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Introducing: Bent, the new Dundas West restaurant from Susur Lee’s sons Kai and Levi Bent-Lee

(Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

After a long wait and swirling rumours, Bent, the new Dundas West restaurant from the Bent-Lee clan, has finally—and quietly—opened. While we originally reported that the spot was due to open last December, in a tale as old as restaurant-industry time itself, things didn’t happen quite as swiftly as originally envisioned. Kai and Levi Bent-Lee have taken the restaurant’s reins, though the place remains a family affair, with Susur Lee in charge of the kitchen and Brenda Bent-Lee behind the space’s unique design.

The restaurant occupies a pretty corner lot, with large picture windows letting in plenty of light. “We wanted it to look like you weren’t sure if you’d been here before,” Bent, of Restaurant Makeover fame, tells us. Designing the space with partner Karen Gable, Bent opted for clean lines amped up with whimsical, childlike touches. Up front, a terrarium peeks out from under the front desk; in the back, letterpress trays display 20 years’ worth of pint-sized collectibles, including Cracker Jack charms and tiny religious figures. “If you’re going to collect, collect it all!” Bent says. Behind the bar sits a trio of antique Pachinko machines, which were hauled to Toronto via suitcase by an obliging Denver-based friend. Other pieces were sourced closer to home: hefty benches from Queen West Antique Centre, lettering plucked from Metropolis and oak tables painted to look like old game boards. Perhaps best of all is the basement, where faces from creepy 1960s yearbook photos look down upon the dingy space. (“They enhance the ugliness of it,” cracks Bent.)

While the menu itself is the work of Lee, Kai and Levi, who worked at their father’s Lee and Lee Lounge, had a hand in the planning (the restaurant’s chef de cuisine is Bryan Gunness, formerly of Lee). The menu focuses on the various ways to present raw fish: ceviche, sushi, crudo and the like. Not surprisingly for this pioneer of fusion cooking, Asian touches abound (and there are even sushi chefs behind the bar). Dishes include smoked cod wrapped in miniature taro tacos, topped with cilantro, tomatillo and jicama and finished with chipotle mayo ($15). Tartare ($10) is done two ways—spicy tuna with avocado and salmon with shallots and capers—and perched, sushi–style, on crispy rice cakes ($10). Meatier options include a plate of braised short ribs with black garlic and parsnip purée, served with roasted rosemary-duck fat potatoes with sour cream and chives ($22). Drinks, meanwhile, focus on sake and cocktails like The Bijou ($16), made with green Chartreuse, Bombay Sapphire gin, Carpano Antica, orange bitters and a lemon twist. Bent officially opens on September 5—but, given the anticipation for a new Susur Lee operation, it’s no surprise the place has been buzzing since its soft opening last week.

Bent, 777 Dundas St. W., 647-352 0092, bentrestaurant.com

Our Introducing series explores newly opened restaurants, bars and shops throughout the GTA
This is not a review.
Toronto Life’s starred reviews can be found in their entirety in our
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  • betsey

    Personally I find Brenda Bents designs uninspired, however the food looks and sounds fantastic.

  • NotCoolEnough

    Another Toronto restaurant that doesn’t take reservations. PASS.

  • moi

    um…..The baseball hats look cool

  • Mickey

    I was skeptical, honestly: but I had a legitimately good meal there on Saturday. One of the Bent-Lees took care of our table and he was pretty polished. Food was very, very good with some dishes being flat-out awesome. And the restaurant runs well.

  • hilda

    considering many many years ago this use to be a Pool Hall that all the young men came to. Sure has changed for the better and it’s looking pretty great!

  • Skipton Ash

    Just another fiddling bent!

  • Jodi

    We liked the idea of the place but our entire group was not impressed and so half way through the dinner we decided to go elsewhere to finish our meal. A real shame. The portions were way too small. Everything needed a bit more to make it feel like it was worth the hype and price.

  • Rochina Tyler

    This review read like an advertisement, like so many arranged reviews available to Susur. The fact that all the food pics are taken on the bar line un-set and in the day is a give away as the venue does not take reservations and is open from 5:30pm only. The food was delicious, the service was absolutely great (both attentive, informed and efficient). I know it is a new place, and there are likely a few bumps to iron out, but the food took a long time and the portions were small for the price. The sons (Levi and Kai)were also audibly UN-suportive of fellow staff and we along with fellow diners were crammed into the small venue with little consideration for comfort. Overall, it seems like a money spinner not a dining experience. Hope our server finds somewhere she is appreciated, she was wonderful.

  • Jake

    Pretty different (and if you ask me, more accurate and detailed) review over at the Toronto Star. Went here for dinner recently and was not only disappointed in the food, but actually found a lot of the dishes inedible. Black olive and raisin sauce (yuck), Pork belly that has the consistency of a jelly fish, ceviche that tasted like a wet onion…and many other poorly conceptualized dishes.

