Forget high tea. Those tiny petits fours and crustless cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches may be delicious, but they hardly satiate. I prefer the option of brunch for really refined hotel dining — the opportunity to dress up or down, to have an excuse for mid-day cocktails, and to be able to enjoy the mélange of lunch and brunch at a time that allows you to sleep in, but doesn’t ruin your day by dipping too far past noon.
My love of the luxurious hotel brunch in Toronto is hardly a lonely affair. These places are packed.
For the last couple of months, I have been sampling some of Toronto hotels’ finest brunches. Each Sunday, a different locale. Here is what I discovered.
TOCA The Ritz-Carlton
Brunch doesn’t get much better than this. Although it doesn’t come cheap, brunch at TOCA (referencing TOronto, CAnada) is a meal that you won’t forget anytime soon.
Our server Tomek appears at our table in minutes, offering a negroni, mimosa or bellini à table. It’s a Roman-style theme today, and negroni replaces the regularly featured Caesar: these drinks are unlimited!
Glass in hand, we take a quick tour of the buffet. There’s a carver in white chef’s hat manning the porcetta. And a long table features everything from crispy bacon, to blueberry pancakes, Eggs benedict, split pea soup, beef striploin and short rib. (Everything is replenished so often that even the poached eggs are cooked to perfection.)
Around the corner is the “bistro” — with finely cured meats, salad and extraordinary cheeses: these include their signature Barolo, truffle and aged pincion. There is also a light pecorino pasta, beef tartare, and a separate table with flatbread pizzas.
And if you aren’t too full (I am, but I persist…), today’s desserts include a delicious chocolate mousse cake, coffee crème brûlée and lemon ricotta cheesecake.
Sunday brunch is $85 per person, $105 for special themed brunches, held monthly.
Omni King Edward
Served on Sundays in the Sovereign Ballroom, the Omni King Edward buffet brunch is an elaborate spread. It includes everything from classic Beef Wellington with foie gras to scallops and shrimp, butternut squash ravioli (admittedly, a bit overcooked), fresh juices, smoked trout and salmon and a delectable French toast on croissants with Quebec maple syrup. Highlights for dessert were the chocolate truffle cake and crème brûlée.
Brunch is eaten at white tablecloth tables, under four teardrop glass chandeliers, in a large brightly lit white room with original molding and floor-to-ceiling windows. You sacrifice intimacy here, but the focus is on grand.
Sunday brunch is $53 per person.
Café Boulud (Four Seasons)
We join well-turned out families, couples, friends for relaxed brunch at the recently renovated Café Boulud on the second floor of the Four Seasons. Now a bright luxurious brasserie with a classy brass bar upfront, chef Daniel Boulud continues to offer up rich and refined French cuisine.
We begin with the tarte flambée (a delicious flatbread with onions, mushrooms and fromage frais), and their charcuterie board. This was followed by the decadent oeufs meurette — perfectly cooked poached eggs with short ribs in a red wine sauce on crouton, and the special — a crispy panko-breaded duck egg with ham and asparagus. (I was tempted by the rotisserie chicken and Belgian waffles, but the portions looked even more enormous than my egg dish.)
We finished off our meal with the Chocolate Coulant, a molten chocolate cake with maple-black cherry ice cream.
Sunday brunch is $45 for 2 courses, $53 for 3 courses, juice and coffee or tea.
Susur Lee’s Nouvelle Chinoise cuisine at Luckee Restaurant in the Soho Metropolitan Hotel is the place to go for dim sum if you’re seeking both upscale and fun.
Here the design of the restaurant is as much part of the experience as is the food. Luckee, which opened just two years ago, was designed by Lee’s wife Brenda Bent and her partner Karen Gable. The restaurant décor combines cinder block (pillars), with wood (banquettes), punches of red and a bright neon “Double Happiness” sign in Chinese. What looks like paintings of Chinese landscapes on the wall are—on closer inspection—actually made of tree bark and polished seashells. And the printed paper tablecloths are stock photos of historic Chinese street life. The staff wear polo shirts that read “Great! Chinese Food” in red print on the back (available for sale), and rotating partitions seal off a private dining room that will seat up to 24 people.
Our favourite dim sum on the menu was the recently added Luckee basket, which combines four types of steamed dumplings (including a spectacular siu mai – or chicken and shrimp, and Wagyu beef) and the Luckee shrimp cheung fun, with soft noodle on the outside and crisp noodle inside. The chicken pot stickers were decent but underwhelming.
For a main, we loved the Luckee Duck, which combined crispy skinned duck breast with a rich creamy foie gras parfait, perfectly offset by the crispy freshness of Granny smith apples and leeks with watercress.
For dessert, we had the chocolate custard steamed sponge roll with chocolate sauce and raspberries. It was light and delicious.
Brunch for two people is about $80, and served on Saturdays and Sundays.
I’d been excited to try Executive Chef Damon Campbell’s cuisine for some time. And fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed. Located on the main level of the Shangri-La Hotel , next to its styley lobby lounge, Bosk, designed in natural oak with floor-to-ceiling windows—and an outdoor patio—is infused with light.
For starter course, try the delicious house-made granola or the cheese & charcuterie. To continue, move on to their ever popular smoked salmon benedict, or their aptly(?) named “The Morning After,” the classic three-egg breakfast but on a grander scale: it includes house smoked bacon, pork sausage back bacon, molasses baked beans, mushrooms and grilled tomatoes. Or if you want a more lunch-style brunch, the Bosk burger is a sure bet, with house ground beef, smoked cheddar and Bosk aioli.
If you want decadence, end the meal with the Illanka dark chocolate & banana. And if you think you’ll “just try a few bites,” see how you feel when you get going. The combination of chocolate mousse, banana cream, pretzel wafer, peanut praline and “black and tan” ice cream is both rich and light. See for yourself.
Two courses with juice, coffee or tea is $39 per person.