Market Paella | Photo: John Tan

Market St. – the small street beside the world renowned St. Lawrence Market – has had a renaissance in the last few months. Several years of revitalization culminated this year with the opening of many new dining spots in this newly reborn strip. At its the northernmost end, you’ll find Barsa Taberna – a restaurant whose concept is inspired by the dining culture in Barcelona.

If you’ve ever visited Spain you’d know that dining there is a very social activity. Hence, their plates are designed for sharing. The portions are smaller, but you sample many more dishes with the people you’re dining with. These small plates are called tapas. Barsa is all about honoring the Spanish dining tradition, and so tapas comprise most of the restaurant’s menu. The tapas are divided into hot, cold, and fried, ranging in price from $7 to $15. There are a lot of options, so to make things a bit easier, you can choose the Chef’s Tapas Tasting where the chef chooses 6 or 12 items for you. We opted for the 6 items to start.

While the tapas concept is very Spanish, the tapas at Barsa themselves draw upon inspirations from all over the world. This was very evident in all of the dishes that came our way. First was the Yellowtail Sashimi on a bed of rice cooked in a dashi broth. As the name suggests, this dish is very much Japanese in nature, and as such it was fresh and light, yet still very flavorful. Continuing in Asia, there was the Thai-inspired Pok Pok Prawns, which were cooked perfectly and had a good punch in its seasoning. From India there was Grilled Octopus with Channa Masala and Papadum. This was an unexpected pairing as you don’t often see seafood in Indian cuisine, let alone octopus, but nevertheless the pairing worked well.

The North American dishes were good, but didn’t stand out as much as the others. The BC trout salad, which had the trout in combination with a fingerling potato salad and a deviled egg didn’t quite mesh together texturally for me. The Chicken Salad had a giant crouton and seared chicken mousse, and while it looked great on the plate, it would have been easier to eat with just normal-sized croutons. Moving on to Europe, the Fois Gras Terrine came next. It was rich, creamy and delicious, just as you would expect. The dishes that really shone were the Spanish tapas. The Chorizo Croquettas, which we actually sampled during the media night on September 23rd, are some of the best croquettes I’ve ever had. They were soft and smooth on the inside, and lightly crispy on the outside. They disappeared quite fast, so sadly I was not able to take any photos. The Manchego Churros were also a favourite of mine.

Aside from Tapas, Barsa also serves larger plates. Among them is the Market Paella (top image), which we ordered. The firmness of the rice and its seasoning were spot on. The lobster and scallops were done well – I only wish there was more of these in the dish. The one thing I would change is the chorizo, which were a little too soft for my liking, but that’s a personal preference. Overall it was delicious. Finally there was dessert, and that night we had the Sweet Tapas for 2. It’s a plate with samples of different sweets. Included were two bowls of ice cream, and a selection of truffles, fine dark chocolates, and fruit jellies. We also had chupitos, which are playful Spanish style shots, which that night were garnished with watermelon balls. These were a wonderful end to the multicultural dining experience at Barsa.

As for libations, Barsa prides itself in its sangrias, which they dubbed the best in the city. We had the Sangria Cava, which is a white sangria that I enjoyed very much. Red and rosé sangrias are also available. For cocktails, we tried the Mango Martini and the Barsa Caesar, the former being my favorite drink of the night. There is a good selection of wine, with suggested pairings by the sommelier indicated clearly on the menu, which is helpful. Since there is a large selection of tapas, you could decide to base your decision on your preference of wine.

We enjoyed our time at Barsa Taberna, both during the dinner and the media event. We commend Chef Michael G. Smith and his team for bringing in influences from all over the world and experimenting with new, and interesting combinations. The restaurant has a cool, vibrant space, with its eclectic modern art juxtaposed with old stone walls. During warmer months you can also eat outside on the patio. With the focus on social, casual dining, it’s a great place to not only enjoy the food, but also the company. Barsa Taberna is located at 26 Market St., just south of Front St., across from the St. Lawrence Market. Hours are 4:30 to 10 pm on Monday and Tuesday, 11:30 am to 10 pm on Wednesday, 11:30 am to 1 am from Thursday to Saturday, and 11:30 am to 9:30 pm on Sundays.

For more information:
Twitter: @BarsaTaberna #barsataberna
Instagram: @BarsaTaberna #barsataberna
Facebook: Barsa Taberna

Here are our photos from our dinner:

Here are our photos from Barsa Taberna’s media event on September 23rd:

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John Tan

John is an avid traveller, but equally loves being a tourist in his own city. With camera in hand, he enjoys discovering the sights, sounds, tastes, and everything else that Toronto has to offer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (@iam_johntan) to see what he's been up to lately.