Brunch: My Top 10 Picks for Toronto

Brunch is my favourite meal to eat out. I like arriving before the crowds and enjoying a nice, leisurely meal and good conversation. I like ordering something ridiculous and massive off the menu and feeling satisfied until dinner. I like getting my caffeine fix for the week in the matter of an hour or two as I down four or five cups of coffee. I like restaurants that have a comfortable and homey décor and feel to them but with an interesting menu. I don’t want to eat a “big breakfast” with eggs, toast and three types of breakfast meat. I want something I can’t make at home or something that I can’t be bothered to make at home because it will dirty about 27 different dishes. I want a restaurant that is in an interesting neighbourhood, somewhere I want to wander in and out of shops for the rest of the afternoon looking at furniture, records and prints.

On this list you won’t find anything east of Yonge Street. The west is my Toronto. I know that is terrible and very limiting but its brunch. I don’t want to waste an hour or more of my time trying to get to the East End to have brunch at Lady Marmalade only to wait another hour or more in line. I will acknowledge that Lady Marmalade is delicious, unique and cozy. But it’s not my favourite. If I ever move east of Yonge Street this list will dramatically change but for now, west is best.

10. Smith

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Ok, I lied. Smith is east of Yonge. I have only been to Smith once for brunch but I was completely enamoured by it when we visited. It was a quiet fall afternoon, just a few weeks before our wedding and we were seated on one of the most romantic and cozy patios in the city. The patio has taken over a back alley and looks out onto a side street just off Church Street. We were alone on the patio which allowed us to take in everything: the exposed brick walls, the various textures and patterns on the cushions, the lights strung up in a zigzag pattern over head, the single piece of lavender in a antique porcelain cabinet knob turned vase on the rustic wooden table. The whole atmosphere was so simple but so well thought out and put together. This attention to detail and capturing of comfort in décor would translate into the capturing of comfort and warmth into the food.

The Eggs Benedict manages to turn an already adult breakfast item into an even more sophisticated and decadent meal. Instead of traditional hollandaise sauce, the Benedict is drenched in a parmesan leek fondue. Any restaurant that is going to allow me to justify eating fondue at 10 am on a weekend morning is a place that warrants another visit.
I also consider this restaurant worthy of a top-ten spot because Smith is one of the preferred brunch spots of Al and I trust her opinion on most everything.

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Mother’s Day 2015

What day is today? Today is Mother’s Day! For Mother’s Day this year I hosted GC’s parents and Ninni for an afternoon tea in the backyard.

IMG_3754 IMG_3758I made five different sandwiches and savoury scones:

1. Cucumber & Chive Butter
2. Goat Cheese, Prosciutto and Basil
3. Tomato Pesto Tea Sandwiches
4. Radish-Chive Tea Sandwiches
5. Nordic Open Faced Smoked Salmon Sandwiches
6. Cream Biscuits with Prosciutto and Parmesan Cheese

Dessert was leftover cake from Amelia’s birthday. To celebrate my amazing sister I had made a Chocolate Raspberry Cake.

IMG_3749Don’t worry – my Mama didn’t get left out. My mom, in all her typical intensity and amazingness, brought over a barbeque feast with all the fixings: steak, pasta salad, potato salad, greek salad and fruit salad. All I had to do in return was provide another cake, a Lemon Blueberry Layer Cake with a light cream cheese frosting.

IMG_3769I got it from my Mama – and by “it” I mean my baking and cooking skills. My mom has cooked and baked for our family for over 30 years and has always done it with grace, elegance and skill. It is never a big deal for my mom to host a family dinner or bring food to a potluck. She created the home that I hope to create for my family: I always want people to come over to our house and know that there will be food and drink, that it is not an imposition and that everything will be cooked with skill and love.

Happy munching!

Afternoon Tea – The Windsor Arms

My mom is one of my favourite people of all time. She is the most inspiring woman I know. She is smart, charming, witty, beautiful and just completely amazing. She is my real life Meryl Streep.

10332_674748901846_121506112_40082178_2410099_nMom & Girls OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot only do I gush about her, I eat with her. This year to celebrate her birthday and Mother’s Day, we went for afternoon tea at The Windsor Arms. The Windsor Arms is everything you want a hotel to be. It is sleek, polished and has a very posh London hotel atmosphere about it.

This posh atmosphere continues into the tea room. The table settings are white linens and all the china is matching. There is a hat stand with a variety of hats with ridiculous plumage fit for a royal wedding. There was a group of girlfriends in floral dresses and fascinator enjoying afternoon tea. It was all very dainty and proper.

