[First published on Vacay.ca]
Adrian Niman stands in the middle of his swanky new restaurant, thick with sexy red drapes and sexier women in tight black dresses, and talks about his dream of the country. Bloke & 4thfits right in with Toronto’s vibrant nightclub scene in the Entertainment District; its chef, though, is more about wine pairings than bottle service. Despite the fact that he’s just 27 and, on the surface, a superb fit for this glam supper club, Niman is all about the cuisine, not the scene.
“I’d love to have a little place in the country, with my girlfriend and focus on all local ingredients,” Niman says during the opening of Bloke & 4th earlier this month. The club had a soft launch in December and has packed in the late-night crowd, doing thousands and thousands of dollars in booze sales alone on weekends, Niman says.
His passion, however, is food and to his credit he doesn’t waver from it, even though he could go off-course in a posh spot like Bloke & 4th. Places like Ultra and barchef on Queen Street draw in the city’s high rollers and their arm candy who come to mix and mingle; indulgences other than food on their mind. With Niman’s cuisine, Bloke & 4th distinguishes itself from that pack.
“We’re going to try different things in here,” the chef says as he calls out for pick-up orders in the kitchen. “Some of it’s going to work, some of it isn’t, but we’re going to be creative.”
Its current choices include a number of good dishes and one killer one: a Bangkok Cole Slaw ($26) that includes yellow fin tuna, crispy calamari, and a mix of vegetables and sauces that combine for a sensational blend of flavours you can’t find anywhere else in the city. That dish was inspired by Niman’s time in Thailand, and other items are influenced from his days working in Spain and his early career at North 44, Mark McEwan’s esteemed restaurant.
“I may be young, but I’ve got a lot of years under my belt,” says Niman, who was 15 when he started in the kitchen at North 44. He had his mind focused on a career as an NHL defenceman but when concussions sidelined his hockey dreams he made the switch to the competitive world of restaurants.
His catering business, The Food Dudes, has won wide acclaim in Toronto, and Bloke & 4th will no doubt follow. The name is gimmicky. It’s an attempt to emphasize the New York vibe of the club that’s located at King & Spadina. “Bloke” is for the bar area and “4th” is the restaurant space, named so because the menu was initially going to be reinvented four times a year — although Niman has already changed it six times and plans another overhaul next month.
“I’m passionate about food. That’s why I do this. Everyone who works in our kitchen is under 30 and we’ve got a lot of energy,” he says. “I want to make sure we’re always keeping things interesting.”
Early on, there was difficulty getting diners in for the 6 pm seating for the restaurant, but it’s improved as word is spreading about the quality of the dishes coming out of the kitchen. The cocktails from barman Jeremy Browes are also inventive, including a mojito that features watermelon cubes fused with liquid nitrogen. Niman, who will be cooking for Prime Minister Stephen Harper on March 6, has succeeded in turning a struggling location into a standout.
The building at 401 King Street West has gone through a number of incarnations in recent years, being home to both a failed burger joint and a sports bar. Its new spot does manage to evoke Manhattan, with an aesthetic reminiscent of Lair and other clubby lounges in SoHo. Here’s guessing that Bloke & 4th doesn’t disappear in a New York minute.