Hip and modern, R&D Spadina, elevates Chinese cuisine and had me giddy with excitement. I was an avid MasterChef Canada fan, since first stumbling upon the show in my friend’s basement. The four of us picked our favourite home cooks from the first episode. I called it from the first episode: Eric Chong (no relation), the 22-year-old engineer grad, will win. My friends laughed at my confidence. Truthfully, I just wanted a 20-something-year-old to beat the older home cooks. When the finale announced Eric’s victory, I loved that I could follow a series – episode by episode – and actually visit the restaurant in Toronto (versus Hell’s Kitchen).
R&D is a collaboration between three Michelin-starred chef Alvin Leung and Eric Chong. This 85-seat, open-space restaurant can best be described as a non-pretentious version of Susur Lee’s Lee Restaurant on King. A graffiti mural of General Mao, throwback hip hop music and the staff wearing orange Home Depot-like aprons all created a laid-back vibe. After a long day of work my friend, Augusta, and I started off with drinks: The Piña Colada Bubble Tea and the Lychee Cactus Pear Juice. Both drinks had standout textures – especially the Piña Colada’s toasted coconut and tapioca pearls – which contrasted nicely and added a chewy and crunchy texture.
For appetizers, we tried the Little Dragon Buns with Spicy Sichuan Lamb and the Shiitake Polenta Fries with Mushroom Ketchup. Both arrived piping hot – the Little Dragon Buns freshly steamed. We could really taste the freshness of the lamb. We then split the Lobster Chow Mein with Wok-Fried Lobster and Shanghai Noodles and the Salmon Belly with 5-Grain Healthy Rice and Bok Choy. While rice is often an overlooked side dish, the 5-grain rice stood out as really savoury. I loved the little details that really complement the dishes. The Lobster Chow Mein had chunks of lime that added a citrus flavour and the lobster itself was succulent and tender.
The only hiccup during the meal was when a server delivered our Lobster Chow Mein to the table beside us and we had to wait a while. (We overheard the server apologizing to that table, as they had ordered Eric’s Curry and unknowingly already eaten the Lobster Chow Mein.) With no passing mention to us, I’m pretty sure our server thought we were oblivious about the mix up. For dessert we indulged in the Banana Split with sour cherry, peanut butter and bitter chocolate and tamarind ice creams. Augusta enjoyed the sour cherry for its refreshing tartness. I enjoyed the peanut butter which, worked well with the macerated strawberries and coconut cream. The Crispy Smoked Milk with malted milk ice cream was also delicately soft and crispy. The highlight of the desserts were definitely the in-house made ice creams, a tribute to Eric’s MasterChef Canada finale winning dessert.
The food exceeded my expectations and was definitely an elevated take on Asian cuisine. Special shout-out to the Chef de Cuisine, Nelson Tsai (Auberge du Pommier, Trump Toronto), who is a fellow Queen’s University alumni. We will definitely be back to try other items on the menu. On our way out, one of the staff boldly said, “See you tomorrow!” It may not be just that soon, but I’m excited for our next visit. — For more information on R&D please visit: R&D 241 Spadina Avenue Toronto, ON (416) 586-1241 Twitter: @RDSpadina Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/RDspadina Website: RDSpadina.com