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Grove owner/chef Ben Heaton holds the cod and clams.
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Mike Bradley pulls a pint of non-carbonated Wellington Arkell Best Bitter.
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Deconstructed banoffee pie ends things nicely.
GROVE (1214 Dundas West, at Grove, 416-588-2299, thegroveto.com) Complete meals for $65 per person, including tax, tip and a local beer. Average main $23. Open Tuesday to Saturday 6 to 11 pm. Bar till close. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNN
According to a recent cover story in Canada's national magazine, the best new restaurant in the country sits directly across the street from a KFC on Dundas West. Sorry, Maclean's, but the Grove isn't even the best new resto in Little Portugal.
Oh, there's much to admire in ex-Globe chef Ben Heaton's cozy 40-seat bistro, from the exposed brick and candlelight to the Talking Heads and Human League on the sound system. And the carte's often quite lovely, described by Heaton as "contemporary English," though it has little in common with either Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver or bangers 'n' mash. Call it UK classics filtered through the spicier colonies and you're closer.
But saying it's the ultimate new dining room in the year of Jacob Sharkey-Pearce's Ursa and Geoff Hopgood's Foodliner, to name but two, is a bit of a stretch.
Heaton starts off promisingly enough with a slices of dense muffin-like soda bread, followed by a proper meat pie in crisp golden pastry stuffed with shredded pork shoulder and barely cured bacon, its side of mustard piccalilli the perfect foil ($10). Pig Wellington, perhaps?
Like most of us, Heaton's plates could use a good edit. A creamy starter of smoked mackerel in horseradish crème fraîche ($12) is almost too pretty to eat, its accompanying rye wafers so ethereally thin, they're more decoration than sustenance. Appropriately plump scallops ($15) arrive seared from the grill and superfluously sided with house-made black pudding (the polite name for blood sausage), meaty fried mushrooms, raw green apple and foamed lemon butter. Wasn't it more or less Vogue's Diana Vreeland who said less is more?
Chef keeps it relatively simple by pairing great fillets of flaky ling cod with Manila clams and bacon on a bed of smoked potato purée ($22), a main that could have come from the nearest Portuguese trat, though we doubt they'd finish the dish with a foam of reduced sherry vinegar. His beef two ways - braised 'n' shredded short ribs versus grilled and blood-rare hanger ($24) - with poached leeks and pickled walnuts would also benefit from one less element on the plate. That'd be you, foam of stinky Stilton.
No token pasta primavera to appease the Birkenstock set, Heaton's terrific vegetarian gnocchi with wilted kale and oyster 'shrooms ($17) will satisfy the brawniest of beefeaters. And all show up with a communal side of chunky deep-fried spuds and a bowl of Indo ketchup, a nice touch.
But if we'd known his Eccles cake and Lancashire cheddar ($10) - an homage to the St. John's Bakery in London and not the one on Broadview - would amount to little more than a two-bite currant bun and a chunk of crumbly cheese, we'd have gone with his deconstructed take on banoffee pie ($8) instead.
Grove offers competent gastro-pub grub when it doesn't get sidetracked with frou-frou, plus attitude-free service and prices that don't break the bank - just the kind of spot we'd frequent on a regular basis if we lived two blocks away and wanted somewhere to have dinner with the kids. But the best new resto in the dominion?
Not bloody likely!