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Introducing: Lamesa, a contemporary spin on traditional Filipino cooking on Queen West

Co-owners Rudy Boquila, the chef, and Lester Sabilano (Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

Despite the GTA being home to almost 200,000 Filipinos, it’s probably fair to say many residents are unfamiliar with Filipino cuisine. That’s something Lester Sabilano and Rudy Boquila hope to change with Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, their new downtown eatery. Taking over the old Rosebud space at Queen at Bathurst, the restaurant puts a contemporary spin on the classic flavours found back in the 7,107 islands. “With Lamesa, we really hope to introduce Filipino food to the mainstream,” Sabilano told us.

After meeting last November through the Kapisanan Philippine Centre—and learning of their mutual passion for Filipino cuisine—the project came together quickly. When the downtown space popped up, they jumped on it, knowing it would give them the accessible location they’d hoped for. Up front, the floor-to-ceiling window provides a stellar view of the street; in the back, leather banquettes are paired with Louis XVI chairs. Since “lamesa” means “table” in Tagalog, the pair felt that the tables should be something special: all cut from the same tree, the solid slabs of wood tie the space together. Still to come is a huge pastel mural by local artists Christine Mangosing and Ilona Fiddy inspired by Filipino cigarette wrappers from the ’50s and ’60s.

With Manila having been a major stop on the trade route, Filipino food is an amalgam of various culinary traditions: Chinese, Spanish, Malaysian and American. Boquila—who recently stepped away from his Gladstone gig to cook for bands like U2—has put together a short menu that changes daily. When we dropped by, his deconstructed take on adobo was on offer: a pork belly confit is served with soy, vinegar and bay leaf, a smear of black garlic purée and a side of house-made chayote pickles ($23). His version of sisig features crisp-fried chicken mixed with a mirepoix of ginger, garlic, chilies and onions. A fried egg is then perched on top, alongside Filipino pico de gallo ($8). Boquila tells us that the dish is traditionally made out of pork face; American soldiers stationed on the islands would eat the best parts of the animal, so the story goes, leaving the rest for the locals to get creative with. To finish it all off, the turon empanada is a plantain-stuffed pastry served with house-made jackfruit ice cream and a smear of berry coulis ($8). And for those hoping to get a fuller culinary tour of the Philippines, the five-course tasting is only $35.

Lamesa Filipino Kitchen, 669 Queen St. W., 647-346-2377, facebook.com/LamesaFilipinoKitchen, @LamesaTO

Our Introducing series explores newly opened restaurants, bars and shops throughout the GTA
This is not a review.
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  • MaggieP

    You’re going to have to teach the “puteh” people how to cut their food with their spoons! Hahah.

  • bobo

    maybe if you read the article and checked the menu instead of skipped to the pictures you would have noticed it’s a 5 course meal w/ unlimited rice.

  • Mang Robertt

    Shame on u people for putting down on our own. It’s about time we put our cuisine into mainstream society. Pricey, yes, I agree. No more pricey than any restaurants in TO. If you want cheap, kitchen food, then go to Remelys, barrio fiesta or jesse jr. It’s fast food vs good food.

  • Masarap

    $35 for a chef’s tasting menu…with unlimited rice! What a deal! I would pay three times as much for this delicious food. Proud to see pinoys making it happen!

  • Kevin

    This looks great! $35 for 5 courses is a steal. Find another restaurant in the city with this kind of value…you wont. Not even during Summerlicious can you find 5 courses for $35. Looking forward to checking this place out!

  • Franky Ricardo

    Haters gonna hate!

  • Delcy

    Gusto ko ang Lamesa :)

  • CHEF SHAOLIN

    Filipino’s are so damn stingy and cheap! This is the one Filipino restaurant you can actually bring your non-Filipino friends and not get embarassed by the visually unappetizing food. Be proud we finally have a fine Filipino dining restaurant…It’s about time Filipino’s start thinking higher of themselves and stop settling for less. If you want cheap food, than go eat at McDonalds. Filipino’s…you should be ashamed of yourselves if you dont support this restaurant!

  • mck

    I agree. This is a great restaurant to introduce Filipino Food with style to Toronto. Aesthetically pleasing, and flavorful, it is a restaurant that satisfies the senses while also introducing a culture only known to Torontonians through anecdotes and hearsay. Filipino culture is officially making footprints in Toronto’s Resto scene.

