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Campagnolo and La Palma chef's latest is a swank all-day space with a Mediterranean menu
The newly-opened boutique hotel, helmed by Silver Hotels Group, is hanging its appeal on a home-away-from-home schtick meant to attract trend-conscious travelers (the building was once luxury rental apartments in the ‘50s).
And though the dining room at Constantine is way nicer than any concievable apartment, there is something undeniably inviting about the layout: A wide-open central kitchen surrounded by a wraparound bar and flanked by clubby lounge areas with upholstered walls and fireplaces. A dark, navy-walled lobby lounge — dubbed The Bar At Constantine — lures you into the bright dining room that winks through open shelves filled with concrete urns.
“We wanted it to feel like a family room,” explains Jack Scarangella, president of Mercatto Restaurant Group and part of AlterEgo, a restaurant partnership that includes Harding and his wife, designer Alexandra Hutchison.
Initially, the hotel team had aggressively courted Mercatto to handle the food program at Anndore. They weren’t initally sure it was the project for them, Scarangella said — but when his nascent partnership with Harding flourished with the opening of Dundas West’s La Palma last year, they began to reconsider.
To flesh out the Constantine concept, Scarangella, Harding and co. travelled to Istanbul, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, picking up new flavours to bolster Harding’s existing repertoire of Italian dishes. They borrowed the restaurant’s name from the ancient Roman ruler whose empire spanned from northeastern Europe to north Africa to the middle East.
“The core is still Italian — it’s what Craig does well, it’s what we know,” Scarangella says. “But there are flashes of dishes from Israel, from southern Greece.”
Harding’s menu is broad, with ample veg, meat and fish options pizzas and grilled proteins make excellent use of the kitchen’s wood-burning oven. Diners of many stripes will no doubt find something that suits their palate and dietary preferences, but the usual lowest-common-denominator hotel fare is absent from the menu. (Heck, even the house burger is made of lamb.)
“We definitely didn’t want to have to change our philosophy or food aesthetic just to cater to a certain clientele, as some people are forced to do in certain hotel environments,” Harding says, noting that the adjacent Scarlet Door cafe picks up some of that slack with uncomplicated eats like paninis, breakfast sandwiches and yogurt parfaits.
“I think we’re an edgier concept — ‘here’s what we are, take it or leave it’. And the hotel owners were very supportive of us.”
The main thing, from a hotel-resto perspective, was to ensure that early-morning and late-night service was taken care of — so Constantine is offering a limited menu of room service from 7 am until 1 am.
“It’s very casual and Uber Eats-style, not fancy, with cloche service,” Harding says. “We’re just doing things that we think travel well off our own menu — pizza, short pastas, salads — so it’s not about pleasing every single person.”
Harding’s hope is that Constantine will not only be able to conquer the hearts of out-of-town guests, but coax in locals who typically wouldn’t stop at the Anndore: “We wanted it to feel like a true, homegrown restaurant that just happens to be in a hotel.”
Here’s a closer look at the menu.
From the veggies menu: kale, rutabaga and feta salad with jalapeño, sesame, pomegranate seeds, radishes, torn mint and lemon jalapeno vinaigrette ($12).
Among the menu of wood-fired pizzas: lamb sausage pizza with tomato, fior di latte and fresh oregano ($15).
Branzino ($25) is sliced into long pieces and wrapped around sundried tomatoes before being served on a bed of bulgur, pistachios and currants. Dots of raisin-caper purée finish the plate.
The sides menu includes sweet potato with roasted figs, goat cheese, pickled chili and fennel ($13).
The look of this sesame mousse wrapped in sesame tuile is based on the white dome of the Hagia Sophia basilica in Istanbul.
Nougat glacé comes topped with pistachio sponge, Cara Cara oranges and orange glass.
The Tropicália cocktail ($16), featuring passionfruit, Branca Menta, cachaça, housemade orgeat and lemon and lime juice, is tropical with a minty twist.
Isla Desierta ($17), built in a single-malt-rinsed glass, features Campari, ginger and Lot 40 with a grapefruit garnish.
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