The story behind Selva, a psychedelic jungle restaurant in Toronto

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Part of the RendezViews team goes inside with a catering concept for anyone who can’t go on vacation


The pandemic – this has been a time to reflect, to take stock of where you are in life. Maybe quit your job, try a new hobby, or get out of town.

Unless you are in the restaurant business.

“I had a lot of friends who escaped to places like Costa Rica and Mexico,” says Oliver Geddes, co-owner of Toronto-based restaurant company The Fifth. “Most people can’t afford to do this. I couldn’t leave because I have children and these businesses that were potentially shutting down.

It’s been 19 long months of constantly evolving COVID rules and regulations for restaurants and water points in the city, which can finally return to full capacity from October 25.

The Fifth was one of the most ambitious ventures of this period. Geddes has partnered with The Ballroom and the Collective Arts Brewery to transform a vacant Richmond Street parking lot into a sprawling RendezViews patio over the past two summers. Now he’s heading back inside with an equally nifty resto-bar: Selva, a jungle-themed UV-lit underground space designed to appeal to Torontonians like himself with unfulfilled vacation fantasies.

“The idea arose out of the escape,” he says.

The walls and floors of Selva – the word for jungle in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese – are covered in psychedelic rainforest murals by Clandestinos, a.k.a. artist couple Shalak Attack and Bruno Smoky, who helped bring to life RendezViews and recently painted a mural on Wilson metro station.

Of course, the images translate well on social media, so Geddes is already receiving event booking requests. Reservations opened on October 24 and the restaurant opens on November 3.

Similar to RendezViews, it hopes to host TIFF parties, corporate events, drag brunches, and many other events. But right now, the priority is just to open up.

Located at 221 Richmond in Duncan in the former home of the Fifth Steakhouse, the space has a massive capacity of 520 people, but with tables it will seat around 100. There will be eight cocktails on tap, as well as 18 beers. , including eight-to-10 group arts craft options.

The location turned out to be accidental for another reason. It’s a few doors down from Pai, the popular Thai spot run by prolific restaurateurs Nuit and Jeff Regular. After Geddes’ barbecue was stolen from his driveway patio in July 2020, he was walking around the block and saw a huge take-out line outside Pai. He approached the general manager and asked him if the restaurant would provide food while he worked out his plan B.

This led to a collaboration with the Regulars at RendezViews. During the summer, he invited Chef Nuit Regular to discover the works in progress at Selva.

“That’s when I found out that she had experimented with South American ingredients and flavors during the lockdown,” Geddes explains, “which are variations of what she already knows from the kitchen. Thai. “

A photo of Selva during the day
Courtesy of Selva

Selva’s daytime look has a more woody vibe than the UV nighttime aesthetic.

From wall to plate

Travel shows were Regular’s form of escape during the first lockdown in Spring 2020. She bought cookbooks and started experimenting with South American dishes at home.

“If you had asked me before the lockdown if I would ever have a concept for this kind of food, I would have said no,” she says NOW.

With Selva, she saw a chance to indulge an emerging culinary interest while drawing inspiration from her Thai roots to create a menu that visually reflected the art on the walls.

“I grew up in the jungle in Thailand and the idea of ​​jungle food immediately inspired me,” she says. “I said, what is the cuisine of the rainforest in this region? I began to realize that the food they were eating is very similar to the cuisines of northern Thailand.

The commonalities include sauces, dips, lots of corn and root vegetables, and hot items on the grill, she says. Selva will serve grilled whole fish, grilled Wagyu beef skewers with tropical fruit salsa, grilled eggplant, mushroom dip, Peruvian-inspired beef stew, and banana fritters, among others.

To give these dishes a Thai touch, she uses ingredient variations to achieve the sweet-sour-salty-spicy flavor profile shared by both cuisines.

The ceviche in Selva
Courtesy of Selva

Nuit Regular ceviche uses the natural flavors of root vegetables to bring out the sweetness of the dish.

She cites ceviche as an example of how the menu makes regional connections. While Thai cuisine used fish sauce and sugar for the salty-sweet effect, it uses salt and the natural flavors of vegetables instead. She is also experimenting with the lime tree leaf peculiar to Thailand to vary the acidity. The end goal is a subtly changing flavor profile.

“You can develop all of your flavor while you eat,” Regular says. “A bite of sweet potato, a bite of corn, a bite of sweet umami. The spicy comes from the chili you add. All in all you have the base of Thai flavor.

Inspired by the artwork, she also added edible flowers. Many other dishes reflect the verdant work of art. The mushroom tostada is a direct nod to the pictures on the walls – but asked if there was any playful reference to the psychedelic vibes, Regular just chuckles.

Visual continuity between what is on the wall and what is on the plate has always been important. But she says the trend toward “immersive” or experiential dining concepts has intensified during the pandemic and not just because of the breakout. Breaking away from normal life allows people to pay more attention to the world around them, she explains.

“During the lockdown we had to stay home, we had to cook, sing karaoke, draw pictures,” Regular said. “It had never happened before because our life was very busy. We appreciate art more in our lives. It is something that is becoming more and more important in everyday life.

@KevinRitchie



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