    Not to get political, as the comments seem to stray to, but just go and try the food. For Non-Filipinos, an artistic introduction to Filipino cuisine; for Filipinos a fresh new perspective on the food we grew up with; for all: just good food. Eat, drink be merry at the table, or “LaMesa” in this case.

  • Sam

    The pictures in your PG are wrong. You have the Ginataang Gulay and the Pansit mixed up.

  • rmsLeonard

    As a Filipino, I’m glad that there is a restaurant in the city that can showcase modern Filipino cuisine… compare to the rest of the Filipino restaurant that charges the same amount with less quality ingredients and some case crappy services!!!!

    I can finally acknowledge that there is a Proper Filipino Restaurant in the city of Toronto.

  • Gutom

    @bobo ..what if I don’t want the 5 course meal and only wanna order one dish?..I honestly don’t think paying $25 for steak calderatta with only 4 small pieces of meat is fair even if it is unlimited rice…what’s the point of giving me unlimited rice if there’s only 4 small pieces of meat??!!…small portions indeed just look at the picture….if the portions were bigger/more then I’d have no problem paying $25 for the dish and this holds true for any restaurant….and $8 for one piece of turon cut in half??!!… what the??!!…

  • opl

    It’s about time and I am willing to go there at least once to see if it’s worth the price. However, immediately I think it’s overpriced. Toronto chefs/restos don’t get the idea yet that if you build them they will come. But, if the price of admission is too much to bear, then they’ll be there only once.

  • Jen

    If you’re going to charge $25 dollars for a main – maybe have the common sense to vito the flat screen in the dining room. It’s tacky and reminiscent of late-night dim sum dining rooms. That’s also a terrible location to attempt moderately high priced dishes because you’re surrounded by a bunch of cash for gold/money mart type establishments.

  • kristine

    Despite of the negative comments below, i kept an open mind. I tried this resto for Mother’s day and I must say it is pretty good! I would definetly go back! I highly recommend this place!

  • Louis

    @Jen, The cost of a flat screen is a few hundred bucks – if you think the price of a dish is based on that, you’re a fool. As you can see from the above comments, many readers feel the price point is more than fair.

    Gutom felt similarly to you, but at least his/her comment was constructive; your comment serves no other purpose than to remind readers that any idiot with a keyboard can leave a comment.

    Lastly, even if you spelt “veto” properly your sad attempt to sound intelligent would have been overshadowed by the fact that “forego” is the word you were looking for.

  • Alex

    Your washrooms look a little bare for your kind of establishment – you should look into washroom ads. They enhance the aesthetics of your washroom.

  • Nonnie

    Can’t wait to try it!

  • Gutom

    @Louis “Gutom felt similarly to you” ??…what the??..that’s not even proper english and yet you try to correct Jen’s comments…lol.. you’re the idiot!!…hahaha.. who’s trying to sound intelligent now moron?!..obviously you’re related or a friend of the owners so you’re opinion is cleary biased…my opinion is only based on what the pictures show..maybe I’m wrong but it does look like a few pieces of meat for $20+ ..

    @ Chef Shaolin “This is the one Filipino restaurant you can actually bring your non-Filipino friends and not get embarassed by the visually unappetizing food. Be proud we finally have a fine Filipino dining restaurant…” … funny how you talk about being proud to be Filipino yet your comment speaks other wise.. you are contradicting yourself…you sound ashamed of how our food looks yet you talk about pride in being a filipino??!…filipino food is visually unappetizing?!…since when?!.. not sure what type of filipino food you are cooking…our food is a big part of our history and tradition and in one sentence you insult that and yet you speak of pride….lol…

  • Gutom

    @Louis .. sorry bro.. my bad..read your comment towards me all wrong..clearly I didn’t have my morning coffee yet…I’m truly sorry…first beer is on me @ Brass!!.. hehehe

    Can someone chime in who aren’t the owners or relative/friends of the owners and tell us the pictures are wrong and there is more than 4 small pieces of meat in the steak calderatta and adobo dishes?…maybe you need to make new sample pictures if that is so as it’s really decieving..I showed the pictures to my co-workers who were also shocked to see the portions and pricing.

  • jill

    looks like someone’s been eating the other half of the food serving hence why it’s so little…hahahaha..

    c’mon seriously?!!..for that price I should at least be getting a nice location with a good view and nice interior. The best part about filipino food is having that traditional home cooked meal..adobo will always be adobo no matter how much you try to fancy it up. This is why restaurants like Remely’s will always be on top because people come there for good food that is reasonably priced..and yes the ambience looks similar to that of your so called fancy resto.

