Looking for good eats … or the best eats in the country? Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants and Best Bars List is in, and we chatted with the annual publication’s editor, Jacob Richler, to find out what’s new. —Vita Daily
Hi Jacob! At a high level, who made it to the Best Restaurant and Best Bar List in 2023?
As usual, both lists feature a very au courant combination of old favourites and the new and trendy–all united in quality. Mon Lapin in Montreal turns out to not just be a personal favourite of mine, but of a whole lot of our judges, too. And it’s our first number-one restaurant from Montreal since Toqué! in 2016. Alo, Pearl Morissette, Langdon Hall, Published on Main, St. Lawrence and Edulis were all deservedly in our top 10 last year. While Beba, AnnaLena and Kissa Tanto are all fabulous restaurants that were new to it this year––and then there’s the fabulous 20 Victoria nipping at their collective heels at number 11 in only its second year on our list. For Best Bars, Civil Liberties is a repeat number 1, which is easily understandable to anyone who has spent a recent happy hour there. And The Cloakroom–one of my Montreal favourites –is closing in at #2.
In terms of the judging, why are certain restaurants universally favoured by Canada’s 100 Best judges? What are the culinary trends these eateries embody?
I give the judges a broad mandate. I ask them to vote for all aspects of good dining–from the quality of service to the ambiance and the depth of the cellar. But I also remind them to be as open-minded as possible and remember that the quality of the food on the plate trumps everything else. So any place that serves fabulous food will draw their votes year after year. They’re a palate-driven bunch. The range of restaurants on the list is considerable. Even in the top ten, we’ve got casual fine dining, a rural farm-to-table restaurant, a posh hotel restaurant, a place that serves unusual Japanese-Italian fusion, and some neighbourhood places that outgrew their founding mission and became destinations. I can’t generalize about trends. I can say that what is important is determining a compelling culinary mission and executing it very convincingly.
Any real surprises (to you) that made the list?
The single biggest surprise for me on the restaurant list was finding that a number of judges had voted for a restaurant named Parcelles in Austin, QC, with a population of 2,000. When I was a kid and spent my summers there. All we ever had was a greasy spoon. It’s nice to see that sometimes places really do change for the better.
What new trends in culinary seemed popular with the judges? Any trends they are done with?
Flash without substance is not finding a lot of fans, thankfully. But showcasing the best available ingredients while not manipulating them too much seems to be resonating. Which makes me happy–because I think that’s the best sort of cooking there is.
From your perspective, what has been the impact of inflation on diners and dining experiences?
I regularly meet people who complain about the cost of dining out. On the other hand, the expensive restaurants that I frequent tend to be jammed whenever I go–if I can get in. That’s difficult to reconcile but I would venture that diners remain willing and understanding about paying for quality, at least for now.
What are some top trends in the Canadian culinary scene?
The quality and provenance of ingredients are very important right now. People are justifiably keen on eating the best most sustainably harvested local products. That understanding is finally going mainstream, and that’s very positive.
Looking at some of the smaller players on the list, what smaller restaurants have a big impact, and what’s the importance of supporting local?
There are innumerable small restaurants on the list. Nine of the top 10 restaurants are small, or at least started very small. 20 Victoria, at number 11, has a 20-seat dining room. I could list many more like them that have a big impact because they have a clear vision, and stay true to it. More often than not, that vision includes a strong local identity. Discriminating diners respond to that. They don’t want to look down at a plate and think, I could be eating this anywhere.
Can you list the top three bars from the 50 Best list? Do you have a favourite drink at one of these?
Well, the coolest thing about Civil Liberties is that you don’t have to choose a drink at all. You just tell them what sort of thing you’re in the mood for, and they rustle something up that is delicious, novel and satisfying. How good is that?