A Q&A with MICHELIN-Starred restaurant Don Alfonso 1890, Bib Gourmand restaurant Favorites Thai BBQ, and recommended restaurant Adrak Yorkville
Canada has always been home to award-winning chefs and some of the finest dining in the world, not to mention an excellence in the hospitality industry that has set global standards.
Eighteen months ago, the MICHELIN Guide landed on Canadian shores, with Toronto, Ontario, the first city in the nation to be honoured with the historic stars and accolades. A more than 120-year-old institution and considered the definitive voice of global fine dining, the guide’s arrival gave Canada’s culinary industry the international credibility it has always deserved.
"A respected publication and global rating system such as MICHELIN is of critical importance to establish an official and impartial assessment of a restaurant and award it based on how it fares on a global scale." - Nadia Di Donato
A few months after the official announcement in September 2022, Toronto’s first restaurants and eateries included in the famous tome were announced.
We reached out to several Toronto restaurants that have made MICHELIN history to ask how their world has changed—if, in fact, it has—in the year since receiving the coveted listing:
Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto
"We want to say thank you to the MICHELIN Guide for all they do for the restaurant community and giving Toronto’s restaurant scene the recognition it deserves." - Nadia Di Donato
Located at the top of the famous Harbour Castle Hotel, with breathtaking views of Lake Ontario and the city, Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto is no stranger to awards, having received a multitude, including Europe’s Gambero Rosso’s Best New Restaurant, Best Italian Restaurant (outside Italy) in the world by 50 Top Italy - and now its first Toronto MICHELIN Star.
We reached out to hospitality scions Nick and Nadia Di Donato of Liberty Entertainment to talk about the MICHELIN experience:
Rita DeMontis: In the year since Don Alfonso 1890 Toronto was awarded its MICHELIN star, what has changed for you both?
Nadia Di Donato: When we originally set out to open Don Alfonso, it was because we wanted to bring MICHELIN-style cuisine and service to Toronto even though the rating system did not exist. Since that time and now having received our official MICHELIN Star, there is significantly more motivation to keep raising the bar for our restaurant projects.
With the opening of our second fine dining restaurant DaNico, we are more determined than ever in establishing Toronto’s hospitality’s scene to be recognized amongst the best in the world.
RD: How critical is it for restaurants in general to receive such awards as MICHELIN?
ND: In the current climate, with many available social media and online reservation platforms, restaurant critiquing has become somewhat of the personal opinion of individuals not necessarily qualified to objectively review a restaurant. A respected publication and global rating system such as MICHELIN is of critical importance to establish an official and impartial assessment of a restaurant and award it based on how it fares on a global scale. It is the benchmark to continue to improve the hospitality industry in the city.
RD: How is the restaurant doing since receiving the award? Has it seen an influx of out-of-town diners eager to experience the restaurant since receiving the MICHELIN Star?
ND: On all fronts it has definitely benefitted Don Alfonso. Since receiving the award, Don Alfonso has seen a consistent increase in diners from local residents who are extremely proud to see our restaurant industry finally recognized by MICHELIN to out-of-towners who specifically come to the restaurant because of its MICHELIN Star.
RD: What are you both anticipating, given the new MICHELIN Stars are to be announced shortly?
ND: We continue striving to offer exceptional ingredients, food style, service, decor and design at Don Alfonso. Continuing to improve to offer the best dining experience possible and maintain the standard that warrants one or even two MICHELIN stars.
As for our new restaurant DaNico, we are looking forward to introducing the exceptional talent of chef Daniele Corona in a uniquely designed bespoke setting to Toronto’s significantly expanding fine-dining community. And look forward to MICHELIN considering DaNico for next year’s published guide.
RD: Anything else you would like to add?
ND: We want to say thank you to the MICHELIN Guide for all they do for the restaurant community and giving Toronto’s restaurant scene the recognition it deserves.
Favorites Thai BBQ Toronto
"Here’s the thing: We’ll always offer the best value in food and service, receiving a star would be amazing, but it’s secondary to what we stand for, and why we are here." - Carlos Crespo
Almost hidden along Ossington Avenue’s vibrant culinary scene, Favorites Thai BBQ is indeed one of the city’s best-kept secrets—a Thai food hotspot that delivers up fresh, fiery flavours and daring riffs on classic favourites.
The restaurant was the recipient of MICHELIN’s Bib Gourmand award for good quality, good value cooking. Director of Operations, Carlos Crespo shared how the restaurant has been faring since receiving the award:
RD: Have you seen an increase in traffic since receiving the award?