  • Jerome

    ya seriously…what’s up with the location?!…the resto looks beautiful but it clearly doesn’t belong in this eyesore of an area…ambience and view justifies pricing and the view from this area certainly doesn’t…

  • lulu11

    I’ve been to Lamesa twice since it’s opened and left happy and satisfied each time. The service and ambience are great and the food is AMAZING. The $25/$35 tasting menu price is well worth it. Finally! A filipino restaurant that’s not a million miles away from the downtown core that’s comparable to other highly-rated and well known joints like those on Ossington or west of Queen West. This place makes me proud to be a Filipina and has quickly become one of my favourites. I will definitely recommend Lamesa to all my friends. Come on people! You have to taste it before you judge it!

  • erniereyesjr.

    Perhaps those concerned about the pricing should wiki the words (for example) CONFIT, BRAISED, and GASTRIQUE. Then google the price of premium cut, expert butchered Pork Belly and Striploin. These are not home cooking techniques and they’re not using grocery store ingredients. Anybody who has the Food Network can see that they are not trying to mimic Mama or Lola’s cooking. The flavours are there but the execution is a completely different level. They make their Longanisa IN HOUSE! Either learn to open your mind or simply get out more. Ate here. It was lovely. I barely had room for their wonderful desserts. GO.

  • Alex

    “Perhaps those concerned about the pricing should wiki the words (for example) CONFIT, BRAISED, and GASTRIQUE. Then google the price of premium cut, expert butchered Pork Belly and Striploin.”

    Wait does that mean there is indeed only 4 pieces of meat???!!

  • erniereyessr.

    @erniereyesjr SON! did i tell you not to use wiki, it’s inaccurate. At least use a decent source before bashing other people. GUTOM GUTOM GUTOM!! GUTOM JONES! GUTOM REYES! EXTREMELY GUTOM! By the way, the unlimited rice should be able to feed the unfortunate. But looks like a nice place indeed :)

  • Chard

    I guess erniereyesjr. confirmed it. Only a few pieces of meat. But I guess the unlimited rice will make you full or just cut the meat in really small pieces. For that price I’d rather go to a AYCE buffet where I know I’ll be getting more than a few pieces of food.

  • Mangatal Ku Pitaklan

    woah! Just seen the pictures and read all the comments. Friggin hilarious. No way you’ll catch me eating here. $25 for a few small pieces of meat? Are you kidding me? What is this the CN Tower restaurant 360?! No way regular people would eat here unless they’re relative or friends of the owners. That’s probably who wrote the positive feed back. How about make the dish $10-15? That seems more reasonable for the amount of meat you serve. Unlimited rice? Can I get that to go? lol

  • Manny the Bartender

    Hi. I work at Lamesa. Of course we were expecting this. Anything Filipino tends to become political almost immediately and always always receives passionate responses. I’ve learned this from working with the Filipino community and from vivid conversations with guests during the week Lamesa has been open. Reactions vary from critical to curious to joyous. This is amazing. I think this is exactly what Lester and Chef Rudy want to happen. This is exactly what I want to happen. Aside from putting out delicious and innovative cuisine, we’ve started to step into the role of being a forum for the discussion of not only what Filipino food is, but what FILIPINO is. 7, 100 islands. Everybody does it different.

    As Filipino-Torontonians with varied experiences in the Toronto restaurant industry, this is how WE do it. And we LOVE what we do. When you love what you do, work hard at it, then decide to sell it to people, you have to choose how much that’s worth. We’ve decided. Maybe it’s a bit much for some. However, during the week we’ve been open, nobody that has ordered the Chef’s tasting menu has left hungry (some don’t even take the rice- which is CRAZY!). It’s enough food- I don’t know how anybody would think we’d do it differently, especially since over-stuffing our guests is considered a primary Filipino-trait.

    Anyway, it’s silly to continue arguing this over the internet. As you can read from the past comments the folks with positive feedback have come in and had the Lamesa experience, those with negative comments are still arguing over pictures.

    I invite anybody who is passionate or curious about Filipino food and culture to continue this discussion in the restaurant over some well-cooked food and a cold San Miguel. We’d love to have you and expand these ideas. That’s what we’re here for. (BTW, the TVs are for the Pac-man fights. Duh!)

