Omaw Reborn

Honing an identity on the Ossington strip.

June 9, 2018

Don’t call it a comeback.
We’ve been here for years.

Back in 2015, when Omaw first launched on Ossington Avenue, Chef Matt Blondin imagined a marriage of Southern-inspired fusion with fine dining details. Quickly embraced by the community, Omaw rode a wave of early success as the menu evolved to include broader North American influences. A loyal clientele kept the place busy all the way through to last fall, when a sudden shift enabled Chef Blondin to redirect and more fully realize his vision.

“In November 2017, we decided to make some changes in the ownership structure of the restaurant,” Chef Blondin explains. “That forced us to close down for three months and, during that time, we did some renovations. We didn’t necessarily come up with a new concept per se, we basically fine tuned.”

The reimagining of Omaw would appear subtle in some ways, distinctive in others. Chef David Schwartz – a proven master from his years at Rasa – assumed command over the menu while Chef Blondin slid into a more directorial role. The once-painstaking level of service apropos of fine dining standards, eased up in favour of a less fussy, casual vibe. The main dining room gained aesthetic focus via large paintings and a big-screen projector that’s as likely to display abstract video pieces as a Raptors playoff game. Stripping away the components that were once out of grasp, the Omaw team was able to forge an identity of laid back finesse, resulting in an uplifting environment that transitions smoothly from evening dinner and drinks to noisier late-night revelry.

“We want it to be a fun and energetic space, where the food is tasty and consistent, and makes you want to come back and hang out,” Chef Schwartz says of Omaw’s mission. His ingredient-driven approach to the less refined but no less adventurous menu has led to an exciting array of shareable modern creations, while a fresh slate of affordable summer cocktails keeps the action rolling into the wee hours. Then there’s Backspace: a night club and private event venue adjoining Omaw, where curated music, bottle service and reasonably-priced drinks will be the focus upon opening this month.

Perhaps the most captivating development was the unveiling of Omaw’s reservation-only Private Dining Room, where parties of 8 to 12 guests can enjoy an intimate chef-driven experience with a dedicated server and private bar. In the wake of its relaunch, Omaw has taken on an air of easy enjoyment and liveliness. “It takes time to build all these things up, just like it takes time to build up the energy of the space,” Chef Schwartz reminds us. “As staff, we learn the space and learn how to interact with each other and the food and everything. All that blends together.”

The elements are certainly combining in Omaw’s favour as summer fast approaches and Chef Blondin, now entrenched in the Ossington landscape, surveys his newfound sovereignty. “We never had creative control, in the beginning, over what the space looked like,” Chef Blondin recalls. “We had a great opportunity to come into this incredible space on the corner of Humbert and Ossington. The neighbourhood is very welcoming. But we never had control. From day one, although the food and wine and service were ours, we never really felt in our own skin. That’s why we decided to do a little renovation and make it more representative of us.”

Let there be no doubt, Omaw is ready to represent.