This Dutch-Indonesian restaurant will leave you daydreaming of travels, past and future.
Heading into its sixth year in operation, Little Sister continues to be a bright spot in Toronto’s midtown dining scene. The restaurant specializes in Dutch-Indonesian fare, a style of cuisine that chef-owner Michael van den Winkel grew up eating in Amsterdam.
Although Dutch and Indonesian cuisines might seem like an odd fusion, the Netherlands has a long history with Indonesia tied to colonial occupation. Just as Britain’s occupation of India led to the widespread popularity of anglicized Indian cuisine across the pond, Indonesian cuisine became a staple in the Netherlands. At Little Sister, van den Winkel blends the Dutch-Indonesian fare of his early years with inspiration from more recent culinary research trips to Indonesia.
This fall, Little Sister is expanding downtown with the opening of a second location at King and Portland.
Little Sister’s midtown location is a cool, stripped-down space with a windowed open-kitchen designed to evoke a Balinese street market. At the time of writing, the restaurant is choosing to keep its interior dining room closed amid the pandemic. For now, dine-in is available on a 30-seat patio facing Yonge St., which Little Sister has softened with colourful umbrellas and plants, plus they’re doing takeout as well.
The Food and Drink
Complex, herby flavours are a common theme throughout the small plates-heavy menu, making Little Sister an ideal spot for mixing and matching dishes. The dishes are “labour intensive,” according to van den Winkel, who says it often takes days or even weeks, from start to finish, to marinate meats and prepare spice blends. The effort pays off in dishes that have bold, layered flavours.
Start with the satay lilet ($7.55 for 3), a lightly textured skewer that packs a zingy punch of ginger, lemongrass, and lime leaf. Mains like the bebek betutu ($19) — duck leg braised in Balinese lime leaf and turmeric — play with juxtapositions of deep, warm flavours and zippy, refreshing notes. Sides such as the fried cauliflower salad ($8.50), which is topped with puffed rice for a little crunch, are never an afterthought and give the mains a run for their money.
Cocktails continue the same bright ginger and lemongrass flavours that are weaved throughout the food menu, with the signature Little Brother ($14), for example, featuring tequila blanco, ginger, sumac, lemon, pomegranate, and lemon bitters. The drink menu also features a brief but globe-spanning list of wines by the bottle (with a few by the glass options), as well as tall cans and draught beers, which are mainly from local brewers like Henderson and Collective Arts.
The Essential Order
Much of Little Sister’s menu is classic Dutch-Indonesian fare, but van den Winkel also adds a handful of more playful, fusion dishes. The beef rendang tacos ($10 for 2) may sound gimmicky but you won’t regret giving them a chance: the savoury stewed beef paired with the sweet, subtly nutty coconut crema is a beautiful combination.