    Wasn’t gonna say anything, but eventually had to. I love this too much. Sorry, Les.

    http://lamesafilipinokitchen.com
    https://www.facebook.com/LamesaFilipinoKitchen
    https://twitter.com/#!/LamesaTO

  • ziurande

    Wait a minute. There’ s only e course for $35.oo dollars not five

    http://lamesafilipinokitchen.com/menu/

    I think it’s a bit much.

  • ziurande

    Sorry that’s 3 course not 5 course from the chef tasting menu.

  • Jason

    So 3 not 5 course meal? That’s even worse! Not worth $35 if you ask me. But props for showing Pacman fights!

  • Jocelyn

    Owners of Lamesa

    Please look into washroom ads. New Ad, Zoom and UB Media are your best options.

  • KAY EP CEE

    wow reading these comments has given me more insight into why every filipino person ive ever known loves kfc … looks like sharing this exalted traditional food with your own community is going to be a real challenge – good luck guys

  • whocares

    where’s the karaoke machine!?!?

  • Scot

    This is the funniest post I’ve ever seen. Please keep it up! Don’t stop!

  • Jen

    @Louis – the comment I made about the flatscreen was that it made the inside of the place look cheap. Too cheap to warrant charging $25 for four pieces of steak. I don’t know about you, but when I’m paying the same price for a main as I would at a restaurant like Acadia, or Buca I don’t enjoy a flatscreen that costs ‘a few hundred dollars’ staring me in the face. To repeat myself, it’s tacky and reminiscent of a late night dim sum joint. Obviously many others agree with me. The pricing just isn’t right for a brand new restaurant, with relatively unknown chefs (cooking at cadillac lounge doesn’t count), located in that area, with that interior. You charge more, you should provide more. It’s simple.

  • Celeste Lampa

    Kudos to these guys. For once, someone put Filipino food on a plate that has style and actually looks appealing (like you want to eat it). Filipinos are too good of a people to let their food fall behind them. Finally, someone has put our food at the fore front. I haven’t even eaten here (yet) and I know this place is already a success. Sucks that I’m all the way in Edmonton, AB.

  • Des B

    Kudos to Lamesa Filipino Kitchen crew @ Quuen Street west, Toornto!!! You’re off to a great fresh start!! Your patrons will see how some favourite Filipino dishes evolve to a version, artistically prepared to suit the discriminating taste of Filipino-Canadians, and be proud to take along their non-Filipino friends. Try the kare kare with peanut sauce on the side, the deep burgundy coloured shrimp paste, streaked as accent piece…Then cap your dinner with desert — leche flan with maple syrup topping. It was my first time to dine at Lamesa wih my Euro friend. We’ll be back, for sure!!

  • Arlene

    I was overjoyed and excited to have finally found a Filipino restaurant that’s attempting to bring our food to the mainstream Toronto gastronomic scene. This restaurant has long been overdue. I have been there more times than I should because I couldn’t wait to bring my friends and let them enjoy what has long been the mysterious Filipino cuisine. This is the modern meets traditional take on Pinoy food and I am ultra proud to have my non-Filipino friends try authentic, yet non-intimidating and beautifully presented collection of yumminess.
    Their pricing is very competitive, IMO; for people who believe otherwise, i think you guys should eat around town, expose yourselves to different cuisines and compare prices and you will understand why they are charging they way they do. And if you have any questions, i suppose you can go directly to Les or Chef Rudy and i am sure they will be more than glad to tell you what it takes to serve the fantastic, beautiful food that they so passionately prepare for everyone to enjoy.

  • Andy

    I read Lamesa’s review on Dine TO and it just confirms the negative comments on here. The food critic complained that the lack of quality in the food does not justify the pricing. People have commented here saying the pricing is fair and competitive to pricing of other well known establishments in down town Toronto. But those are well known establishments in a more upscale location with world renown chefs and menus. It would be unfair to compare the pricing and quality of food to these big restaurants to pricing at Lamesa. You can’t compare them. Lamesa is a new establishment with unknown chef(s) in a less than par location with an interior that looks just plain. So tell me how can you compare them?
    So I decided to put the negative comments aside and try the food myself. The staff was friendly the food arrived relatively quick (not sure if that’s good or bad). But that’s just about where my positive comments end. Food was just ok. I wasn’t impressed at all on the very little portions of the steak I received. I mean for the price I was paying there should have been more. Overall the experience was just ok. Would I return? Until the quality and portions are changed than probably not. 3 out of 5 stars.

