Susur Lee has continued to expand his mini empire by securing the old Crush wine bar space. Instead of opening another Asian-themed eatery, he has teamed up with entertainment icon and fellow sixite Drake to try and bring high end comfort food to the city’s streets.
I’m not sure why this new enterprise has been named Fring’s. I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Torsten Frings, the German midfileder who played 33 games and scoring 2 goals with the Toronto FC only to retire after requiring surgery and returning to Europe to coach in his home country. Perhaps it’s an homage to the trademarked side available at Harvey’s, Canada’s own fast food restaurant. A combination of about 3 onion rings and six or so fries, it is the ideal accompaniment for the indecisive. Maybe it’s the name is a term coined by Champagne Papi to describe the merging of two fundamental components of Drake’s brand, friends and bling, into one happy milieu.
The decor is also a milieu; in this case a trendy industrial style mixed with a cheesy VIP lounge. Brick walls and wooden window panels combined with fuzzy if not hairy lounge seats with marble tables means both a downtown ambiance and a nightclub aura.
After being seated, we were greeted by our waiter. The slick hair, glasses and demeanor screamed hipster but I questioned his authenticity as he was trying way to hard. Like most other restaurants, he gave us the recited speech explaining the proper process for ordering off a sharing menu. His entire demeanor seemed scripted as well, especially when we heard him deliver the exact same speech, in exactly the same way, to the table beside us.
I’ll admit part of the reason I came here was to have the ability to report back to my daughter who is a massive Drake fan. So, it goes without saying that my first question to the waiter was “What would Drake drink?”. He quickly answered that his the pop icon’s favorite drink was the Tom Skudra ($18), a rum based cocktail with a mix of juices, mint and raspberries. I’ve taken to doing google searches on cocktail names and found that Tom Skudra was a Canadian photojournalist who passed in 2007 and best known for TV series called Programme X in 1970. That said, the drink also went along with the ongoing joke that, whether I try or not, I usually end up ordering the girliest looking which is usually pink (mostly the result of my affinity for Campari) and this was no exception. Unlike a Campari drink, however, it was exceptionally sweet and somewhat resembled a daiquiri. I was left wondering whether the waiter was lying through his teeth or Drake has a reeeealllll sweet side I don’t know about.
Nothing says comfort food like toast so what better to start with than some homemade ricotta with jalapeno plum jam and pomegranate ($10). It was presented nicely and in Susur fashion, was an explosive blend of flavours and textures.
Next was the steak tartare ($20). I was expecting a bit more of the aforementioned taste and flavour explosion but it fell a little flat. The presentation, usually rather extravagant on a plate that anything to do with Chef Lee, was uninspiring. Plus, if they put egg on the octopus dish; why not a little on the tartare!
The southern spicy maple fried chicken ($26) seems all the rave by reviewers across the board but then again, any fried chicken seems to be. Some will argue that the art of perfecting this comfort food is an intricate as a souffle while others say it’s pretty freaking hard to mess it up since it involves deep frying something. I adhere to the latter. I’ve made a few batches in my day and although some have been better than others, none have really been bad. There was nothing wrong with the chicken at all. It was crispy on the outside, moist and the middle and adequately seasoned. The sauce was good as well. All I’m saying is I can get a bucket of KFC with 8 pieces, popcorn chicken, fries, gravy and two salads for about the same price. Am I saying that KFC is a good as Susur’s fried fowl? Not at all. I’m just trying to point out that I might expect a little more for $26.
I find a burger an excellent benchmark of a restaurant. The burger is a canvas for creativity, the variations are endless and the price point can range from a few dollars to a few hundred. The Susur burger, served with JK fries, comes in at a hefty $24, which is more than other iconic burgers in the city including Richmond station ($21), Marben ($19) and Harbord Room ($19) and wasn’t anyway close to as good.
At this point, I begged the waiter for a drink a little more manly than the Tom Skudra and preferably not as pink. He suggested the Waste Man ($18), a cocktail with brandy, chamomile bitters and peach. Although one might expect it to be sleepy (get it?..chamomile) this was a good strong drink more reflective of the 6God’s brand.
For dessert, I went with the waiter’s recommendation for the overpriced warm plum tart served with creme fraiche and almonds ($14). It was a bit chic and a bit homey, both of which aligned with the general theme of the place but otherwise was average and contained a whole lot of pastry and not enough plum.
From a pop culture perspective, the marriage of Drake and Susur Lee makes perfect sense. Much like Chef Lee’s fusion cooking, bringing two variant entities together often results in spawn which are both unique and exciting. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Fring’s. Instead of being an innovator, it seems like Chef Lee is following trends which include cheese topped toasts , burgers and comfort foods like fried chicken. Not only are they average from a taste and presentation perspective, they are astronomically priced. The cocktails, steak tartare, fried chicken and burger are at least $4-5 higher than similar drinks and dishes at comparable Toronto eateries. The service was robotic.
In the end, I just expected two of the most innovative minds in Toronto to dream up something a little more exciting. The cocktail list is overly fruity and juicy and the drinks have boring names. I mean, any Drake song would make a cool cocktail name. Take “Teach U a Lesson”‘ “Worst Behavior” (come Drake..you’re Canadian…add a u) and “Star67″ for example . The food is uninspired.”Big Rings” would be like a great side to a burger that can be bigger, better and cheaper. Even some “Pound Cake” for dessert would work. There’s no tellin’ what the future holds for Fring’s but it’s too expensive and may get boring really fast. After all, I sure as hell didn’t leave yelling HYFR down King street after I left.