I had the pleasure last weekend of getting a good part of the way into Pete Brown’s latest book, Shakespeare’s Pub. As part of his survey of the history of the George Inn, Brown introduces the philosophical problem that is known to students of the classics as Theseus’s paradox and to fans of BBC television as the Problem of Trigger’s Broom. Simply put, the question in both cases is: if all constituent parts of a thing (be it a wooden ship or a street sweeper’s tool) are replaced is it still the same thing?
Naturally, while examining the history of a pub that has been in business for over five centuries Brown runs into that conundrum on more than one occasion. This spring, those who follow new Toronto restaurants were presented with a similar, if slightly less grand example of our own.
The owners of Marben restaurant on Wellington Street reopened their business with its third distinct concept. Marben has gone from a lounge that focused on bottle service, to a restaurant, helmed by Carl Heinrich (Top Chef Canada) and Ryan Donovan (both now of Richmond Station) that took the idea of farm-to-table cuisine and whole-animal butchery seriously. For Marben 3.0 (their words not mine) the kitchen continues to steal the show, this time led by Chef Rob Bragagnola. “Modern Canadian” is how they have described the menu, but it is obvious that Bragagnola draws a hefty dose of influence from his decade spent cooking in the Spanish style on the island of Mallorca.
For the new-new Marben, proprietor Simon Benstead hired Bradley Denton of Pencil Design to redo the decor and renovate the basement bar.
The most obvious feature that connects this Marben to its predecessor (other than, of course, the address) is that they have decided to keep their popular Sausage League promotion running. The concept is simple: each Wednesday through the summer two chefs from different restaurants prepare their take on the tube steak. Guests who are at the restaurant between 5:30 and 11 can sample both, plus a beer from Muskoka, and cast their vote for the winner.
Starting tonight, July 10, this year’s Sausage League quarterfinals will kick off and follow the following schedule:
- July 10: Museum Tavern vs. Origin (downtown)
- July 17: The Saint vs. Bestellen
- July 24: The Drake Hotel vs. Farmhouse Tavern
- August 7: Yukon Tavern vs. Parts and Labour
- August 14: Semifinal number 1
- August 21: Semifinal number 2
- August 28: Final
On its own, the $25 Sausage League option is pretty close to being a full meal, but I think the better plan is to gather a group of friends and use this as an opportunity to also sample a few of the menu’s new dishes. Get a sense of how things at Marben have changed and how they have stayed the same.