By Sherri Telenko
Downtown Oakville’s bustling restaurant scene has a new addition of the Mediterranean variety.
Drawn by the town core’s European feel, Ricarda’s has opened up shop on Lakeshore Road East, serving as the restaurant’s second location in the Greater Toronto Area.
“Downtown Oakville is more like a European city than other cities in North America,” says Thibaud Le Chaptois, General Manager of Ricarda’s Oakville. “The long main street lined with coffee shops, bakeries and shops, next to the water, has a very European feel to it. It reminds me of some cities in Italy or France.”
Europe is an important part of Ricarda’s and not only because most of the management, including chef Julien Laffargue, have worked all over the world. For 15 years, Laffargue managed kitchens for the Four Seasons hotel chain in different countries and was attracted to the creative liberty developing a Mediterranean-inspired menu at Ricarda’s allowed.
Dinner at Ricarda’s is all about couple’s night out, inspired by travelling the countryside of southern Europe and the Mediterranean coast. Laffargue’s menu is continually altering to reflect the Oakville location’s size and clientele’s taste, but always contains a sandwich and flatbread section, pasta options, and popular hardy mains such as Canadian five spice lamb shank, ocean-wise seared Arctic char or char-grilled octopus.
Those who stop by for lunch can create their own salad or select from Ricarda’s ‘healthy bowls’ at less than 550 calories each: yellow lentil and chickpea salad, Israeli couscous mix, spring quinoa or grain spelt.
Who’s the primary lunch clientele?
“Ladies,” Le Chaptois says immediately. Somehow, we’re not surprised. The former Julia’s location has been renovated into an airy, contemporary ladies-who-lunch space with a longer marble kitchen-side bar, open ceiling, dark wood chairs and banquet seating. Summertime, the wrap-around street-side patio doubles seating capacity.
The Oakville Ricarda’s is the second of two locations — the first established in Toronto in 2016.The Toronto location, including the kitchen, is three times the size and includes a bakery. Both Ricarda’s locations feature Sunday family brunch with live jazz band.
On Sunday, Oakville’s L-shaped bar and restaurant focal point fills with upscale brunch items: seafood buffet, oyster bar, French toast, egg station, foie gras and fresh pasta from the menu. The best part? There’s a children’s play area.
“That’s the part people love,” Le Chaptois says. “Mothers come in with kids and I show them the children’s area. I can see the relief drop from their faces. They relax. It’s not supervised right now, but we’re working on it.”
Le Chaptois, originally from France, has worked in the restaurant industry around the world. He moved to Burlington with his Canadian wife and started his Ricarda’s career as the assistant manager in Toronto. Now, he’s GM at the Oakville location, and loving the short commute and relaxed supportive management style of the executive.
According to Le Chaptois, the essence of Ricarda’s pivots around two essential components: a love of sharing good food with others and travelling through Europe and North Africa… by bike.
Well, not everyone cycling across the continent, but the antique blue bicycle at the entrance to Ricarda’s references youthful adventure.
“The owner is German, and one branch of his auto and space industry business is in Cambridge, Ontario,” Le Chaptois says, “and that’s all I can tell you about that.” What he does know is the owner and his wife visited Canada, specifically Toronto, often and wanted to open a restaurant here.
So he did, and named it after his wife, Ricarda, who loved to road-trip via bicycle along the Mediterranean coast. And it’s those free-spirited travels, and a love of sharing good food with friends, that inspired Ricarda’s in Toronto and now Oakville. Bring your friends for lunch, your spouse for dinner and the kids for brunch. This might just be the next neighbourhood favourite.