Hibiscus Café is a beloved lunch bistro and café in Kensington Market that's made a name for itself as one of Toronto's best spots for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free organic dishes and desserts. Hibiscus was first brought to life in 2005. The original owner, inspired by a vision of healthy living, created a menu rich with nutritional dishes.
The café quickly became a fixture in the ever-bustling Kensington Market. It was in 2012, mid-meditation class, that Andrey Malkov (already a devoted customer) learned that the then-owner was moving away. He decided, along with his sister and parents, to take over the prime locale.
Andrey and his sister Elena were already committed to plant-based diets when they dove into the world of food. "For me, [a vegetarian diet] is better for the environment, our health, and also for the spirit," Andrey explains. The two siblings continue to share in most of the behind-the-scenes work. Andrey acts as Hibiscus' daily manager, while Elena works to develop the menu, create new recipes and redesign the space when needed.
The menu at Hibiscus remains mostly plant-based and offers a range of mostly savoury gluten-free vegetarian and vegan dishes (although a few sweet treats pervade the menu as well). With time, the menu has incorporated more and more organic and local ingredients, and specials like the soup and salad combo have been ubiquitous among the resto-café's regulars.
“Some people come just for the [house] salad. It has never been changed because it was so good to begin with," Andrey says, referencing the spot's famous dish, colourfully incorporating 42 ingredients, including quinoa, kelp, broccoli, sweet potato, lentil and tofu.
More recently, buckwheat crepes (batter made in house) have become a customer favourite. Andrey recommends the dark chocolate hazelnut banana crepe paired with yet another specialty – Hibiscus Café's unique mung bean dairy-free ice cream, a recipe developed by Elena, herself. "This one is decadent but healthy," Andrey explains. And in fact, Hibiscus is one of the few spots serving the ice cream alternative, a delicious option for those with dairy or soy allergies.
Over the years, Hibiscus Café has bloomed into an important part of the market’s ecosystem. The staff is a tight-knit crew who share a similar ethos for lifestyle and food. In addition to being a favoured hangout, the space now exhibits collections from local artists, and serves as a home base for catering services, and private parties. Hibiscus Café also hosts a writer’s group every other Thursday which draws in poets from the neighbourhood and beyond. In 2015, poet patrons published their first book, entitled The Bones Behind your Smile, which features 17 neighbourhood writers, available for sale at the café.
"We have lots of regulars and know many of them by name" Andrey says. And although Kensington Market will see an influx of new condos and supermarkets, Andrey says he is not concerned about the shifting demographics. "The neighbourhood will definitely keep changing as a result of new condos and people moving in. But I think it could be a good thing," he says. "Businesses like this will always have the advantage of character."