Story by Lynn Burshtein. Photos courtesy of Selva.
While international borders continue to open up, many of us have yet to resume leisure travel, especially to far-flung locations. Therefore, while an actual jungle safari may remain relegated to our bucket lists, an immersive, multi-sensory art/resto/bar experience that has opened in Toronto serves as a good substitute.
Selva, which means “jungle” in both Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese, is a vibrant dining destination that is the brainchild of Oliver Geddes, co-owner of Toronto restaurant company, the Fifth. Selva is located in the former location of the Fifth Steakhouse, at 221 Richmond Street, in the heart of the city’s Entertainment District. Providing diners with an exotic getaway, even if only for a few hours, the underground space is adorned with neon-painted jungle animal murals and simulated rainforest fixtures hanging from the ceilings, all courtesy of visual artists Bruno Smoky and Shalak Attack, also known as the Clandestinos.
Geddes says he “wanted to create something that spoke of joy, hope, optimism and rebirth.” The result is a dining room that emulates a tropical location (including jungle sounds), making the “concrete jungle,” that Toronto is pejoratively referred to, fade into the background. Once you’re ready to visit the jungles of Africa, check out what you need to know about African walking safaris.
The aural experience of Selva is matched only by the delicious menu created by locally renown Executive Chef Nuit Regular. Chef Regular (who is behind the award-winning menu of the city’s Thai restaurant Pai) created a menu for Selva based on her experience growing up in Northern Thailand, where sweet and spicy flavors are prominently featured. But here at Selva, there are also Mexican and Costa Rica influences.
When my guest and I visited Selvla, we sampled a succession of sharing plates that included: the Dip Platter (featuring eggplant, guacamole and fruit salsas); tasty Mushroom Tostados; Fried Calamari and a highlight of the menu, the sensational “Corn Fritters”, crunchy curry-based bites served with a tangy peanut sauce. There is also a corn-based dessert, the sweet corn and butterfly pea flower gelato. A fun cocktail I enjoyed called “To the Jungle”, a variation of a Moscow Mule, is made with Smirnoff Vodka, Cassis, lime juice and ginger beer. But, since I aspire to be wellness-minded, next time I will try the “Espresso Lion’s Mane” which is made of Ketel One Vodka, Galiano, PowerPlant Superfoods and THINK coffee, which is described as “Lion’s Mane mushrooms, an adaptogen with beneficial effects on the body, especially, the brain, heart and gut.”
My guest and I polished off these offerings with zeal. But instead of feeling heavy afterward, as one often does after a large meal, we left the restaurant with a sense of lightness that we haven’t felt in a long time. I think this can be chalked up to the fact that we’d just been transported to an exotic virtual destination, and this provided some much-needed relief after the past year-and-a-half.
Note: Selva adheres to Covid-19 safety protocols including proof of vaccination upon check-in, a mask policy and frequent sanitization of the facility.
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Lynn Burshtein is a Toronto freelance writer and regular contributor to Travel to Wellness