On Monday, August 25, Toronto bloggers congregated at 777 Dundas Street West for Bent’s Veggielicious workshop. The restaurant is owned by internationally celebrated chef Susur Lee, managed by his sons, Kai and Levi, and designed by none other than its namesake, wife and mother of the men, Brenda Bent. Meeting a world-renowned chef can be an intimidating experience, but Chef Lee welcomed us with open arms, always reminding us, “This is my home. And my home is your home.”
The event consisted of a French meringue tutorial, two cocktail tutorials from bartender Manuel, and a taste preview of the Veggielicious prix fixe menu.
Before our clumsy attempts at piping meringue, the afternoon began with a little tour of the restaurant that took us out of the building, down the street, and right into the neighbour’s garden. The house on Markham St just behind Bent belongs to Susur’s friend, an experienced grower from the south of Hong Kong. Susur brings him a seed, and he grows it, sometimes in exchange for a fresh salmon fish head. There are vegetables in his dishes, often Asian varieties, that are not readily available to the regular consumer, so he has them grown behind the restaurant. Talk about fresh.
Back inside, Chef Lee whipped up a batch of meringue (egg whites, powdered sugar, licorice powder, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt), which we piped into nests onto trays with varying degrees of success. These baked while we tasted Chef Lee’s signature slaw, Manuel’s cocktails, and all five courses on the Veggielicious menu.
One of my favourite dishes was a light and refreshing 19-ingredient Singaporean slaw with a salted plum dressing (shown at the top). You’ll find this signature dish at his restaurant, Lee, and soon you’ll be able to order it at Bent. The dish comes to your table as a colourful mountain of julienned vegetables and vermicelli noodles and is tossed in front of you. The slaw is developed from a traditional cold dish for Chinese New Year, and the sight of its tossing certainly recalls celebration.
At the bar, Manuel walked us through preparing two drinks. The Karate Kid II is a cocktail of nigori sake, jasmine tea-infused gin, yuzu and lime juice, vanilla syrup, egg white, and coriander. Nigori sake is unfiltered sake that adds sweetness and gives the drink its cloudy appearance. The gin is prepared by steeping four bags of Sloane jasmine tea in the bottle for at least four hours to incorporate floral notes as well as the tannins from the tea that, as Manuel amusingly explained, “dry out your mouth and make you want to drink more.”
The other drink is an Asian take on the classic Canadian cocktail, straightforwardly named the Asian Caesar. The Asian kick is the addition of sriracha, chili sesame oil, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and muddled coriander to the clamato and Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce. This is probably the spiciest Caesar I’ve ever tried.
All five courses on the Veggielicious menu were fantastic, but two certainly stood out for me. Other bloggers who weren’t fond of tofu said they could hardly tell the Chickpea Tempura Tofu was made from the typically tasteless bean curd. It was fish-like in taste and texture. Some of us weren’t entirely convinced it was vegetarian. The next course was another instant hit for me. While I only had a small spoonful, the Wild Mushroom Quinoa Risotto was packed with flavour and buttery goodness. Creamy with a truly bold mushroom flavour, this is one hearty dish. Vegans can also enjoy this place by opting out of the cheese, a parmigiano reggiano emulsion.
Dessert will be the light and airy French Meringue with Golden Licorice, which we tried a shaky hand at making at the start of the event. After tasting the first four courses, it was finally time to unveil the fruits of our labour. Of course, none of our meringue nests compared to Chef Lee’s perfect one. Still, we were ready to experiment with plating and scarf down the chewy, crispy, and fruity dessert. Chef Lee filled his meringue with lemon curd, topped it with fresh fruit, and finished it off with passionfruit syrup, raspberry coulis, and a mint garnish.
Veggielicious, a $45 5-course vegetarian tasting menu, is an upcoming promotion at Bent that runs September 9-20. Chef Susur Lee’s aim is to promote healthy living by creating interesting and flavourful vegetarian dishes that appeal to those beyond vegetarians. To anyone who has always wanted to incorporate more vegetables into their diet in the least boring way possible, this tasting menu is for you.
To see the detailed menu and to make reservations visit www.bentrestaurant.com.
THE VEGGIELICIOUS MENU
Dip Three Ways
- Hummus of Romano beans with salted chilies and sherry vinegar, served with roasted olive with sumac and lemon preserve
- Spicy mustard seed tomato stew with walnut and curry leaf
- Caribbean eggplant baba ganoush with cilantro
- All served with baked garlic lavash
Tingly Chilled Soba
Shredded local vegetables and yuba cake, confit of shiitake, shisho leaf, nori crisps, Taiwanese vinaigrette
Chickpea Tempura Tofu
Pickled brassica and fish mint, shishito peppers, Korean sweet chili sauce, braised burdock root
Wild Mushroom Quinoa Risotto
Roasted cauliflower, parmigiano reggiano emulsion and tempeh crouton
French Meringue with Golden Licorice
Lemon curd, wild blueberry, peaches, passionfruit syrup, raspberry coulis
Photos by Christine Tan