Ursa’s cocktail menu is one of Toronto’s leanest, but that means every drink gets even more TLC from barman Robin Goodfellow. (And you should be there when his friends drop by.)
Cocktail: The Hopewell
$13 at Ursa (924 Queen St. W., 416-536-8963)
“I’ll tell anyone: I can only make about ten or 12 really good drinks,” says Robin Goodfellow, bar manager at Queen West’s Ursa, pointing to his diminutive menu of eight original cocktails and four beautifully executed classics.
In keeping with the overall minimalism, most of the drinks consist of three or four ingredients at most. But they’re far from simple, in taste or technique. Take the esoteric Hopewell: a miniature (it’s about the size of a sake cup) drink made from bourbon, vanilla brandy, and apple shrub (fruit preserved in vinegar). It looks cute, but introduces itself with a slap of citrusy flavour and a hint of vanilla, and closes with a tart apple finish. “It’s weird that people order this drink without first asking what a shrub is,” Goodfellow says. “People who don’t like vinegar are really going to hate it.”
Goodfellow became wired on cocktails a couple of years ago while bartending at Czehoski. But he credits Ursa’s chef, Jacob Sharkey-Pearce, for introducing him to the contemporary kitchen techniques he’s since applied to booze—like sous-vide infusions, which involve steeping spirits in fruits and herbs, and heating them in vacuum-sealed bags to infuse them faster. The sous-vide technique keeps Goodfellow’s herbs from wilting when making concoctions like his house-made vermouth and vanilla brandy.
Patrons who want to try something new and don’t want to wait the weeks, or sometimes months that it takes Goodfellow to tweak a drink, should drop by on Monday nights, when the lean list is padded out with options from his special-guest bar stars. He started the guest-bartender tradition back at Czehoski, and at Ursa he’s hosted Jan Ollner (Reposado), Sandy De Almeida (Churchill and the Drake Hotel), and Matt LaRochelle (Cold Tea). Goodfellow relishes the opportunity to learn from a wide range of colleagues—and socialize, of course.
“People think I started the guest-bartender program because they do it in New York,” says Goodfellow. “But it was just that I was working so much I couldn’t ever make it out to see anybody before last call. So I decided to see if I could get them to come to me.”
Robin Goodfellow’s The Hopewell
Aromatic bourbon + Vanilla brandy + Hidden Rose– apple shrub + Garnished with a slice of Hidden Rose apple