Text description provided by the architects. After designing Bar Raval, Toronto’s critically acclaimed Spanish pintxo boite, PARTISANS reunited with Chef Grant van Gameren and cocktail wizard Owen Walker for an ambitious sophomore collaboration. Quetzal celebrates and preserves generations-old recipes and cooking techniques from various regions across Mexico in a luminous, vaulted space that pays homage to the country’s traditional mercados. The College Street restaurant is fueled exclusively by a wood-burning fire and promises to redefine how Mexican food is prepared and experienced in Canada.
With its rippling curvature, distinct geometries, and spare material choices, Quetzal’s design draws inspiration from the billowing tarps of Mexico’s market stalls as well as the organic details found in Oaxacan pottery. The expansive space embodies a breezy simplicity and freshness, akin to the cuisine itself, honouring the world’s most basic building ingredients: wood, concrete, plaster. The white, undulating ceiling is punctuated by lucid Canadian maple and concrete details that evoke handmade finishes. From the rolling ceiling, geometrical jigsaw countertops, and tailor-made drip trays, to the use of lightweight concrete that allowed for sculptural fabrication techniques, the design team’s rigorous attention to craftsmanship is evident in the restaurant’s every feature.
Quetzal’s design was equally driven by the need to honour constraints and functionality at various scales. Reminiscent of a pristine ribcage, the illuminated ceiling structure reinterprets barrel vaulting using glass fibre-reinforced gypsum. The curves seem to shift in shape depending on the light, taking on the appearance of snow drifts or sculpted ivory throughout a single evening. The gentle swells not only create a dilated effect, but also cleverly camouflage the hefty air circulation system required to ventilate the blazing grill.
The open galley kitchen, which is necessarily compelled by the linearity of the space, becomes a series of metaphorical market stalls that double as distinct culinary landscapes—pit stops along Mexico’s vast lineage of regional cuisines. Every inch of space is optimized to meet the kitchen team’s needs and to tell a story. From the cocktail and ceviche bars to the specialized grills that culminate in the comal—a traditional clay oven used across Mexico—the design collapses the fourth wall, bringing cooks and customers into direct contact with each other. In the spirit of great culinary tutelage, the kitchen on College Street, with its open work surfaces and countertop seats, is a site for exchange, education, and, above all, gratification.