour profile each ingredient offers. "Our purveyors and producers put a lot of love into making these taste like what they are, and I want to honour that," he says.
There are currently six cocktails on the menu at Abrielle. Visually, the drinks are floral-forward and feminine, a nod to the restaurant itself.
Wines, offered by the glass or bottle, are made exclusively by female owners and makers.
Abrielle's Daniel Castro behind the bar.
The Spa Day ($23), a nod to Abrielle's home inside of The Sutton Place Hotel, is a shaken cocktail made using Tanqueray ten gin, bianco vermouth, St. Germain Elderflower, cucumber, lime, lavender bitters, and egg white. The end result is a citrus cocktail that's slightly sour but equally refreshing.
The Sicilian ($17) is a tribute to Abrielle's bar manager Luca, who is of Sicilian descent. It fuses Dillon’s melon gin, briottet cactus pear, white pepper, plenty of crushed ice, lemon and a splash of soda.
Abrielle is located at 355 King St. W. and is open Wednesday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. then again from 5 to 10 p.m.; Thursday and Friday from 7 a.m. to 12 p.m. then again from 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. then again from 5 to 11 p.m.; Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. then again from 5 to 10 p.m., and Monday and Tuesday from 5 to 10 p.m.