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Crush Wine Bar is a premium upscale English restaurant located by King St W and Spadina Ave in the King West area of Downtown Toronto. Crush specializes in English cuisine and features a patio, award winning, extensive wine list, group functions in a casual atmosphere
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Review: Raising the bar with upscale English fare

 
By Patricia Noonan, reviewed on March 01, 2008

A photograph of Lucy and Ethel joyfully stomping grapes in a gigantic vat greets as you enter the vestibule of Crush Wine Bar. Very apropos to use that quintessential vintage scene from I Love Lucy. It's a visual cue for the patrons-they will easily enjoy the wine, warmth...

A photograph of Lucy and Ethel joyfully stomping grapes in a gigantic vat greets as you enter the vestibule of Crush Wine Bar. Very apropos to use that quintessential vintage scene from I Love Lucy. It's a visual cue for the patrons-they will easily enjoy the wine, warmth and casual sophistication of the updated space.

As any good wine evolves and develops in the glass, Jamieson Kerr, proprietor of Crush, has evolved with his restaurant. Recently, there has been an arresting makeover and an intriguing new menu. Six years old and Crush Wine Bar has transformed from a three-room concept to a series of five elegantly appointed rooms: a wine bar, with a casual street-facing dining space, two other dining rooms and an outdoor terrace. Design team Giannone Associates worked with Kerr to achieve an improved bar concept instead of the previous focus that relied mostly on the dining area. Dramatic red accents combined with other jewel tones offset the space to create a warm, intimate, yet modern feel.

A traditional English-inspired menu reflects both Chef Michael Wilson and Kerr's heritage. As Kerr puts it, "With the popularity of British chefs like James Martin and Jamie Oliver, it was an easy choice to follow their lead here, using locally sourced produce . I was also inspired by Nigel Slater's book, 'Eating for England.' It's a great book about many of the dishes and foods that England is famed for. "

Kerr sent Wilson and, General Manager, Eric Gennaro across the pond to check out English gastropubs in order to get a feel for the changes they wanted to make at Crush. Many of their dishes are typically found in a more humble bar setting, but Chef Wilson raises the bar with modern adaptations of dishes like Bubble and Squeak ($6), Eccles Cake ($7) and Bangers and Mash ($12), just to name a few.

These are pub classics but the plate presentations say elegant English manners through and through. I enjoyed a Fish Pie with Fennel Salad ($16),
which was rather generous for an appetizer. Pairing the exotic and aromatic white Viognier Prestige, Haan '07 ($79/bottle) worked especially well with the rich pie and the salad was an interesting counterpoint to the dish on a whole. My main course, Braised Eschol Farm Veal, came with a rather monochromatic gravy; while tasty, the dish gave me pause to think of some way to make this a bit more eye-inspiring. Recently, this item was removed from the menu and replaced with the Grassroots Farms Braised Beef Cheeks & Chip, Crumbled Stiltons ($26)

The wine bar, of course, is a big draw, although it doesn't function as a traditional English style wine bar. Nevertheless, Kerr, Gennaro and sommelier, Marlyse Ponzo, constantly change and add to their wine offerings in order to keep the list eclectic. The bar menu is something new too; besides the unique English-inspired fare, there are cheese plates (3 Pieces $19 / 5 Pieces $26 / 7 Pieces $33) with offerings from Quebec, Ontario and England. Personally, I'm really pleased to see Ontario's Thunder Oak gouda on that list.

Desserts or "pudding," a British term for most desserts, run the range of typical English fare, including Sticky Toffee Pudding ($11). What I want to know is, where's the Spotted Dick? (That would be quite a conversation starter for those not in the loop on British food.) Actually, the funny names add to the enjoyment, as they prompt many questions for diners. Now they can compare the inspired upscale version of a dish they get at Crush to the memories of pub dinners in the United Kingdom.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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