  • Roberto

    Went to this place on a weekday with my partner. I’m Flip, he’s not. LOVED the food. To everyone who expects it to be their lola’s food, open your mind. The chef’s special was a good intro to Filipino food and we were both full and impressed after! I had the kare-kare which was a deconstructed version of what the traditional dish is. I thought it was brilliant as you really taste the flavours. My partner had the halo-halo sisig which rivalled what we thought was the best on recent trip to the Philippines. The only issue I had was with the fried foods — lovely duck lumpia but it was too crispy (if that makes sense). Service was great, too! We had a lovely waitress who, inspite of her only recent introduction to Filipino food, was able to pronounce, explain and get us excited about the food. Ambiance was down to earth and, even though we had no reservation, they managed to be able to sit us. I wish this place the best and look forward to their brunch menu and, hopefully, some halo-halo dessert!

  • Annie

    I cannot believe all the people who are commenting based on a picture vs. an actual visit! Wow.

    Well I have been there and it is lovely and not at all overpriced when compared to other downtown restaurants of similar quality. The $35 tasting menu is plenty of food.

  • LDungog

    Cool twist! It would defenitely be a place I would visit, at least once with the family. I do understand that it’s pricey, but heck if tasty it’ll be worth it!!

    Regarding comments about Filipino’s being “cheap”; lol kinda true but at the same time it’s tied into our culture. What do we do at family gatherings? Overstuff ourselves with food, and still be able take home leftovers because everyone cooked too much. We don’t just feed our families, but our neighbours and their kids too. So being filipino and being presented with a dish at a smaller portion, it can throw you off. $25 can buy meat to bbq and feed the family. So something “Lamesa” may want to consider, portions do matter to an extent. I was in the Phils last year and went to a restaurant that was modern and contemporary. It had awesome traditional dishes & had great portions allowing everyone to share dishes. There was 8 of us. No left overs, but we were “full”
    At the same time, “Lamesa” is a great way to introduce Filipino food to the mainstream here in TO. I’m excited to try it out! And if business goes well I hope they open one in the West-End ;)

  • Myraptors

    Ate here a couple weeks ago and was very impressed with their food. Presentation was great and food was impressive. Price is spot on and some may consider to share cause I found it to be a little too much for me. But great job with a new twist to moms cooking. Will visit again.

  • Malaya

    Would love to check this place out when I make my way back to Toronto.
    Hearing a lot of complaints in here.
    People attacking Filipino food and culture, most likely without malice and unintentionally, but is being done nonetheless.
    This is indeed a good way of introducing our foods those unfamiliar to it.
    However, Filipino cuisine looks the way it is because of the history and culture that comes with it. Nothing about it would ever make me feel embarassed. Not once have I hesitated to tell my non-Filipino friends about dishes they saw and ate in my house. If they didn’t like it, then we ordered other foods. Not a big problem.
    I do agree about supporting places like this. Filipino food has always adapted and changed. It’s longetivity is attributed to it’s ability to always please the Filipino tongue.
    It’s sad to see people putting down those who don’t support places like this. I read comments using words such as cheap and stingy. At the same time, it’s also sad to see people bashing the concept of the restaurant, and how they’re trying to push our cuisine to a different plane. You can always eat the great food that your parents make, like I do. (The last sentence is NOT intended to be sarcastic).

  • Not a crab

    It’s one thing to not like aspects of the restaurant (e.g., price, food portion size, etc.) and post it in a respectful manner, but some of these negative comments are unnecessarily mean-spirited.

    Do you ever read reviews on Chinese, Japanese, French, Jamaican, Italian, Greek, etc. restaurants that are phrased in such an immature manner?

    Pinoys just being Pinoy I guess: like crabs in a barrel.

  • mich

    I have heard wonderful things about this place. Although I have not yet been there, I would definitely be willing to at least try it. I guess what has stopped us is that we get great Filipino food at home from our parents.

    The one thing that I have noticed over the years is that other cultures will fully support their own, but there is something in the Filipino culture that does not encourage them to do the same. Many will tear apart the efforts of another Filipino business person even before the business is up.

    I am excited that our non-Filipino and Filipino friends enjoy this estabilishment…it is a good change from what I have seen in the past. There will always be the unsupportive folks, for whatever the reason. They need to get a grip…

    I agree, if you want cheap, then go cheap. Some people pay for the experience. If you are going to complain about the location, why don’t you try paying for the rent of a better location? Give the owners a break. If they are successful, perhaps they will upgrade. Until then, be supportive…and really live in your 80! Be happy for your fellow man. Mabuhay!

 

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