Labora offers authentic Spanish eats, inspired by Chef Rob Bragagnolo’s time in Spain
Out with the old, in with the good.
Written by Ross Dias
Location: 433 King St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3M4
Must-try eats: The Rubia Gallega—an Ontario prime ribeye cured in-house, and sliced paper thin in the style of Iberico ham—is an essential house tapa, served with porcini, honey mushroom and truffle.
Libations: Try all the Vermouth.
Where to sit so you’re in-and-out in 60 minutes: Ask to be seated at the bar facing the open chef’s kitchen towards the back of the dining space.
Labora Restaurant & Bar started off life in the conceptually-challenged Campo Food Hall, where Chef Rob Bragagnolo envisioned “one space [where] we did different things in different areas at different times.” Unlike other traditional combined dining concepts that sprouted around the same time (Saks Food Hall, Assembly Chef’s Hall), Campo was difficult for visitors to wrap their heads around.
“[Labora] was the one thing that got the most attention from Campo Food Hall,” Bragagnolo said on a recent visit to space after Labora had taken over the entire 3,500-square footage at King and Spadina streets. “We were running out of space; typically turning away 30-50 people away on a Friday or Saturday nights. We needed to take over the rest of it.”
Bragagnolo’s family has been in the restaurant business for generations in Northern Italy. After attending school in Switzerland for hotel and restaurant management, in 2000 Bragagnolo landed a job offer in Mallorca, an island neighbouring Ibiza off the coast of Barcelona.
Bragagnolo’s menu is a testament of love to the flavours of Spain’s coastal region. The bocata de calamar (fried calamari sandwich) with chive aioli, pickled pepper and hot sauce, is an experience to be repeated with every visit of the space. The olive-wood cooked octopus, served with potato is another must-try dish, with flavours that transport to a Catalan seaside bar.
Ironically, some of the seafood does arrive at Labora from a world away—within 24 hours of being caught from New Zealand. Bragagnolo prefers ethical sourcing, but that doesn’t necessitate that the produce will also be local. “I’m more about sourcing the best that I can find. And, a lot of times that means it comes to you from as close to home as possible, especially with things like vegetables.”
Before Campo’s opening last year, Bragagnolo returned to Barcelona to spend time getting inspired at Albert Adria‘s Tickets. “They’ve been doing what they do for a long, long time. They are very systematic and creative in the way they approach production. I hope I can go back every year.”
Vermouth features heavily on the cocktail menu. From the Labora Cola featuring lemon, to the Hola Guapo with sherry and bitters. Divided into categories, the menu is easy to play with; or build your own! Depending on the chosen meal, staying classic with the Catalan region’s Estrella Damm lager is also a respectable option.