When Air Canada announced Canada’s top 30 best new restaurants on its longlist for 2017, Wolfe of Wortley, in London’s Wortley Village, made the prestigious list. Los Lobos is the latest creation from brothers Justin and Gregg Wolfe, who are also the proprietors of The Early Bird (and the former Rock au Taco and Nite Owl). Los Lobos literally means “the wolves” in Spanish.
Gregg and Justin both come from musical backgrounds. They spent years traveling as musicians and gaining valuable experience, which they put to use in their business ventures. Gregg spent a decade in Toronto working in nightclubs, while Justin worked as a chef at various restaurants in between travelling. The brothers went into business as Wolfe Pack Inc., and opened the Nite Owl rock lounge in December 2009. In 2012 they opened The Early Bird on Talbot Street, attached it to Nite Owl, and operated it all as one business. This “fine diner” made its name serving everything from Fat Elvis breakfast to Turducken sandwich.
Trying to introduce to London something it didn’t already have, the Wolfes brought Mexican street food downtown with Rock au Taco in the space the Nite Owl had occupied. In anticipation of the opening of the Los Lobos project, Rock au Taco was closed and The Early Bird expanded into the adjoining space.
Los Lobos is at 580 Talbot Street, at the corner of Albert Street. The building has housed a number of restaurants over the years, including The Whiskey House, the Coates of Arms, Alex P Keaton and The Rose and Crown. At one time it was home to Marg or Rita’s, another Mexican hotspot with plenty of credibility in its day.
On our first visit we were greeted warmly by Olivia Wolfe, who is married to Gregg, and who was charming and conversational while expertly managing expectations to facilitate the brief crush in the kitchen. Open just under a week, Los Lobos was a busy and happening spot.
Think modern Mexican flavours, with innovative riffs and ideas and lots of cool Mexican imagery and local references. The dining room and bar is painted floor to ceiling in stunning, colourful murals, and one-of-a-kind art installations by Toronto artist Stu Andrenelli. There are plenty of colourful motifs and indigenous Mexican folk art featuring skeletons, skulls and crosses. It is the kind of iconography that people are used to seeing associated with the celebration of Mexico’s Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
“Chef Kyle Rose is my right hand and had a big hand in the menu with me at Los Lobos,” says Justin Wolfe. “He’s our first addition to Wolfe Pack Inc. outside of the family. Rose will continue to help me oversee, balance kitchen teams and menus as we continue to grow.”
The focus here is on platos pequeños (small plates). They predominate on a menu of gourmet Mexican-inspired fare with a modern twist. The menu shares the love for tacos but also covers a take on classics. We love the chilaquiles (corn tortillas cut in quarters and lightly fried) with mole, questo blando, and cilantro. The crispy cornmeal battered jalapeños rellenos stuffed with Monterey Jack and served with red salsa or mole sauce are sensational and never disappoint. The ceviche is prepared with bay scallops which are small, tender and slightly sweet. The marinade is fresh and prepared with red onion, radish, lime, cilantro and habanero giving it both citrus and heat.
Los Lobos tacos offerings are generously topped with various combinations of salsa, aioli, pickled vegetables and hot sauces. Over several visits, we sampled all ten tacos on offer. We liked the beef cheek taco with pickled red onion, queso fresco and horseradish. The savoury pork belly taco is finished with lime sour cream, radish and jalapeño. Green salsa, pickled cabbage, corn and cilantro are perfect accompaniments for the bay scallop taco. The yuka taco (yuka is the plant from which tapioca flour is derived and not to be confused with the yucca plant) has a great texture and perfectly matched with pico de gallo, cumin crema and green onion. Forced to pick a stand out, it would be the crunchy battered cod taco with chipotle aioli, cabbage, pickled red onion and cilantro. There is also beef tongue with radish, red salsa and iceberg lettuce and other iterations with cauliflower and black beans. All tacos are priced at $5 each. Tacos can be made into a burrito with rice and or beans, served dry with crema, green or red sauce.
The La Carne section includes beef cheeks that are chilli braised with fried yuka and pickled cabbage, and chicken a la plancha (grilled chicken) with Lobos mole and pico de gallo.
Karla Conde is Los Lobos’ dedicated, in-house Mexican pastry chef. Exquisitely prepared churros are served with a generous portion of thick and creamy chocolate ganache and chilli heat. We love the flourless chocolate cake with lots of chili heat.
The plating and presentation of the food is top notch. Everything we sampled lived up to the promise of the Wolfes’ prodigious talents.
The Wolfes take the cocktail side of things very seriously. The cocktail list features craft cocktails that are prepared with fresh ingredients, homemade mixers and premium liquors. The bar serves up ice cold cervezas, smooth tequila, mezcal and bourbon-focused cocktails, and blended margaritas. The combination of cucumber, cilantro and tequila makes for knock-out margaritas. Other kindred flavours include strawberry and cumin; watermelon and apple; pineapple and jalapeno; and grapefruit ginger vanilla. You can expect the bartenders at Los Lobos to take blended drink classics and island-style beverages to a new level by offering plenty of options. We sampled and liked the strong and deeply flavoured Blood in Blood Out made with tequila, port, lime, ginger and bitters. We also tried the Los Lobos, a signature cocktail, prepared with tequila, Amaro Nonino, Cynar, maraschino and lemon.
Los Lobos has a fun, funky and eclectic vibe that is appealing. There is a no reservation policy. There’s plenty of room inside or, in season, outside on the spacious patio. In the meantime, Justin tells us that Nite Owl reopened in December above the restaurant, as a speakeasy type of cocktail bar focused on crafted cocktails. There is an unmarked back alley entrance beside Los Lobos. The Nite Owl operates Friday and Saturday evenings and is available through the week for private bookings.
The Wolfes have taken over the former Harvest Bakery in Wortley Village, and are slowly working out details for their next project. They are leaning towards an Italian vibe, but with a different look at Italian food and culture. The former bakery will also act as a small expansion for the Wolfe of Wortley out the back, which will be used for more production and storage space. They plan to continue to elevate and innovate their food offerings. Los Lobos’ business continues to be strong, and the Wolfes are getting ready to offer new menu items including adding a small brunch menu on weekends.
Jen, who is married to Justin, along with Oliva Wolfe, are often on hand to keeps things running smoothly and with style. Servers are knowledgeable, articulate and welcoming, as you’d expect from a restaurant that is modern and driven by a family of cutting-edge hospitality professionals.
580 Talbot Street, London
Tuesday to Saturday: 11 am-11 pm
Sunday: 5 pm-11 pm