Marben: Hipsters who can Sous-Vide
488 Wellington St West, Toronto, ON
When we first walked into Marben’s cozy and eclectic dining space, it felt like the cool, hipster college hang-out where thick rimmed glasses and plaid shirts are mandatory. I’m not just saying this because that’s what our server was wearing. He did look pretty cool though, like he played bass guitar in a hipster band by night and worked on a MA thesis on Nietzsche’s views on egalitarianism by day.
Marben’s menu changes nightly which keeps things fresh and innovative. The only downside is that I have fallen in love with their incredible burger. I was told to order the burger during the car ride to Marben. I just chose not to listen because I don’t typically order such casual items like burgers and fries at dinner. I’m not a food snob, I swear.
We decided to all share a bunch of entrees though so we all got to try a bit of everything. And boy, did I regret not ordering that burger all for myself. It sounded so ordinary on the menu, listed as ‘John’s Burger,’ and the ingredients included a branston pickle, braised ribs and aged cheddar. What they don’t tell you is that those braised ribs are wrapped inside ground beef so it looks like a normal burger on the outside, when you bite in, you get an explosion of soft, tender, moist and juicy braised meat. It was delicious. I barely even noticed the other ingredients in the burger, the meat was so amazing. It practically melted in my mouth.
It’s endearing that the menu items at Marben are named after their creators, ie: John’s Burger. It adds a personal touch to the item, like you’re eating at someone’s house, or someone’s cool, eclectic dorm room in this case.
The braised rabbit leg on top of lemon-thyme polenta was also tasty. The meat was slightly tougher than chicken and pork, and I was more attracted to that tangy, creamy polenta in the dish though.
We ordered the Vanilla sous-vide trout because I absolutely love sous-vide food. I am this close to actually purchasing a sous-vide machine. I love that the cooking method maintains the food’s texture and keeps all the flavours intact. I do recognize how incredibly pretentious the name of this dish sounds though: vanilla sous-vide but I appreciate the innovation, using a traditional dessert spice like vanilla in a savoury dish.
Sous-vide is cooking food in an air-tight plastic bag in a water bath. It truly maintains the texture of food, especially seafood. Sous-vide cooking was practiced a lot during the molecular gastronomy food trend. Heston Blumenthal sous-vide everything from beef to cake. And soon enough sous-vide machines even made their way into kitchen stadium on Iron Chef.
When our sous-vide trout hit the table, I was shocked at how tiny it was. This was a single serving? Maybe for a munchkin! But upon my first bite, I was blown away. The flavours were extraordinary. The fish was so tender and delicate, it was silky and soft as it slid on my tongue. And that cloud of vanilla sauce it was in: holy smokes, it was like slurping up a cloud of delicious and sweet vanilla fluffiness. It was a liquid sauce but it was actually light and fluffy, just like a cloud. This was by far my favourite dish.
Next up, we had the butter poached lobster. There was a decent chunk of lobster in the bowl and it was succulent and juicy. I loved the briny, saltiness in the bisque too.
We snacked on some appies while waiting for our roast beef to be prepared.
The pommes kennedy were little scored cubes of potatoes. The scoring made the little potato cubes deliciously crispy, each tiny slot in the cube trapping lots of salt and seasoning.
The pork rib empanadas turned out to be pretty spicy, stuffed full with New Farm baby greens, goat’s cheese and spices, I was gulping water after a few bites. I’m a wimp though. I did love the light and crispy crust.
We could smell the platter of roast beef even before it was set on the table. Each slice glistened appetizingly. It was cooked in a brown butter bearnaise and served with a bowl of beef jus. We all dug in before the server could even explain the cooking method and ingredients. The beef smelled that good.
I’m happy to report that the meat was cooked perfectly, it was incredibly tender and juicy. The fatty slices just melted in my mouth. We really didn’t even need the beef jus, the meat was juicy enough by itself. This is what homey comfort food should taste like.
To drink, the guys ordered a couple of micro-brewed beers and we shared a bottle of pinot noir which went well with the red meat.
Our service at Marben was a bit slow. But we were seated next to a giant table of over 15 guests, I guess they must have placed their orders before we placed ours. We were seated downstairs though, and there was a live DJ for entertainment; the space is also small and intimate enough so we could chat comfortably above the noise.
I recommend Marben. You might want to find a pair of thick rimmed glasses to wear there though.