Thursday, May 23, 2013


In early April, co-owners of Kensington's Torito Tapas Bar Veronica Carmen Laudes and Luis Valenzuela, took over the decade-old Brazilian restaurant Caju on 911 Queen St. West. The business partners successfully transformed the space into Carmen, a Spanish restaurant / bar offering, as per their Twitter account, "...bold and kind hearted Spanish flavours. A blend of tradition and originality. From small tapas to giant paellas."

True to their word, the menu at Carmen (Twitter: @carmensayz, Facebook: Carmenis indeed organized into traditional tapas on one side with chef Valenzuela's creative takes on Spanish plates on the other. And as for the paellas? You have four to choose from:

Paella del Carmen - Shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops, chorizo, chicken, saffron
Paella "Antoni Gaudi" - Roasted quinoa, "Vegetable mosaic"
Paella de Montana - Tempranillo, rabbit, snails, artichokes
Paella Atlantica - Lobster, saffron, roasted tomatoes

Mind you, although I didn't have the paella this time around I certainly have my eye on the "Paella del Carmen" for next time ;)

Carmen is such a visually stunning space. I personally love it. A lot. The decor is so vibrant, so cheerful and fun yet it is modern and elegant at the same time. Sounds impossible, right? To have all those elements in one restaurant? Nope, it's possible...and I really hope my photos can convey that point across.

When you walk into Carmen you will see a long, beautiful custom-made wood and marble bar on the right.

I love these lights above the bar....they really stand out against the dark ceiling.

Black and white Spanish art is hung on the wall across from the bar. A very classy touch.

The "gorgeous-ness" continues in the bright and spacious dining room. Oh by the way that's my dinner date Nicki from View The Vibe (@ViewTheVibe).

Everything from the large, dramatic painting, the bright, bold accent colours... the long wooden tables, complete the overall Spanish vibe at Carmen.

I had the "Carmen" cocktail while Nicki opted for a glass of wine.

Carmen ($12)
Gin, Amaro, Lime, Egg White, Cranberry Bitters

We shared the following eight plates:


Alcachofas Fritas ($7)
Fried artichokes, Maldon salt, aioli

Berenjena con Molazas ($6)
Battered eggplant, pomegranate molasses

Pimientos de Padron con Salsa de Tomate ($10)
Shisito peppers, tomato sauces


Jicama con Aguacate ($6)
Bite size jicama shells, creamy avocado

Gambas al Ajillo al "Estilo Carmen" ($12)
grilled shrimps, garlic, chili

Morcilla y Garbanzos ($10)
Blood sausage, chickpea sofrito, apple, fried egg

Sandia comprimida con Crocante de Jamon Iberico ($7)
Compressed watermelon cubes, cured ham chips

Buttifarra con Alubias y PX ($12)
Catalan pork sausage, white bean, Pedro Ximenez sherry

What a marvelous meal! Its meticulously thought-out menu is loaded with fresh ingredients, accompanied by bold and unique Spanish flavours. And frankly speaking, I don't remember the last time I liked every single plate at a dinner but I certainly did here at Carmen. . 

First of all, the fried artichokes are a must (as in, I would actually be pissed if you tell me you went to Carmen and you did not order them!) I could easily finish a plate myself because they were just that awesome; its batter was light, thin and just enough to seal in the fresh and delicate flavour of the artichoke inside. Next, the rich green Shisito peppers were a delight to eat - while some were mild others packed in some intense heat - seriously the luck of the draw here (which is exactly why they were so fun to eat!) However, the original plates is where Chef Valenzuela's creativeness really shines through. The delicate, transparent jicama shells filled with dollops of creamy avocado, and his refreshing cubes of watermelon each adorned with one crispy, cured ham chip were two plates that I thought were extremely cheeky, clever and memorable. Also, I hardly ever rave about shrimps but man, these grilled shrimps were something else. The garlic and the chili, finished with a squeeze of lemon is all you need for these fresh and plump shrimps. Last but not least, the deeply seared pork sausage was moist and tender, with its flavour enhanced by the thick smear of Pedro Ximenez sherry on the plate. Overall, an immaculate dinner at Carmen with a true taste of Spain.

By the time we were done eating, Carmen was jam packed (we started dinner at 6pm on Tuesday night!) but no worries, Carmen take reservations *yay!* and they open from Tuesday to Sunday, 11:30 AM to 11:00 PM. So no excuses need to go check it out now!

Carmen on Urbanspoon

 Carmen at