While the majority of restaurants lining the once bustling Bloor St. W. in Etobicoke, Ont.’s Kingsway Village remain open in some form during restrictions, Bramble Gastropub and its veteran chef Michael Kirkwood is taking a new approach to a traditional business.
Kirkwood, who boasts more than 20 years of culinary experience, opened Bramble Gastropub in August 2020. The concept offers modern British cooking and a cocktail menu curated by its mixologist Steve Tano, who finds inspiration from the English garden and infuses these ingredients into his creations. Featured dishes include “pub fare with a royal flair,” such as smoked ricotta with snails, wild mushrooms and salsify; Beef tartar with smoked egg and horseradish cream; and rabbit loin with colcannon (Irish mashed potatoes). The restaurant has also become known for its gourmet burgers and ribs.
With a resumé that includes stints at sports bars, ultra-fine dining, Holt Renfrew and hosting mobile cooking classes through his Birchwood Kitchen, Kirkwood says “All these experiences helped me realize that a farm- and forest-to-table approach to cooking was what I was working towards all this time.”
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, Bramble Gastropub, like many other Canadian restaurants, was forced to shut down dining- room service and re-evaluate its business model.
“We had just arrived in the Kingsway Village [in August] and were pretty unknown at that point,” says Kirkwood. “We had a great response from our neighbourhood and continue to have their support [and] everyone is excited for us to actually ‘open’.”
Recognizing he’d have to do things a bit differently, Kirkwood looked to Bramble’s menu.
“We adjusted our à-la-carte menu to a more travel-friendly takeout menu and created a marketplace featuring U.K. delicacies,” he says. “We also created themed nights, like steak for two and a fish-and-chip special. Next, we’re developing a Saturday night tasting menu for the patio and for take away.”
With no end in sight to the challenges restaurants are facing, Kirkwood feels the enhancement of Bramble’s menu and the addition of food-themed nights will open up a gateway to develop and implement its takeout and cocktail menu, along with the opportunity to conduct photo shoots for future events.
“It will be a while before everyone is willing to dine out in Toronto,” he predicts. “So, the takeaway menu will be here for a long time. In the meantime, we’re focused on our springtime offerings.”
BY NICHOLAS RAHMON