It’s hard to keep up with ICONINK/Ink Entertainment’s Hanif Harij and Charles Khabouth these days. If you haven’t noticed by now, these two and their teams have successfully been infusing grandiose club vibes into the Toronto restaurant scene for years, and are now busy expanding internationally (specifically in Dubai and Miami). I’ve written about a few in the past, and talked about even more on social media. But today, I want to take a moment to talk about their newest project, Estia Toronto.
Located in the former NAO Steakhouse space, Estia is fresh and beautiful, but also an example of perfect calculation. At some point, the team must’ve realized that that NAO was the brand’s weakest (and most expensive) link. So like a phoenix from the ashes, they took the excellent bones (no pun intended) of the space and ran with it. With the help of Navigate Design, the overly masculine vibes of the steakhouse-past were retained in the leather booth-style seating while the rest of the space is softened with lofty pastels and delicate lines inspired by the goddess that the restaurant is named after. The patio is refreshed, the menu turned Mediterranean, and the cocktails re-defined. The whole experience feels like being invited to the home of a stylish Toronto matriarch just returning from her annual European holiday.
While former NAO Steakhouse Executive Chef Stuart Cameron is keeping extremely busy with Patria, Byblos, Morah and Storys these days, INK’s other Executive Chef Ben Heaton has his hands full with Batch, Figo, Weslodge, La Société and now Estia. Chef Heaton comes from British Michelin-starred restaurant, having trained under Chefs Jason Atherton and Gary Rhodes. He’s also worked in several Toronto restaurants including Colborne Lane, The Grove, and One.
The dishes here are inspired by Greece, Spain and Southern Italy, and are served family-style, encouraging guests to share in the pleasure of enjoying an intimate meal together. There’s a solid selection of handcrafted cocktails, along with the obligatory martinis and beers. The wine program highlights unique wines (many with a delicate mineral quality) from around the Mediterranean region, selected to pair well with the seafood selection in particular. For current selections, I’d highly recommend the very food-friendly Fonzone Greco Di Tufo, or for something a little different, the Rosé Vulcanico, an unoaked wine from the volcanic earth in the Portuguese Azores.
All the food is (like any self-respecting restaurant these days) sourced from local farmers and markets to the extent possible, and prepared simply over charcoal or their wood burning oven. They are also very proud (as Chef de Cuisine Brent Maxwell adamantly informs me) of their bread program, which currently includes red fife, pita, focaccia and sumac crackers, all baked in the aforementioned oven and served with a prepared feta, green olives, and smoked eggplant spread. They also have in-house charcuterie and cheese programs that they are equally proud of.
The menu also includes a wide selection of small plates, such their Halloumi ($16) with warm truffled honey, warm grapes and toasted walnuts, fried Calamari ($16) served with an oregano aioli, and a charcoal-grilled Octopus ($19) with preserved lemon and a romesco sauce. Their salads come in two sizes (large and really large) and are designed to be very simple toss-ups based around one or two vegetables, such as celery, radicchio or asparagus. They’ll probably recommend that you order the fish of the day (I tried a New Zealand Madai at $42/lb) served half or whole and portioned table-side, and a few sides. Or, you might want to try one of their other proteins such as the Wood Oven Chicken ($28/$55) rubbed with wild oregano, charred lemon and garlic, or the braised Whole Lamb Shoulder (MP) with tomatoes, olives and anchovy.
You might love the food. You might think it’s just fine. However, in the Harij/Khabouth empire, the food is not at all the point. Go to any of their restaurants and you can be guaranteed that the setting will be right for most occasions you’ll be celebrating or for whatever client you’re entertaining. They have a winning formula, and Estia is another fine example of it.
Address: 90 Avenue Road, Toronto, ON
Social Media: @estiatoronto