Neighbourhood: The Forks
Address: 147-1 Forks Market Rd
Food halls have surged in popularity the world over. Like their cousins, mall food courts, they offer an abundance of casual eats in convivial settings, with the added bonus of local ownership and chef-crafted menus. In this city, the Forks Common answers this trend, a sleek dining hall lined with vendors and filled with a crowd happily sharing communal tables.
While Passero, the latest brainchild of chef Scott Bagshaw, is touching distance to the Common it is distinct by its architectural details – and its menu. Bagshaw’s obsession with the small stuff is revealed as the dishes roll out, teasing new flavours into dishes we thought familiar. In a city rich with Italian fare, Passero challenges norms and redefines contemporary Italian fare at its whim. This innovation and masterful attention to detail sets Passero apart from the pack securing it Ciao! magazine’s best new restaurant of 2018.
Set under old brick archway, the contemporary setting is surrounded by angled wood slats along the ceiling and one wall, giving the space a sense of motion. Sit along the open kitchen on bar-style seating and overlook cooks assembling memorable dishes sprinkled liberally with Italian cheeses.
Bagshaw has a penchant for putting innovative twists on longstanding cuisines, as at his previous ventures like Spanish-inflected Deseo Bistro and pan-Asian inspired Máquè. Here, his attention turns to Italian cuisine with a menu that is always evolving.
This is no red sauce restaurant. Rigatoni in a cauliflower purée with creamy cave-aged gruyere is punched-up by the sweetness of orange segments. Melt-in-the mouth ricotta gnocchi covered in Parmigiano-Reggiano and dotted with sweet black garlic has notes of balsamic vinegar. Wild mushrooms mixed in add an earthy flavour.
The holy trinity of Italian cooking – tomatoes, mozzarella and basil – are remixed into a colourful, sweet and sour play on caprese salad. Cherry tomatoes, basil, crema di buffalo and olive oil are joined by orange and grapefruit segments along with a touch of heat from Calabrian chiles. A sweet beet salad features the vegetable done three ways; roasted, pickled and dehydrated. Sour grapefruit segments contrast the sweet beet and crème fraîche balances the texturally diverse mixture. Tender asparagus is paired on the plate with luscious hollandaise and sprinkled with fresh herbs, grains and fish roe to make a lasting impression.
The seafood is pristine; close your eyes you’ll imagine you’re on the coast eating the daily catch. Seared wild scallops are served on a smear of cauliflower purée and topped with pine nuts, raisins and caper agra dolce. Large white prawns and meaty butter beans swim in a satisfying tomato brodo.
Finish the meal with a warm lemon cake, sprinkled with salt, on a bed of basil cream sauce, which gives the dessert a savoury edge.
While tastes are elevated, the space easily adapts to the informality of its food hall proximity and caters to a diverse clientele. By day, Passero becomes Corto, serving up masterful Italian sandwiches (with toppings like porchetta, apple mostarda, mascarpone and bitter leaves) and coffee at its takeaway counter.
But by any name it’s just as sweet: a complex, exciting challenge to our notions of Italian food.