It was love at first bite at this cozy vegetarian cafe in Kensington Market. We were en route to Urban Herbivore for lunch when we caught a glimpse of Hibiscus Cafe. Little did I know that I would be praising them in my next review as another “hidden gem”. It has all the right ingredients to be classified as such. It’s inexpensive and healthy, yet completely satisfying. Plus the smiling staff make the experience that much more enjoyable.
P.S. you can read the follow-up review for Hibiscus here .
THE LOCATION: Augusta Ave. in Kensington Market (Toronto)
Note: They are only open until 7pm on weeknights. Someone should tell them that these hours might work in the suburbs, where 9 to 5 jobs still exist. Dinner time is usually 8pm in my world. So Hibiscus will be a weekend destination for now.
I know what you’re thinking when you look at the above photo. “Yuck”. There’s a reason they say “don’t judge a book by its cover” and here it applies.
THE MENU: The vegetarian and gluten-free menu is simple yet delivers variety (there are a few vegan options as well). It consists of soup, salad, crepes and smoothies. The variety comes through in their buckwheat (gluten-free) crepe fillings – I believe there are 15 to choose from. They also have a dessert menu which caters to poor souls like myself, who are deprived of sweets due to diet restrictions. You can make up for that deprivation here and then some.
OUR ORDER: Surprises are great when it comes to birthday presents, but not when it comes to food. I prefer to know what I’m getting before I order it. This is not an issue at Hibiscus. The space is so small that you can sneak a peek at most of the menu items landing on the tables around you (or reach over and snag food off their plate when they turn the other way). We may have creeped out our neighbours peering over their shoulders, but ordering was stress-free!
- Salad Bowl ($7) - Ordering the same menu item as my ‘dining partner’ is a pet peeve of mine. I love being able to try my ‘partners’ dish (and vice versa, if necessary) but I ignored that rule at Hibiscus. Here’s why. The woman beside us had been served her mixed salad and we couldn’t take our eyes off it. It was a grazers dream. When we think salad we typically envision green leaf and tomato. BOR-ING. These guys have taken the term salad to a new level and I couldn’t be happier about it. It contains NO lettuce at all. How refreshing! Green beans, sesame pate, legumes, tofu, asparagus, quinoa, beets, squash. The perfect blend of flavours, textures, nutrients (fats, carbs and proteins) in one bowl. They’ve set a new standard for salad.
Buckwheat Crepe ($9) - I have a thing for crepes so I was still extremely anxious to taste their healthier take on it. It might have been all the pent up excitement, or my familiarity with the typical chocolate-smothered dessert crepe, but this savoury version didn’t live up to expectations. It was stuffed with warm spinach, mushroom, tomatoes and basil lending a fresh “out of the garden” taste, without the dirt. With most bites, the basil was the overpowering flavour. It may have have been better balanced with a dose of cheese or some type of spread. From my point of view, cheese goes hand-in-hand with crepes and it was the missing link. But this was no fault of Hibiscus. I had requested the dairy-free version. Overall it was good but gets no gold star, especially for $9. The star goes to their salad. Plus it gets extra points for being $2 less! Call me frugal, but I know a good deal when I see one!
Vegan (Coconut milk) Ice Cream ($3 for one scoop, I think) - Their ice cream is made out of almond milk or coconut milk with flavours that are particularly adventurous. Earl grey, black sesame, green tea, mango, chocolate almond, and an endless list of fruit flavours. I went with the waitress’ recommendation - raspberry coconut ice cream – and she was bang on. The coconut flavour was mild and it tasted just ice cream….really really good ice cream. I was focused on savouring every bite that I only remembered to take a pic of the last few bites.
THE SCENE: Itsy, bitsy cafe with a handful of tables and minimal decor. They have clearly prioritized what they put on the plate versus on the walls. I’m quite ok with that.
THE DAMAGE: Two salads and two ice creams caused no damage at all. A measly $22 with tax.
YOU SHOULD GO IF:
- You’d like to treat a friend, vegetarian or not, to lunch but not break the bank.
- You think Haagen Daz ice cream is the be all and end all. Get ready to be converted.
- You’re craving crepes, sweet or savoury.