Bar Raval / by Didier Young

When asking people why they love travelling, a few diverging answers may come up. Day dreams of pretty peaks covered in snow, cherubic pink flowers filling the air or plates filled to the brim with warm croissants come to mind. All those answers boil down to the same desire: an allure to fully immerse yourself in another culture or to camouflage with the environment you are in. Personally, I chose to do so by tasting the local food, as you will rarely be able to find something as authentic in another country. Then again, sometimes one restaurant opens up and completely breaks the rules. Such is the case with Bar Raval.

Located at the corner of College and Palmerston, one could compare the restaurant to the magical wardrobe in the tales of Narnia. The unassuming outer shell of the restaurant only enhances the intricate beauty of the interior. Designed by Toronto firm PARTISANS, the restaurant pays homage to Spanish Art Nouveau. Unbroken Möbius strips of rich mahogany envelop the space to create an environment that is simultaneously luxurious yet inviting. Bar Raval’s name allows us to pinpoint the general vicinity of the origins of the cuisine served at the restaurant. Raval is a small district in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain which is famed for its nightlife and cabarets however the food served at the restaurant hits closest to the Basque cuisine and hence why Bar Raval is often referred to as a pintxo bar.

Chef and part owner Grant Van Gameron created a menu that is perfect for sharing. The food is as simple as a can of mackerel and house bread but delves into interest flavour pairings that one might not have thought of prior to visiting the institution. I once had a plate of raw salmon with fresh ontario cherries, mint and olive oil and it tasted absolutely unbelievable. The beauty of Bar Raval is that it does not serve solely as an after work hours establishment. The café Raval is one of my preferred coffees in Toronto and pairs wonderfully with a Dulce de Leche and Crispy Jamon doughnut or one of their fantastic Crema Catalana. All the breads and treats are produced in house in a small bakery above Bar Isabel, their sister restaurant. I shall warn you that everything is baked daily and as such quantities tend to be limited. The first thing I usually do upon entering the restaurant is to take a look at the baked goods selection and to pre ordered the ones I want before even ordering my actual meal.

I have visited the restaurant on numerous occasions and have tried out a big portion of the menu. While everything is delicious, I definitely have some items closest to my heart, and belly. On every visit, you could expect me to order the canned Smoked Mackerel, the perfectly seared Shishito peppers, the shrimp and romesco pintxos, the hot octopus tapas and at least one crema Catalana. 

The level of quality of the food is always impeccable and has brought me back time after time to the restaurant. Every trip to Bar Raval constitutes a wonderful culinary journey along the Spanish seas and always manages to feel like a sunny day in Barcelona.