Labora Restaurant has recently undergone a revamping that extended their bar area into the previous Campo Food Hall area. The front of 433 King Street West is now completely dedicated to all the delicious tapas created by Toronto’s own Chef Rob Bragagnolo. Torontonicity was recently invited to experience the new Labora space, and sample the dishes inspired by Chef Bragagnolo’s many years in Spain.
If you aren’t familiar with the previous food hall, no worries at all. Labora itself was always the highlight of the space: a restaurant and bar that focuses on authentic Spanish flavours, ingredients, and mood. Chef Bragagnolo brings his experience from time spent on Mallorca – the largest of four islands of which Ibiza is the most famous – to the King West strip. Everything about Labora feels authentic and inviting.
We started our meal with a Labora Cola which introduces light carbonation to Iris Dorado vermouth, with a splash of lemon. This is a traditionally sweet and spicy vermouth, so the carbonation lightens it up, making it an easy and refreshing drink. If you aren’t usually a fan of vermouth, or just haven’t had many chances to try it, Labora is absolutely the place to start as their selection is phenomenal; they’re also the only place in Canada that has vermouth on tap!
I was excited to try the Croquetas de Cordoniz: slow roasted quail croquette, with a quail egg on top. The meat is so incredibly moist and just melts in your mouth! This contrasts perfectly with the slight crunch from the exterior, and then everything is wrapped in a velvety finish with the quail egg yolk. Absolutely delicious, and totally worth repeating.
We then had the Carrilleras: Iberico pork cheek, caramelized figs, finished with marcona almond. This dish is as beautiful and delicate in flavours as it is in presentation. The caramelized figs bring a subtle sweetness that dances perfectly with the richer savoury notes in the Iberico meat. The caramelized sugars of the fig then punctuate each mouthful with such a wonderful texture, that it leaves every bite feeling like the first.
Chef Bragagnolo then brought out his personal favourite, the Rubia Gallega: Ontario prime ribeye, cured in-house with sugar, citrus, and spices for weeks, served with porcini and honey mushrooms, finished with shaved truffles. The truffle isn’t overpowering, and contributes a lovely earthiness at the very end. The ribeye is so tender, and complemented so perfectly by the mushrooms – this dish feels decadent and layered with so many flavours. The dish is named after the blonde cow that’s traditionally used in Spain, but made at Labora using Canadian ingredients. For this reason, the mushrooms change depending on what’s in season, so keep that in mind when you order because the flavour profile will change throughout the year. This also gives you another reason to order it often. Amazing dish!
A fantastic accompaniment to any meal is the Pan Tumaca, which is simply Cristal bread topped with tomato. I love dipping bread into sauces and exploring flavour combinations throughout the course of a meal. The fresh ingredients have a lovely vibrancy that goes perfectly with any ibérico ham or boquerones (anchovies) order. I dipped it into what was left over from the Rubia Gallega – and you should too!
If you’re looking for a fresher dish with those rich Spanish flavours, try the Cogollo: charred baby gem lettuce with confit tuna belly. The tuna is very mild and not at all what we’re used to in North America. The romesco sauce is extra nutty and ties into the saltiness from the sun-dried black olives in the dish.
We ended the evening with the Crema Catalana, a creme-brulee-style dessert originating in Spain made with saffron, cinnamon, and citrus. This is a creamy dish, but much lighter than you would expect. It’s the perfect dessert to share and enjoy with a Spanish coffee.
Entering the Labora dining area immediately feels welcoming and cozy, as if you’re revisiting a favourite local restaurant with a rich history, run by generations of a family. The warm-tones splash across the bar and dining area, and add to the vibe of the space. Labora has a understated coolness to it that may be missed by many visitors looking for the typical King West experience, but the quality and authenticity to outlast everything in the neighbourhood.
My family has roots in the Canary Islands, and my grandmother is proud of her heritage. She’s the pickiest eater, and the harshest critic, and for that reason I rarely ever bring her out to restaurants as she prefers homemade cooking. I’ve decided after this meal that I would bring my Abuelita to Labora, and I can think of no greater compliment to pay Chef Bragagnolo. I will absolutely be returning to the newly revamped Labora with friends, because there are still so many menu items to try and I cannot wait!