The year of 2015—on which this ranking is based—was one of transition for nota bene.
For early that year chef-patron David Lee bought out his longtime business partners to run his own show. The restaurant continued as before— with its easy, casual sophistication and broad appeal, fulfilling the needs of a business lunch or a pre-theatre prix-fixe as easily it did those of a multi-course gastronomic dinner. Then, early in 2016, the restaurant closed to undertake a major renovation, reopening in February with an invigorated new look. The long bar that once ran the width of the restaurant—along Queen West—had been shortened to make way for a much roomier lounge and a tree. The dining room was brightened, and the walls were now textured with moving light and shadow cast by elaborate new ceiling fixtures.
But all eyes were really on David Lee’s kitchen—to see what the fine dining veteran (Centro, Splendido) would do running his own show for the first time. Early menus suggest a greater differentiation between casual lounge and ambitious dining room. And in the latter, the sort of exceptional bespoke dishes previously made available only for private dinners are now on offer à la carte. Starters like eight hour-roasted celeriac with goats’ cheese and caramelized blood orange. Or hamachi ceviche with clam-and-tomato jelly, charred scallion and leche de tigre. Main courses include halibut cheeks with lima bean mash and black garlic, and StCanut suckling pig with boudin noir sauce. Nota bene the new nota bene.
Big and bold flavourful dishes in a space with incredible energy, and full of love. – JOHN JACKSON