Location: 388 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5T 2G5
Price Range: $$$$
After watching Master Chef Canada season 1 and as Eric Chong was crowned the winner, I knew I had to try out his restaurant once it opened. FYI: Season 2 is on right now and Christopher is my favourite! Eric and Alvin Cheung (3 stars Michelin chef) just recently opened R&D, a modern and hip restaurant located in Chinatown – Spadina.
The restaurant is spacious and the decor gives off a hipster feel, which is very different from the old Chinese restaurants around the area. One thing I noticed, I had dinner from 6PM to 8PM on a Friday night and the restaurant wasn’t full or busy at all. Albeit the weather was really nice that day in Toronto (almost summer ;_;), maybe the diners went to a patio instead, but when I made reservation 6PM was the only time slot open.
You can check out their full menu here. Unfortunately some of the items were not available that night, such as skewers. Also, please note that most of these dishes are tapas style, meaning their portions are smaller.
My friend and I both got non-alcoholic drinks as we can’t drink, our alcohol tolerance is.. very bad lol :(. Anyways, the Pina De Nada tasted a bit watery, not much flavour going on. The tapiocas were stale and had no flavour, I think it would have been nice if they were soaked in syrup, giving it a little sweet taste. The Lychee Cactus Pear Juice were meh. I couldn’t taste the cactus nor pear flavour, and this drink reminded me of the Lychee Aloe drink that you can buy at Asian grocery stores.
Instead of the normal steamed cha siu bao (CSB), these were baked instead. They looked like the pineapple buns (obviously without pineapples) and they were the highlights of the meal. This CSB has a perfectly crispy pastry encasing the delicious and tender BBQ pork. The CSB are made hourly and only served fresh. My complaint is that my server served the last fresh batch of the buns to the table next to me, whom ordered after. I don’t mind waiting but every time I asked her about my CSB, she kept saying it would take 10-20 minutes. Seriously, if it was going to take an hour, just let me know! In the end, my friend and I waited 2 hours for the CSB, and we got it after our dessert. Although these were delicious, it was $8 for only 2 buns… If they were cheaper, I would have definitely come back just for these.
This dish was really good as well. The fillings were seasoned nicely with a hint of earthiness from the truffles. I wished there were more though :(, for $9 you only get 3 pieces so it is an expensive dish. These are only made when there are a lot of customers, and luckily it came really fast, unlike the CSB.
The octopus pieces were grilled to perfection and wonderfully soft. The asian take on the chimichurri sauce was really good as well! It was refreshing and tangy with a hint of citrus, which brighten up the dish. By the way, I swear baked chicken skin is the new “bacon”, you can just eat it on its own as a snack. While the octopus has little flavour, paired with the salty chicken skin and the chimichurri, it was just plain amazing. I normally don’t like eggplant and for some reason I enjoyed it with this dish! The texture was almost like a mash, provided a hint of bitterness with all the components of the dish. Again, more sauce please :(.
While I didn’t enjoy this dish, my friend really liked it. For me the oysters and beef tongue didn’t go well together and this dish lacked flavors. Albeit it is a bit spicy and the pickles were amazing, but the beef tongue were too dry and there wasn’t enough sauce to rescue it.
I really like ceviche, but this dish didn’t have that bright and refreshing taste of a ceviche. There was too much vinegar and the sauce was too creamy to enjoy.
The salmon was really tender and flavorful, with a slight crispy skin. The rice was undercooked and cold, not warm, just stone cold… But the sauce was a bit sweet and not too salty, almost like a teriyaki sauce?
I really wanted to like this dish as I love deep-fried milk, but unfortunately I didn’t enjoy it. I understand since it is smoked milk, you will definitely taste…the smoke… if you know what I mean. The smoke “scent” or “taste” was really strong that it lingers in my mouth in an unpleasant way, which gave the pastry a very bitter taste. In my opinion, if the chef used apple or other type of woods, it would have been better. The smoke will be more light and delicate, which wouldn’t have overpowered the dish. The malted ice-cream and lemon zest left a refreshing aftertaste and helped to balance that bitter taste of the smoked milk.
If you want to take picture with Eric, definitely let your server know! While you might have to wait as he is cooking, Eric is really friendly and willing to take pictures with anyone, as long as you ask :). Unfortunately Alvin wasn’t in that night, I believe he was only here for the opening week of the restaurant.
I really, really wanted to like this place as Eric was my favourite on Master Chef Canada, but my expectation felt short. The menu is definitely unique, but it was too overhyped and the majority of dishes didn’t deliver. Also, the pricing is higher compared to other restaurants in the area, so I expected the quality of food to be reflect the premium paid. I would suggest R&D as a restaurant for late-night snacks and drinks, for dinner you might leave with a high bill and an ok-full stomach. The service and ambience was nice, but there is a lot for the chef to improve on, especially the food and pricing.