Brothers Food & Wine
Toronto, ON M5R 2A7
Posted: Jan. 24, 2017 By: David Ort
“You’re going to eat food, that’s all I can promise,” Chris White says of the restaurant he and his good friend, Jonathan Nicolau, opened above Bay Station.
The two have been working on developing the idea for a restaurant — in the end, it needed to be "casual and graceful and nice and in the centre of the city” — almost from the time they met. Both were working on the bar side of the business; Nicolau at the Swan in its heyday and White at Terroni’s Queen West outpost.
For Brothers, their division of labour has Nicolau run the kitchen and White behind the 16-plus-seat bar.
“You can explain a lot with functionality,” say White of how the room is divided. “If you walk in and it’s mostly bar that’s going to answer intelligent people’s questions right there.”
The setup also allows him to tap into the operational ethos of a diner — without the clatter or grease.
He explains that the food tends away from composed, full-meals-on-a-plate in favour of meat and a vegetable complement together with sides ordered separately. Even though the menu changes constantly (something will rotate every day depending on whim and what suppliers bring in), they print a menu to help put guests at ease and to avoid making them crane to see a chalkboard or sit through a long recitation of the day’s options.
“Critical thought plays a huge role,” White says of how Nicolau designs dishes. “Ethics, localism all the shit we should have been doing for the last forty years without talking about it” motivate choices.
Because it is one of their own favourite ways to start a meal, carpaccio, in some form or another, will almost always earn a spot on the menu.
The simple-sounding combination of mackerel, mint and pickled eggplant has been a mainstay for their first three months of business.
To emphasize the essential combination with food, they put “wine” in the name of the restaurant. The list, just as likely to change, is put together by sommelier Courtney Stebbings. She comes to Brothers after stints at Lyle’s and the famous River Cafe in London.
When debating how to convert the space — formerly Cafe Iris, a Chinese restaurant that also specialized in sandwiches and all-day breakfast — they leaned heavily on their own experience, advice from friends who are professional designers and Nicolau’s every-issue collection of World of Interiors back to when he was seventeen.
Popularity from attention has stretched the capacity of the 30-seat room, but White stresses how important local regulars are to the business and, while they do take reservations, he tries to hold back a few seats for walk-ins.