Konia isn’t Toronto’s first Vietnamese restaurant. The city is riddled with spots doling out fragrant bowls of pho, toasty bánh mì, and other Vietnamese comfort faves. Konia (pronounced, k’near) just happens to be the sexiest of them all. Modern and woodsy, with glints of gold, and dramatic design elements inspired by Vietnam, this is Roncesvalles’ newest restaurant to linger over shared plates of beautiful food.
“We don’t want to be known as a pho restaurant,” says manager Ellen Lam, explaining that the idea behind Konia was always to honour Vietnam by going beyond its most celebrated dish. A Vietnamese restaurant and bar, Konia is a place where diners are encouraged to eat intentionally, enjoying each bite in the company of others.
It’s a sentiment that fits perfectly with the restaurant’s namesake — a type of lofty, southeast Asian tree known for bringing people together under its verdant canopy. Konia the restaurant simply brings people together for something much more gratifying than shade — traditional Vietnamese food and a roster of inspired cocktails.
Inside the warm space, diners are met with a restaurant designed to “showcase the different ethnic groups within Vietnam,” explains Lam. Bamboo-covered walls and a tin ceiling jauntily lined with nón lá (conical hats), make a striking first impression. Imported from different regions of the country, paintings, colourful seat cushions, murals and more enliven every inch. Though there’s seating for up to 50 between the bar and two rooms, book tables with ground seating for an experience akin to eating in Vietnam. Elevated from the floor, finished with cushions and a bamboo roof, this area encourages sharing and leisurely meals quite unlike any other.
Layered, balanced and, ultimately, extremely delicious, each menu item at Konia is faithful to tradition and the key elements of Vietnamese cuisine. “A lot of our dishes are made of items that you actually eat with your hands,” explains Lam, adding that platters and other family-style items are meant to be shared and lingered over en masse.
In each, there’s a riotous use of herbs, with marinated meats and seafood carrying the flavours of fish sauce, garlic, lime, shallots, and more. An abundance of veggies show up for crunch, colour, and welcome pops of freshness.
Take, for example, Konia’s Ceviche. Here, shrimp, salmon, avocado, cucumber, tomatoes and onion are tossed with a judicious amount of punchy Vietnamese seasoning, made of fish sauce, sesame and lime. Served with sesame rice crackers, it’s a dish that’s satiny and crunchy, with pops of heat, from jalapeño, and splashy hits of acid.
One of several vegetarian options, tossed Mango Salad is served with black sesame chips, giving it the air of a party appetizer rather than a traditional starter. Eschew forks and dig in. Tangy, tropical and fruity, it’s finished with crisp bits of fried shallot and buttery peanuts to cut through every puckery bite.
Non-vegetarians shouldn’t let Konia’s trio of wing offerings escape notice. All three — Signature Sticky, Golden Glazed and Tangy — are meaty and moist, supernally glossy and just a tad naughty (they are deep fried, after all). The type of food you dream of (when slightly sloshed, when its Friday, when you’ve had a crap day, etc.) these satisfy on several levels. With a slick varnish of sweet fish sauce and fresh-fallen flakes of salted egg yolk, the Golden Glazed Wings counter sweet with salty in a way that will compel you to order another round.
A dish that encapsulates the team’s vision, Konia’s large DIY Platter invites diners to bundle their own rolls from a mix of pork and beef sausage, rolled up vermicelli, lettuce, mint, greens, pickled carrots, cucumber and rice papers. “There’s no perfect way of eating it,” laughs Lam, adding that rolling newbs need not worry — eating things out of a bowl, unwrapped, is also perfectly acceptable.
Konia may not be a “pho restaurant” but its make-your-own version proves it’s not for lack of skill. Each bowl begins with a base of beef broth into which the kitchen adds rare beef, tendon beef balls, beef brisket, or beef shank, as per diners’ instructions. Can’t decide? Order them all and face a steaming stone bowl of umami laced with the punch of herbs and lime, and the naughty tickle of bird’s eye chilies.
As adept at mixing drinks as it is with dishing out flavour-packed dishes, the team at Konia has created a cocktail list that’s big on tropical flavours, house-made syrups and modern combinations. With reposado tequila, Campari, lime and hibiscus tea, the Roselle 'n Rosie is lively and clean, with bitter notes and a spiced rim.
Drinks that don’t generally cause a stir, the tea and coffee options at Konia are bracing, fresh, and well worth your time — teetotaler or not. Peach Aroma is frothy and quenching with a backbone of house-made oolong peach tea and syrup. Vietnamese iced coffee (known here as The Vintage of Highland), meanwhile, is the drink you’ll dream of. Made in what Lam calls “the perfect ratio,” it balances the bitterness of robust Vietnamese coffee with the luscious sweetness of condensed milk. Creamy and frothy, it's as likely to make your heart race as it is to make you swoon.
A place that brings something new to the restaurant-heavy Roncy strip, Konia is a modern restaurant infused with national pride and tradition. It’s a spot where food acts a catalyst for connection, and diners will feel the essence of Vietnam in every motley mouthful. Roll up your sleeves and follow the team's lead. You’ll love where you end up.