Every four or five minutes, the ground beneath my barstool rumbles and I feel a little thrill. We’re packed like sardines into this narrow room above the Bay subway station. And the mackerel is stopping me in my tracks. Grill-marked fillets with roasted tomatoes and a rich aioli are full-on with oily umami flavours.
Two burly, bearded vets of the local food scene, Chris White and Jon Nicolaou look enough alike to give this place its name. Nicolaou hides in the back, shaving asparagus and fennel and dressing them with a wicked chardonnay-anchovy vinaigrette. Meanwhile, White works the room and delivers deadpan one-liners. “I’m basically a glorified janitor,” he says.
There’s nothing understated about Nicolaou’s carpaccio. Overlapping rounds of beef tenderloin are a crimson canvas for julienned endive, chopped walnuts and a generous float of Abruzzo olive oil that starts fruity and finishes grassy. The somm, Courtney Stebbings, suggests a pairing of vin jaune. Like sherry on steroids, it’s got an oxidative edge that ties all those brilliant bitter notes together.
Dappled wall tiles glisten beneath frosted bistro lamps. We push deeper into the night – and into Austrian grüner and South African pinotage. My mind keeps looping back to that olive oil. White reads my enthusiasm and offers me a taste from the bottle. “I’d let you take it home, but we’re already stretched thin waiting for the re-up on Wednesday.” He adds, jokingly, “We’re bad at planning and terrible with money, but things just kind of work out.” Your secret’s safe with me, brother.