The tea rooms are seated according to your reservation time and seatings are fully booked. I understand  the need to make money and run a successful business but it takes away from the ambiance when you are too closely seated to the next table and the low hum of other patrons turns into a loud drone.

We shared a pot of the Private Windsor Arms blend. This tea was a blend of Ceylon, Nilgiris and Assam teas. It was delicious. Our tower of deliciousness was presented to us and stacked in the traditional manner from the bottom up: scones, sandwiches and desserts.

IMG_0607The Goat cheese and caramelized shallot tart.

I promise you, this tart did not look so sad and lonely in person. The tart was served first as it was warm. It was delicate, soft and sweet. I wish it had been slightly bigger or maybe served as two. On it’s own, it was the perfect warm, little bite of rich, cheesy goodness.

IMG_0608Fresh scones with preserves and Devonshire cream.

The scone serving was very generous. We given two each and they were huge. They were impossible to grab using the tongs and this resulted in me dropping one of my scones. It was my classiest use of the “5 Second Rule” to date. There was two different flavours of scones: raisin and orange currant. These scones were firm on the outside and soft and fluffy on the inside. They were only made more perfect smothered with Devonshire cream and various jams. I could eat scones all day.

The fresh sandwiches consisted of: 1. Smoked Salmon and Wasabi Sour Cream with Salmon Caviar 2. Cucumber with Sundried Tomato Paste and Dill Cream Cheese and 3. Grilled Chicken, Granny Smith Apples Citrus Mayonnaise, Greek Yogurt and Chives.

The sandwiches were tiny. The bread had been flatten out and rolled into pinwheels rather than being served as quarters or miniature sandwiches. Due to the form the sandwiches take, the sandwiches are not packed with filling. The flavours were not bold and intense. The flavour that stood out the most was the salmon. It was smooth, creamy and salty. The cucumer was delicate and light, tasting faintly of a fresh garden. The chicken sandwich was filled with chicken but the other flavours did not stand out.

And last but not least, the dessert level.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset The Petits Fours: Chocolate Mousse Truffle, a Coconut Marshmallow, a Mango and Passionfruit cake and a Lemon Custard Tart topped with Raspberries.

Please explain to me why for two people we are given four different desserts? And desserts that cannot easily be shared? This was my major complaint with the tea service. The final touch of the tea service is dessert and to be underwhelmed is disappointing.

That being said, we shared our desserts and by the end were full. My favourite was the lemon tart. Lemon and raspberry is my favourite combination of flavours in desserts. The zesty, tartness of the lemon combined with the subtle tart but still sweet flavour of the raspberry is pure perfection. This tart had a crumbly shell filled with velvety smooth lemon filling and topped with three, perfectly formed raspberries. Yums. The low point: the coconut marshmallow. It was underwhelming. Marshmallows should be in hot chocolate, not on a dessert tower at afternoon tea.

Overall the tea experience was lovely but the company was even better. This was the perfect afternoon to celebrate the awesomeness that is my Mom. I love you, Mom!

Happy munching!

Baker and Scone

A few weeks ago, ampoule GC and I headed to Hamilton for a day hiking but first, see we needed sustenance. We headed down to St. Clair to check out a new bakery, stuff Baker and Scone.

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This is an adorable bakery. It is bright, airy and has a very French-vibe to it. The walls are a soft green, with accents of white and marble. The scones are displayed in whimsical containers, constantly being refilled with fresh baked goodness. The bakery is simple, but thought out, allowing you to focus on the pastries.

We ordered six different flavours: 1. Buttermilk Double Vanilla 2. Gruyere, Chive and Dill 3. Lemon Poppy Seed 4. Blueberry Vanilla 5. Lemon Currant and 6. Orange, Cardamon and Date.

The day we went, the scones were cooked a little too crispy. Scones should not have a hard, crusty exterior to them; a little firmness, yes, but not a dark, golden brown colour. This level of crispiness was perfect for the savoury Gruyere, Chive and Dill scone. It was cheesy, with fresh flavours from the herbs. The crunchy exterior gave the satisfying crunch with every bite.

The sweet scones were not helped with this level of crunchiness. However, once you broke through the crispiness, the insides of the scones were soft, delicate and full of fruity flavours. The flavours were intense and bright, using fresh ingredients. All the scones with lemon flavour had intense, natural, lemon zest flavour to them – they were delicious.