    But the icing on the overpriced, over hyped cake of Bent is their reservation policy. They only reserve for groups of six or more (fine), you can only reserve between the hours of 5:30 – 6:30 (rewarding tables that will be handing over more than $600 with an early-bird-only slot is beyond rude), they give your table up if you are 15 minutes late (this may seem ok…but wait for it) AND then if you are too late or miss your reservation, they charge $20 bucks a head to your credit card. Here’s an idea – JUST DON’T TAKE RESERVATIONS AT ALL. You may think people won’t notice you blatantly giving them the finger for wanting to bring a group to your restaurant, but this is Toronto – they notice. Take your toys off the wall, grow up, and stop acting like it should be OUR honour to eat at your restaurant. Dining shouldn’t be this stressful.

  • Gord

    Having just read Amy Pataki’s piece on ” Bent ” in The Toronto Star, it felt like deja vu all over again. Last year, my girlfriend and I went to Lee’s, which I am sure everyone knows is Susur Lee’s restaurant on King street in Toronto. In a nutshell, her experience at ” Bent” and stating that it was a ” train wreck “, was no different than my experience at Lee’s. My experience at Lee’s was probably way worse. They actually forgot to put our order in and eventually, when the food did come, everything was so covered in ” gunk “, one had no clue what they were eating anyhow.

    Amy Pataki said in The Toronto Star article that Susar Lee set the gold standard for Asian cuisine 25 years ago and there is the rub. That was 25 years ago and today is today. To pass on to his son’s the new way of dealing with customers and making the kind of garbage that is supposed to pass as food will be their death kneel. Perhaps it is ” just desserts “.

  • jenny

    OK… is it just me or are those Bent-Lee kids HOT!???

  • Kako

    The server we had was absolutely atrocious! All she cared about was up-selling or making her job as easy as possible, and not about ensuring we had a great dining service, not even a satisfactory experience. We tried to overlook her obvious inexperience and unprofessionalism, but it just kept getting worse, right up to the end when it came time to pay the bill, to which we eventually were quite upset. Hey if you’re going to charge a large group automatic gratuity, you better be able to handle a large group!

    There were so many things that went wrong with the service, I could write a novel and it would take over this review. Horrible. The only other customer service experience that is comparable was one that I had at the Bier Market on Esplanade. But I think this was worse, considering what standards it should be holding.

    One of the Bent-Lees, tried to remediate the situation, but came up short. Although he seemed deeply concerned, he was too quiet and looked unsure of how to please us. Perhaps too young and unassertive, to be running a high end restaurant. Their biggest mistake is hiring unprofessional, inexperienced staff – it is either that, or the staff does not want to work there and do not care to try. It is really a shame. This left the biggest impression, and it didn’t matter how good the food and drinks were anymore.

    The food overall was pretty good. Some dishes need some refinement, considering the price – the pork belly was overcooked and covered with too much rich heavy sauce and presented in an unappetizing manner. The smoked tacos were delicious with a great balance in flavour, texture and smokiness. Tatare two ways was also nice, the rice cake on the bottom might have been a tad too big and overpowering – in the end you were left still chewing on the rice bits and the flavour of the tatare was long gone – reminded me of the sushi pizza that started at Nami. We brought our own birthday cake and the server told us there would be a serving fee of $3, but it would be very nice and worth it. That was probably the only greatest thing she did for us. The cake was sliced, plated, decorated with pretty edible flower petals and the birthday girl got a special plating with a customized “happy birthday” written on her plate.

    The cocktails were fantastic, but way overpriced. The Asian Caesar was delicious – like a liquid steak! The Elder Goose was also delicious, but too small for the price, yes elderflower is exotic, but really? I think it was gone in 3 sips. Beer selection was ok, but overpriced and the order taken with “you don’t need a glass that will clutter the table will you?”. They have a great Sake selection and is very intriguing, but the server did not say a thing about them.

    All in all:
    Food: 3/5, Drinks: 4/5, Service: -2/5

  • Gord

    There is a very old business expression. It is not how much money you make, it is how much you leave on the table. The only thing the Susar family has going for them at the moment is arrogance. Those deep pockets that daddy Susar has will only go so far before they realize that past reputations is exactly that … yesterdays news. The restaurant business is one tough mother and she will kick you out the door and down the street when things go poorly and let there be no misunderstanding… this place is going down hill precipitously.

    It is just a matter of time before ” Bent ” sucks the big one and chokes on it.

    You heard it here first.

  • Yan

    Wow .. Such a. Hater .. I liked it! I like a lot o things!
    Porchetta , Heyeatball, Noce, Terroni
    A great addition to the neighborhood !!

  • Dave

    Worst restaurant experience I have had in Toronto in a very long time! I recently went here with 11 friends to participate in Susurlicious and absolutely everything was atrocious. When we first arrived, nobody was around to seat us, so we took the initiative and seated ourselves at the only table in the restaurant large enough to seat our group. Our waiter started by asking if we wanted “still” or “sparkling” water… we opted for the former as we were not keen on paying for water – by the time we received our bill, we were charged $70 for 8 bottles of “still” water, and told by the waiter at this time that he offered us “still” or “tap” water – a blatant lie caught by those that heard him (and who even makes the assumption that we are comfortable with them opening 8 bottles?). We arrived at the restaurant at 7:30pm – the entrees did not arrive until 10pm. The food was not anything to rave about – far too rich and way too many taste experiences to confuse the pallet. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this place to anyone and I truly hope that they do themselves a favour and shut their doors to Toronto.

 

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