Tucked in a row of townhouses beside a children’s playground, Branca is identified not by its small, neon pink sign that sits low in the living room window but by the giant word 'Parrilla' splashed onto the side of the house.
Parrilla, meaning grill or barbecue to South Americans, is one of the seven types of open-fire cooking made famous by world renowned Argentine chef, Francis Mallmann, who served as inspiration to first time restaurateur James Bateman.
An engineer by trade, Bateman has always been passionate about food and once apprenticed under Toronto chef Michael Stadtlander (of Scaramouche fame).
After travelling to Argentina, Bateman wanted to bring the intense smoke flavours of live-fire cooking to Toronto and he paired up with childhood friend and head chef Kanida Chey of Weslodge and Origin to open Branca in 2014.
The location was risky –- it was neither Ossington nor Parkdale, and foot traffic would be minimal but the space was well-suited to be completely gutted and transformed to accommodate a custom open kitchen, including a parrilla, open-fire smoking room and an apartment on the top floor for Bateman.
Branca brings the authenticity of Argentine grilling by cooking simply, showcasing rustic cuts of meat -- thick-cut ribs, pig flank, chicken hearts or shoulders and skirt steak -- that are often heavily marbled.
The cuts cook slowly for six to eight hours to let the fat render down and keep the meat succulent and tender. Though it seems uncomplicated, open-fire cooking requires expertise and technique, and can prove challenging when taking into account a Canadian winter.
With minimal seasoning, Chef Chey proudly boasts that when the food comes to the table, there is nothing to hide behind and that carnivores can eat healthily too; all of the animals are free run, grass fed and locally sourced where possible.
Branca strikes a fine balance between authenticity and innovation; Chey wants to stay true to the Argentinian inspiration as he continues to experiment and improve, while remaining cognizant that they are appealing to a North American audience.
Branca is located at 1727 Dundas Street W and open Tuesday to Saturday, 6 p.m. until close. Visit branca.ca for more information.