Stefano’s Bistro: A Taste of Europe’s Finest Right Here in Durham Region

Shaun Bernstein headshot. Shaun Bernstein

If you’re headed anywhere north of Highway 401, you will start to pick up the scent of savoury lobster bisque! That’s when you’ll know that you’ve reached Stefano’s Bistro.

Stefano's Bistro storefront entrance and seating area.

390 Simcoe Street, Beaverton

From the outside, Stefano’s Bistro would not look out of place in any of southwestern Ontario’s smaller communities. The exterior suggests a community restaurant with a bright, large sign—made slightly more unique by the pizza takeout window located just next to the main entrance.

Behind Stefano’s Bistro is Chef Stephen Ng, who emigrated from Hong Kong in 1990, after receiving his culinary training at some of the finest hotels in the region.

At the time, Hong Kong was still under British control, and the fine dining cuisine maintained a classical, European flair that Chef quickly grew to adapt.

He was looking to leave Hong Kong before it returned to Chinese control in 1997. After travelling on a visit to Canada, Chef loved what he saw and decided to move here permanently.

“I loved it here,” he reflects. “I loved the people, I loved the freedom, and so I decided to stay. I picked up a job with someone that would hire me so that I could make enough money to hire an immigration lawyer and move permanently.”

Not only did Chef Stephen choose to relocate to Canada, but he had no interest in living among fellow expats in an entrenched Chinese community. Instead, he chose to settle in Beaverton, which provides a sense of the idyllic, small-town life he was craving.

While he worked for several decades in Toronto restaurants further honing his craft, Chef Stephen decided to take the last act of his career in an entirely different direction.

At an age where most of his peers would contemplate retirement, Chef Stephen purchased his restaurant just before the COVID-19 pandemic and sunk more than $350,000 into completely renovating the property. Stefano’s Bistro is the first restaurant that he’s owned, and he wanted to get it right.

While lockdowns kept his doors shuttered for the earliest months of business, Chef Stephen improvised by offering a takeout pizza counter at that second window, which was able to keep the business afloat until he could safely open.

Stepping inside Stefano’s, you’re greeted with a mix of small-town restaurant and Old World charm. The solid tables and rich wood panelling provide a sense that while the ambience may be newly constructed, the food has been perfected over decades.

The menu lends perfectly to that Old World charm, offering delicacies such as French onion soup, prime rib dinner, beef wellington, rack of lamb, smoked duck, and Chef Stephen’s own declared specialty, lobster bisque, with large chunks of lobster and fresh puff pastry. “You can’t find better,” he says proudly.

These are the sorts of dishes that he first learned in Hong Kong, coming up through the ranks doing dishwashing and preparatory work until he was ready to take over a kitchen. Even today, he’ll make accommodations, such as for gluten or dairy allergies, but his food maintains the Old World flair he’s perfected over decades.

Despite rising food costs, Chef Stephen refuses to cut corners when it comes to quality. “I’m still cooking with butter, and cream and wine,” he notes, while many of his competitors have switched to more cost-effective substitutes.

He believes it’s his commitment to quality that keeps customers coming from near and far—with many regularly travelling from Markham, Aurora, Peterborough, and even beyond, just to try his food. He proudly notes that the restaurant is often full on Friday and Saturday nights with satisfied patrons.

Instead of using food substitutes, Chef Stephen prefers to keep his staffing costs low. His team includes his wife who assists in the kitchen, a single server and occasionally a dishwasher. The demands mean that he is often working 18-hour days, usually finishing his shift not long before the sun comes up.

Another chef may have thrown in the towel by now. Even Chef Stephen enjoys his rare time off, and speaks proudly about his cottage at Balsam Lake and his love of fishing. Yet, the minute he walks into the restaurant, he shows no signs of slowing down.

For Chef Stephen, Stefano’s Bistro is his way of giving back to the community. When he moved to Beaverton, he saw an opportunity for a fine dining restaurant—one that , residents in the surrounding communities would travel to for excellent quality food.

Chef Stephen noted that he’s grateful for all the positive reviews on the restaurant that have helped spread the message about his cooking. His Google and Facebook reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and he’s thrilled that the community has taken notice of his efforts.

Whether that means helping out with special requests, or providing diners with a free birthday dessert, Chef Stephen is determined to make Stefano’s Bistro a place that all of Durham Region is proud to call home.