At last there is a fine dining establishment in Scarborough – West Hill Wine Bar at 4637 Kingston Rd. Serving inspired, downtown gourmet fare in the east end of the city, it’s a little gem.
From the time head chef and proprietor Christopher Kanka was a lad, he wanted to cook. Now 38, with almost 20 years experience as a professional chef, he owns his own restaurant. Taking over what used to be a pizzeria, he opened in September 2012. As with many young chefs, the journey wasn’t easy. He honed his craft at landmarks such as Monsoon, Taboo Resort, The Historic Distillery restaurant group, Bangkok Garden and Elmwood Spa.
All ingredients of his cuisine at West Hill are premium and locally obtained and he’s incredibly meticulous about his food. “Good food isn’t cheap and cheap food isn’t good,” he says.
As a master smoker, butcher and fishmonger, he takes a hands-on approach including in-house smoking, butchering and fish preparation and even has a saltwater aquarium where he keeps his shellfish alive until needed. Although he was eliminated, a stint on Food Network’s Top Chef Canada further illuminated his talent.
When asked how he would classify his cuisine he’s hesitant to answer. Although he confesses his specialty is Asian, there are several influences. Not really wanting to pigeonhole himself, he says, “My food is classical sexy, a combination of Katharine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe.”
Sound a little mature for a man his age? There’s no question, he’s wiser than his years and understands the food service industry extremely well.
His food and wine savvy speak for themselves. On Tuesdays, he offers a four-course tasting menu, including matching wines with three of the dishes. It’s a good example of what his regular menu is like and is a veritable steal at $45. Although he embellished a bit for our dinner, here’s what we had: a beef cheek with shaved, black Italian truffle and horseradish crème fraiche, accompanied by a 2012 Ben Marco Malbec, was delightful. A seared diver scallop on a lump crab and potato gallette with a miso and bonito broth, washed down with a 2010 Beringer Reserve Chardonnay, sang. A charred coconut husk sorbet did an admirable job as a palate cleanser and a Quebec duck breast on a double smoked bacon fricassee and Saskatoon berry merlot reduction, married with a 2011 Rodney Strong Pinot Noir, was sublime. A delicious deconstructed lemon parfait adorned with peanut brittle shards, alongside a 2007 Royal Tokay Tokaji Aszu, finished us off. Presentation was spectacular.
Most admirable about Chris’ cuisine is that he lets the main ingredient in each dish speak without overpowering or masking it with excessive seasonings or sauces. The menu changes monthly and he offers gluten-free options. Vegan dishes can be created upon request.
His wine list is small, but nicely structured with approximately 40 labels representing both New and Old World. Because it’s a wine bar, he’s very conscious about wine service and uses good quality, appropriately designed stemware for each varietal and style.
General service is great and congenial and Chris always finds time to come out on the dining room floor to chat with patrons. Amiable and professional, he loves to talk about his food. The decor is warm and welcoming with soft music and there’s an outside patio for summer enjoyment. Live music is an added bonus on weekends.
No need to go downtown! Do yourself a favour and check out West Hill Wine Bar and enjoy this haven of gastronomic, vinous pleasure in the heart of Scarborough. You’ll be absolutely delighted. See westhillwinebar.com for details.
NOTE: My award-winning, comic wine mystery novel Pinot Envy is now available online, at selected bookstores or through my office.