A simple and thoughtful touch is that all scones can be accompanied by a small container of real butter and you can purchase a small jar of Greaves jam too. These are the perfect toppings to create a perfect light breakfast or a snack for a road trip. As you can tell, my only complaint with the scones was that they were a little too-well done for my liking. I have talked to a few other people who have been and they said that their scones did not suffer this affliction. This is reassuring because I would love to have a close-to-home-scone option. I will be going back to see if this is the case and will keep you posted.

After we picked up our scones we headed to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton for a day of lilacs, hiking and chipmunks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHappy munching!

 

Afternoon Tea – The Royal York

Sometimes you need to be a bit fancier and take your afternoon get-togethers to the next level. For me, order this means grabbing a few girlfriends and having afternoon tea at the Royal York. I went for afternoon tea with two delightful ladies, nurse Stephanie and Claire. These girls are my friends from work that I take morning and afternoon break with every day. We head to the lunch room and have a cup of tea together. It was only a matter of time before we took our tea drinking to the next level and had proper afternoon tea.

The Royal York does not overbook their tea service, allowing you to sit and enjoy, not feeling rushed or overcrowded. As the tea service is not overbooked, the room is not loud or distracting. There is a gentle hum of conversation and the clinking of tea cups. We were seated at a small table by the window with two chairs and a couch.

We each started off with our own pot of tea. This is the only choice you have to make during the tea service. I chose the Kyoto Cherry Rose tea.

IMG_0131My tea came in a beautiful rose covered tea pot. The other girls’ tea came in different tea pots. I don’t know whether or not this is proper tea etiquette but the affect is charming and brings a little whimsy to a fussy and proper event. The tea was a Japanese green tea that was lightly infused with notes of fruits and florals. It started delicate and subtle and as the tea steeped the flavor became fuller and richer. This is the best tea I have ever had and puts all my David’s Tea to shame. It is available at the Fairmont store so I might just have to get some…

We were then presented with four finger sandwiches.

IMG_0123Center bottom, clockwise: Farmer’s Egg Truffle Chive Salad, St Mary’s Smoked Salmon with Fairmont Royal York lemonade aioli and cucumber, St. Lawrence Market Caprese with organic baby arugula, pesto, mayo, vine ripened tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella cheese and Smoked Aurora Turkey Breast with a cranberry emulsion.

I know what you are thinking – how is this enough food for anyone to eat and feel satisfied and not outraged at the price tag associated with it? Trust me it is. Since you are enjoying your food at a leisurely pace, drinking copious amounts of tea, followed by rich pastries you will feel full and satisfied.

The egg salad sandwich had a bit too much egg for the size of baguette it was on. The salad itself was creamy and had a deeper, woodsy taste to it. The eggs used had a rich, buttery flavor to them and were not overwhelmed by the mayonnaise or the truffles.

The St. Mary’s smoked salmon was a pure delight. The salmon was smoky, tender and not overly fishy. There was hints of lemon and the cucumber added a fresh, coolness to the sandwich. This was perfectly offset by the heaviness of the bread, which made the sandwich substantial and filling.

The St. Lawrence Market Caprese sandwich was easily my favourite. It was delicate and light but still rich and creamy from the buffalo mozzarella. The tomatoes were fresh and the pesto conjured memories of an Italian summer garden. I will be making a version of this sandwich all summer long.

I was least impressed with the Smoked Aurora Turkey sandwich. It lacked the depth of flavor that the other sandwiches had. I would have liked more cranberry to the sandwich and a hint of greenery to give it that much needed crunch and contrast.

Our table was then graced with a tower of sweet perfection.

Afternoon Tea IIIAfternoon Tea IVIMG_0127Top Tier: Guava and raspberry mousse
Middle Tier: French Macaron and Paté de Fruit and Chocolate Truffle Flourless Cake
Bottom Tier: Devonshire Cream to be served with Tradition Scones and a selection of Preserves

Photo Credit (desserts): the one and only Steph

This is the most elegant and extravagant presentations of desserts. It is over the top and indulgent and I absolutely love it.

We started with the scones. This was my first taste of what a proper scone is: firm on the outside, but flaky and buttery on the inside. The scone is then made all the better by slathering it in Devonshire cream and jams. My favourite part was the dusting of icing sugar on top of the scone. It is simple but has a very pretty affect and tastes sweet.

The desserts were all wonderful. My favourite was the chocolate cake. It felt heavy and dense but was smooth and creamy and all sorts of wonderful. It was the perfect way to end a delightful afternoon.

Afternoon tea is fancy treat and one I think you should all take part of. Our plan is to check out all the tea services recommended by Toronto Life here. Next one on my list is Windsor Arms!

Happy munching!