Inside Mother Tongue, an Asian cocktail bar and restaurant

Templar Hotel's new two-floor eatery is a love letter to Filipino cuisine from a pair of Bar Buca alumni


Mother Tongue (348 Adelaide West, at Peter, 647-243-5858, mothertongue.ca) is an Asian kitchen and bar that recently moved into the Templar Hotel.

Plenty of spots have adopted the title of “bar and restaurant,” but Mother Tongue takes that concept a step further, dividing the former home of Parcae into two distinct spaces: a ground-floor bar with a pavilion-like vibe and modern-Asian cocktail program, plus a cozy, neon-lit downstairs space with a classic drink list.

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Natalia Manzocco

“It felt a lot more open before, but we really wanted to divide the space into two,” says GM Rob Granicolo, who recently wound down a gig behind the bar at Il Covo. “It’s just more fresh, I think. Instead of just being a good bar or a good restaurant, you can offer up both. You could start your night or end your night here.”

Granicolo and chef Francis Bermejo met while working together at Bar Buca a few years back, and the restaurant marries Granicolo’s dreams of opening a cocktail bar with Bermejo’s desire to explore the history of his native Philippines through a broader menu of Asian dishes.

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Natalia Manzocco

Bermejo’s menu cleverly explores the influences that feed into Filipino cuisine: Chinese and Spanish are two of the main threads, but the last century brought Japanese and American components due to the military presence of both countries during World War II. Most recently, he says, the Philippines has become home to a large Korean population as the country’s economy climbs. And the menu is further shot through with Canadian influences, like the Quebec duck and foie in the dumpling dish, in a nod to Bermejo’s youth spent here.

“For me, I never really felt like I wanted to put Filipino food on the map. Maybe 10 years ago I would have felt that way, as a Filipino chef. But now my rule is just to make delicious food.

“I don’t really care for the word ‘fusion,’” he adds. “It’s not about meshing two cultures together. It’s more like, how do these different cultures that I grew up with harmonize together? How do they convey a story?”

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Natalia Manzocco

To that end, he’s taken pains to design dishes that use components of familiar foods in a different way. A favourite example is the bistek tataki, which translates the Filipino dish (beef marinated in soy and citrus with garlic and onions) to a plate of seared Ontario beef dressed with charred onions, fresh shallots, garlic crumble and garlic oil. 

“It’s the food you know, and the food you long for, and the food you wish to share with the people around you – family, friends, everyone who comes in the door,” Bermejo says.

Here’s a closer look at the menu:

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“Pan de sal ($1.50) is like your classic Filipino roll. Everyone in the country eats it,” Bermejo says, adding it gets its unique flavour from its whole-wheat and all-purpose flour blend, plus a bread crumb topping. The pâté ($7), a blend of foie and chicken liver, is a tribute to the canned liver spread his grandma would give him to eat with his pan de sal as a kid.

Other available toppings include manchego cheese ($18) and Iberico coppa from Spain ($12). “We get it from Joselito, a family-run company that’s cured it for 150 years. This is from the first batch they were licensed to sell in Canada.”

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Natalia Manzocco

The longganisa sanwit ($12) is made with a housemade sausage mix of cured garlic, chili, chopped pork fat and black pepper. It’s topped with soy-vinegar caramelized onions, fresh cabbage, shaved manchego cheese and chili mayo.

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Natalia Manzocco

Octopus tentacles ($16) come braised, grilled on skewers and brushed with housemade gochujang BBQ sauce. Bermejo tops them with thinly sliced cabbage tossed in a bit of grapeseed oil and lemon juice for acid, plus a little cilantro.

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Natalia Manzocco

From the mains list: a seared black sea bass filet served atop adobo broth ($23). Bermejo says the soy-preserved daikon adds a Korean flair, while the scallion pancake is “very Chinese, but we grill it instead of deep-frying it, so it almost resembles a roti.”

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Natalia Manzocco

Sesame-marinated short ribs ($20) are braised and served with jasmine rice, king oyster mushrooms and bibb lettuce.

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From the dessert menu: silvanas, a frozen cookie made from two cashew meringues sandwiched with buttercream and garnished with fresh citrus zest ($8). The sans rival cake, another staple on the dessert menu, is a larger-format version of the same dish.

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Natalia Manzocco

The Disco Lizard cocktail ($15) is a standout selection from the upstairs cocktail menu: a spin on a French 75 that features sesame-oil-infused Tanqueray gin. “I’d say it’s one of the sweeter drinks on the menu, but the umami finish is really interesting – it kind of leaves people guessing,” says bartender Griffin Harbury, who curated the upstairs drink menu. It’s topped off with cava, a nod to the Spanish influence at play.

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Natalia Manzocco

Granicolo’s cocktail menu at the downstairs bar features a list of drinks named for now-defunct clubs that used to fuel Toronto’s downtown party scene. The Big Bop ($15), named for the big blue punk venue that once stood at Queen and Bathurst, is a blend of Bulleit, Cynar, Italian vermouth and Peychaud’s.

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Natalia Manzocco

food@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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