The winds of change are blowing through NDG: chef Liam Hopkins (ex-Restaurant Park) has teamed up with restaurant creative director Nicolina Servello (Nicolina Servello Food) to open two new spots on Monkland, both set to open in June.
Servello and Hopkins met on the high-end catering circuit. “We collaborated on a few events and bonded over our shared passion for creativity in the kitchen and our focus on presentation,” says Servello. They intend to translate their perspective on food into two very different restaurants: Porco, a family-friendly neighbourhood eatery, and Restaurant Hopkins, more of a fine dining destination.
“We want to fill the culinary needs of our neighbourhood. We want families to come to Porco on a Saturday afternoon and enjoy a casual meal amongst friends and family, and then they can visit us at Hopkins for an elegant dining experience or to celebrate a special occasion,” explains Servello.
So why are Servello and Hopkins opening two restaurants at once, when it’s notoriously difficult to open a restaurant here, with restaurateurs dealing with one bureaucratic nightmare after another? The opportunities showed up at the duo’s figurative front door.
Servello had been working catering and food styling for years, and had been told time and time again that she should open a restaurant. She consistently replied “absolutely not!” However, shortly after Servello and Hopkins crossed paths last June, they heard that Lucille’s Oyster Dive was moving, leaving an open space for a new restaurant, and they got to talking. “When you meet a person who you connect with creatively, embarking on the massive task of opening a restaurant starts to feel thrilling, not daunting,” says Servello.
A few months later, Prohibition moved down the street, and the space right below Servello’s office was suddenly vacant, too. As it turns out, the team behind Porco, the porchetta sandwich stand that appeared at Monkland Street Fest in 2015 and 2016 from Servello alongside NDG-ers Johnny D’Amico and Johnny Pedicelli, had been itching to find a brick-and-mortar location. Servello and Hopkins agreed to collaborate with Porco on this new step, expanding the menu beyond porchetta sandwiches.
So what’s the food going to be like at the neighbourhood’s new additions? Chef Hopkins describes the menu at Porco as “fun, pork-forward Italian comfort food with soul. We want to have something for everyone. Pork milanese with pecorino cream sauce, Italian sausage corn dogs, the famous Porchetta sandwiches, meal salads, plus plenty of options for those who stay away from pork.”
Restaurant Hopkins is aiming for something a little more refined. “100% housemade charcuterie, duck for two (duck sausage, smoked coffee-brined duck magret, duck yolk ravioli, and crispy confit duck leg wrapped in duck prosciutto), bone marrow crème brûlée, and beef wellington tartare will all be on the menu. We’re also going to do seasonal tasting menus, and things will change over time. It’s important for Nicolina and I to construct a dynamic restaurant that’s always changing and growing.”
Brunch lovers are also in luck with both restaurants planning to offer it. “We’re looking to bring amazing brunches to NDG,” says Hopkins.
“At Porco, you’ll be able to get a variety of breakfast sandwiches, or semolina pancakes with basil whipped cream and balsamic strawberries, and for Restaurant Hopkins, we’ve developed elegant options like our cinnamon bun skillet with seared foie gras and candied pecans.”
Look out for Porco and Restaurant Hopkins some time in June.