CC: We’ve seen an increase in volume. This award came at a very good time as we were in post-covid recovery mode. The award helped increase the volume for us and we’ve seen many out-of-town guests—our restaurant is now a destination eatery. We’ve also increased the staff in order to allow us to keep the restaurant’s mission as strong as ever.
RD: How do you feel about MICHELIN being part of Canada’s culinary landscape?
CC: We’re excited about MICHELIN! Thanks to the award, we were put on the map. It also keeps us focused and working as hard as ever. We’re on the right path. Here’s the thing: We’ll always offer the best value in food and service, receiving a star would be amazing, but it’s secondary to what we stand for, and why we are here. Our restaurant is all about local—our suppliers are local and we get a chance to play around with seasonal, delicious Canadian offerings that are always reflected on our menu.
RD: Anything you’d like to add?
CC: We are loving the MICHELIN experience and it transmits throughout our staff and the foods we offer. Toronto’s food scene is so diverse and exciting, and allows creativity on such a high level. Think about it: I’m Mexican and I’m working with Thai food—this is so Toronto!
Plus this is such an amazing group and we love and care for one another, like a big family. The MICHELIN award is an experience that is equally shared among everyone, and where everyone gets a sense of ownership.
"Of course there was a risk—no one else was doing high-end fine South Asian dining in the area—but we wanted to change that. So we focused on the restaurant as a whole, taking it down to the walls and rebuilding it back up. There was much reverence in the details." - Ambica Jain
Gently nestled in Toronto’s vibrant Yorkville culinary hub, Adrak Yorkville is young, refreshing and exciting, offering an epic Indian food journey in a restaurant setting that has been described as regal and elegant, with a menu that includes carefully curated dishes from the various regions across India.
At the helm is owner Ambica Jain, a young, dynamic woman with a seasoned eye for how to make a dining experience epic. Jain recently explained the excitement of having received the MICHELIN recommendation:
RD: How difficult was it to achieve this goal?
AJ: Of course there was a risk—no one else was doing high-end fine South Asian dining in the area - but we wanted to change that. So we focused on the restaurant as a whole, taking it down to the walls and rebuilding it back up. There was much reverence in the details. This included the menu to reflect the rich history of South Asian cuisine, along with a diverse beverage culture. Of course we did all this in the middle of the pandemic. But we persevered, and that vision came to life when we formally opened Adrak’s doors in the spring of 2022. Shortly afterwards, we received word the MICHELIN Guide was coming to Canada and in the fall we were thrilled to learn we received the MICHELIN recommendation.
RD: How did it feel receiving the MICHELIN recommendation?
AJ: It meant being recognized on a global scale. It meant that our vision of taking something local to an international level had proved fruitful, and the impact on everyone in the restaurant was incredible. It meant that our goals to develop a menu that has a wonderful cultural connection with the South Asian region were met. South Asian cuisine is more than just hot, spicy foods but layers of flavour that are intriguing to the palate. We wanted to remove certain concepts and build up others. Restaurants are the first stepping stone into new cultures and new cuisines, and I see this as a responsibility to showcase authentic viewpoints. MICHELIN will help drive this point.
BONUS INTERVIEW: WOODWARD MEATS
Every restaurant worth its salt knows how critical it is to rely on the best food purveyors—be it the vegetables, the proteins, even farm-fresh eggs—to make an impact on those who come to eat. Restaurants under the MICHELIN umbrella know this full well; you’ll have eateries who grow their own produce, or develop strong bonds with local food purveyors in order to offer up the finest cuisine in the country.
One such food supplier is Woodward Meats, a premium family-run operation since 1985 started by Ken (now retired) and Brian Woodward that has been supplying some of the finest meats to Canadian restaurants for years.
Dale McMenemy, Director of Sales at Woodward Meats, says the company offers retail and wholesale not only to the food industry but individuals as well, with two retail outlets plus online service. McMenemy talked about the impact of MICHELIN with their business:
RD: How did it all start?
Dale McMenemy: Woodward Meats started off as a smaller wholesale operation. We started by supplying in the Oakville-Burlington area and the company expanded very quickly into the Toronto dining scene. We supply to a vast number of restaurants - and today, we’re proud to say we sell to roughly 90% of the restaurants under the MICHELIN umbrella.
RD: Has having MICHELIN attached to the company name made an impact?
DM: Definitely—we are obviously thrilled by the success and prominence (of this association)—and quite frankly, this has helped business as well. MICHELIN has certainly helped elevate our brand.
To view the 2023 selection with 82 restaurants included, please see The MICHELIN Guide Toronto press release.