Mon Cheri and I had separately gone to Marben years ago close to when the restaurant first opened up. We wanted to come back and give this place the attention it deserved.
There was plenty of wood facing the red brick building. That day there was no way for us to know Marben is a functioning restaurant - no sign, open doors or a host welcoming you. We thought that was due to the patio being under renovation. Seating on that patio would’ve been our ideal option for ending our workday evening - with some greenery, set on the calm Wellington street.
There were quite a few memorable interior elements inside Marben. Climbing the stairs upon entering, we were drawn to the metal mesh light structure suspended above us. On the side was the hostess table overlooking those entering. Two people greeted us with a smile and asked for our reservation. Behind them was a museum-like glass box with two mannequins. Underneath the display, on the side subtly, were charming wooden squares slid between two wooden planks - Marben was handwritten on them based on a serif all-caps typeface. A playful element which used to be outside as a part of their sign.
The space was beautifully tied together by a long wooden ceiling structure - starting from the bar and going all the way to the end of the long room. It created an organic smooth curve and helped with the flow of the space which could otherwise seem like a collection of random design themes. The wooden structure was occasionally interrupted by hanging lights and, at other times, surrounded by a line of pot lights. The bar had two large stuffed birds attached to the brick wall. It also had plenty of seats which seemed to be ready for one to enjoy a full meal.
The long space included lots of chairs and room-long sofa, all dressed in caramel tanned leather with unique thumbtacks. Charming bolder pillows along the sofa were used as space separators adding a few subtle patterns to the interior.
We did find the section to the side a slightly disconnected with plenty of portraits and a bright orange leather-bound booth.
We were sat down by our waiter - Jay. The place was empty, but it was only 6pm on a Wednesday. Jay quickly offered complimentary water of our choice for the table, as we read through their elegant leather menus. The logo on the menu was angular and contained - quite suiting for the elegant atmosphere, I thought. It was rather a disconnect from the old playful sign of square letters. Jay let us know that their menu changes daily, which we both really appreciated. The pages of the menus were just slit in, to help the daily switch. We appreciated the plenty of white space, but not as much the lack of categories. John’s Burger was the only all-year round menu item. We thought we must try this classic and also ordered their Porcini Crusted Albacore Tuna.
We asked for the wine cart, which introduced yet another debossed wordmark -Marben set in all-caps with corroded edges, an odd choice and not too suiting to present the pricier bottles of wine. We asked Jay to match our dishes with a couple of glasses of wine which he skillfully did. He also insisted that we order appetizers. We went for the recommended Ontario Burrata. We can both tell he was overly eager to serve us - somehow he appeared disappointed.
As we enjoyed the lounge music, we sunk into the atmosphere and noticed yet another interior scene - a small bar area facing the kitchen with custom metal wired lanterns of various sizes hanging above. It seemed that one could enjoy a full meal here as well. I think that would be quite the experience, chatting up the chef.
We were surprised that Marben did not try to entertain us with a bead basket or anything else as we waited for our appetizer. We sipped on our wines - a blended Cab Sauv Merlot Malivoire ’13 as well as an Argentinean Malbec - Andean ’13. The Malivoire was not quite up the quality of the Andean. It was young and lacking the body and depth when compared side by side.
Our Ontario Burrata, got no detailed introduction from the waiter. I was quite disappointed to see that none of our dishes got the attention they deserved. Last time I was here, I truly appreciated that part of the service - it almost felt as if the waiter was helping us discovering a secret. The enthusiasm with which each dish could be described, could help us get a sense of the process behind the masterpiece. We were happy to see the chef was doing his part, as the visual presentation was impressive. The Burrata Cheese sat on a bed of marinated strawberries surrounded by a peach-hued puddle of strawberry jam and brine from the cheese. The chef had topped the Burrata with plenty of greens and he had thrown a few wild rose petals to top this dish off. After questioning Jay about the greens, all he can tell us was that they are seasonal and fresh. We took our time devouring this gem. The Burrata was creamy, fresh and fibrous. The marinated strawberries were a unique addition, and the jam added a beautiful sweetness which was well balanced off by the salty greens. The greens themselves seemed to be lightly toasted in olive oil and topped with freshly ground pepper. It was an easy-going, experimental dish we both would recommend. We would say, enjoy it with a light Rose on their patio.
Next came our mains. The Porcini Crusted Albacore Tuna included two large cubic pieces of tuna sitting on a bed of tomato based couscous which had a base of poblano paste. It also came topped with the wild rose petals as well as green peas. It was a dish delightful for all the senses. We discovered that the tuna was seared on a each side with the sliced part left untouched by heat. Its texture was great - dense yet tender. The only downside - it was a tad too salty for us. There was an interesting zesty hint to the smokey, tomato couscous. Furthermore the poblano paste added another level of complexity which complimented the smoky couscous.
John’s Burger was most likely not made by the same chef. It came crowded on a plate with fries, two small bowls of ketchup and mayo as well as a side of marinated coleslaw. The burger came sliced in half with a wooden toopick holding it together and contained. It had tender braised rib, some pickle as well as some cheddar. It was more of a beer fare - lacking the sophistication of the previous two dishes. Soured by the initial presentation and the lack of maneuvering space, the flavour was nothing to rave home about. We were happy to find out that the ketchup and the marinated slaw were home-made though.
Lastly, we asked Jay for the dessert menus which really improved his mood for a few minutes, before realizing that we weren’t intrigued by any of the options.
Marben is an restaurant which targets many of one’s senses. Starting with the adventurous excitement of entering an unknown, unlabeled place located off the beaten path. Followed by the textures and tones surrounding us, adding a level of depth and sophistication setting our mood and expectations. That was further enhanced by the unique presentation of the dishes, almost all dishes. We thought the service could have really added that 4th dimension though educative enthusiasm and professionalism.