While Toronto is home to few Dutch pastry spots, a food pop-up and a handful of restaurants that feature the occasional Dutch item, there’s only one dedicated Dutch eatery in the city – Noorden Food Bar. And it comes with its own gin bar, no less.
Husband-and-wife team Jennifer Gittins and chef Michael van den Winkel have been in the business – and on Yonge Street – for the last 20 years. Their first restaurant, Stork on the Roof, was just a block from their current hit Little Sister, and Noorden took over from celebrated Quince Bistro, open for almost a decade.
Noorden just passed the one-year mark in May, but time is ticking; there’s just one year left on the lease, so essentially it’s a pop-up, according to Gittins, so get there while you can.
Intro to Dutch cuisine
Chances are you’ve probably never had Dutch food before.
Noorden’s modern Dutch fare is a combination of straight-up Dutch classics with a “fusion of Dutch with other things,” Gittins says.
Chef van den Winkel has created an enticing menu of snacks, which the Dutch love BTW (especially when they’re deep-fried). Dig into quintessential nibbles including Pataje Oorlog, “War Fries” ($7), Bitterballen ($6, 4 pcs), Crispy Deviled Eggs ($4, 2 pcs) and Indonesian Chicken Satay ($6, 2 pcs).
Larger plates – “Eten” – feature everything from Juniper & Gin Cured Steelhead Trout ($12), Sweet Potato Noodle & Vegetable Salad ($18.95) and Stamppot ($11.95), a traditional Dutch comfort dish made of mashed potatoes and other veg.
Speaking of veg, there are a ton of them – about a third of the offerings are plant-based. There’s Roasted Carrots($9.50) – after all, it was the Dutch that made them orange – and after being so sick of cauliflower, Charred Broccoli ($7.50) was added. “It’s so popular, people are having it as a starter,” Gittins says.
Indonesian flavours are achieved with ingredients such as gula java, palm sugar and candlenut that van den Winkel gets straight from Indonesia. And the modern side of things is thanks to techniques such as sous vide, used throughout the menu.
As for why the menu isn’t 100 per cent Dutch? “It would be just meat and potatoes,” says Gittins. And she’s not sure the Canadian market is ready for Dutch herring quite yet.
Want the full Dutch experience? Rijsttafel (say that 10 times fast) is a traditional Dutch-Indo meal that is composed of lots of little dishes (here it’s 20+). And Noorden’s the only one in the 6ix offering it. Order it any time with a week’s notice and minimum of six people.
Noorden mixologist Mac Lebioda has curated the largest gin collection in the city, with over 50 gins from around the globe.
Don’t think you’re a “gin” person? Think again. The world of gin is much bigger – and better – than you think. Did you know there are actually five different styles of gin?
2. Old Tom
4. London Dry
5. New American
And Noorden’s got them all.
Not everything is straight up smooth or full of botanicals either. Genever, for example, is a Dutch style gin, almost whisky-like in process and flavour. And with Lebioda’s evocative housemade tonic made with cinchona and cassia barks (10 oz bottle – $11 + tax) and Little Sister bitters, you get a drink and experience unlike any other.
In addition to mind-blowing Gin &Tonics ($15-$16), there are gin flights and cocktails including 3 oz. Ginhattan ($20) made with “a damn fine gin from private order. You can’t get it anywhere else,” Lebioda says.
And while the number one seller is by far the G&Ts (served in a big goblet with lots of ice, just like in Europe), there’s also wine and Dutch beer to choose from (not a bad choice, since the Netherlands are the second largest beer exporter in the world).
Noorden features finely executed, fun food that’s not stuffy in the least. The couple comes from formal fine dining backgrounds, but Gittins says, “We’re really enjoying the more fun, casual side of things.”
And the gin bar up at the front? A must for any spirits and cocktail lover, and especially for those who think gin isn’t your thing. It is. Or at least it will be, thanks to Noorden’s impressive, expansive collection and those captivating cocktails.
It’s rare to find a restaurant in the city that’s doing something truly different than the rest. Noorden’s done it, all in a fun, relaxed atmosphere.
Noorden (2110 Yonge St.) is open for dinner seven days a week, with room for 70 guests inside, 14 on the patio. Private dining is also available on the lower level.
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