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Her Father’s Cider Bar + Kitchen on Harbord St. is Toronto's first cider bar, boasting more than 75 local and international ciders. Chef Ryan Barlcay prepares a refined, local, and seasonal menu drawing from Ontario's rich culinary traditions.

Review: Cider house rules

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on July 07, 2016

Imagine a restaurant dedicated to the art of cider with the largest selection available anywhere in Canada. We're talking more than 80 different types by the bottle and 12 local craft varieties on tap. Never been much of a fan until sampling a few flights ($12 for three 5 oz. pours). Wowsa. Some of these ciders are as sophisticated as a fine bottle of sauvignon or sauternes. Would you believe a pinot noir cider tasting like a crisp rosé?

The brainchild of Joshua Mott, Her Father’s Cider Bar and Kitchen in the Annex is attempting to cater to increased demand for cider. And proof is in the numbers recently released by the LCBO who reported soaring sales of locally produced craft cider, up 54 per cent last year, beating out the increase in sales of craft beer which only rose 35 per cent. Clearly HF is all about educating the palate on the artisanal aspects of this growing alcoholic trend.

This is the real genius of HFCBK. While more and more brewery type restaurants and gastropubs fill the city, 31-year-old Mott has made it his mandate to help us find our way to ciders. While working at Beaver Valley Orchard and Cidery, one of Ontario’s leading craft producers, he was encouraged to develop the concept of an exclusive cider bar. And his passion for making the Ontario cider community more accessible is pretty evident. And with some restaurant experience he knew some of what to expect on the road ahead. Suffice it to say there are glitches that are pretty apparent from the moment you arrive.

Communication between staff and management could use some clarification. One server says that kitchen opens at 6pm, though they take a reservation for 5pm. Another says the kitchen opens at 5:30. Either way, the affable Mott bends over backwards to accommodate any patron who saunters in a bit early, making sure they are imbibing on his special brews soon after being seated. And they get special kudos for actually having a phone number you can call not to mention actually speaking to an actual living person to make a reservation. Why that service has gone the way of the dodo is beyond me.

So, yes, there is helluva lot of hoopla here about the art of the cider. And deservedly so; I'm a convert. But the kitchen component of HFCBK is not quite as alluring as the drink draw. A devilled egg ($3) topped with snow crab isn't really an egg at all; it's only half of one and should be served as an amuse bouche, not an appetizer. Even more disappointing is the fried chicken ($9), and I wouldn't even call it that. A more appropriate name would be chicken fingers with plum sauce. The coating is so thin it is barely noticeable and adds little or no flavour to this naturally raised Mennonite poultry. You want friend chicken, head over to Daiko. Thankfully, spring vegetables on toast ($10) make for a perfect tasting plate. Its carrot/ricotta spread not only balances out the cheese's salty nature but it also keeps a gorgeous array of fiddleheads, asparagus and mushrooms stuck firmly in place. At this price, however, it should be a trio not a duo.

Another elegant and well executed entry is a trout ($24) with perfectly crispy pan-seared skin. Served with blue potatoes, dandelion and fish roe, the only misstep is short changing customers by a couple of ounces. And it would have been nice to be reminded that the main comes with potatoes even though a side of potato salad ($10) with pickled onion and watercress in a zingy lemon dijon dressing is well worth some starchy repetition. Even dessert is an unexpected triumph. An Earl Grey and peanut butter ($7) cake is majorly moist with an almost brownie like consistency. And the Chantilly cream topper studded of honeycomb toffee is as yummy as the interior of a Crunchie bar.

Though the name of the restaurant remains a mystery (her father's instead of his father's?), Mott gets plenty right at his new cider bar, with extra points for trying to get us plebes to stop thinking of cider as beer’s poor fruity cousin. And though chef Ryan Barclay (Splendido, The Grove) gets enough right to warrant adding Her Father’s Cider Bar and Kitchen to your list of places to dine, he might want to reconsider his value proposition in a price-sensitive neighbourhood like the Annex.

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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