Living just a couple of blocks from both the Gladstone and the Drake hotels, it’s not uncommon for me to be strolling along Queen Street West and come across something that sets my eyes rolling back into my head in annoyance. More and more often, my neighbourhood is too damned pretentious for its own good.
So it was an ominous feeling in the bottom of my gut as Greg and I headed to the Drake hotel on Wednesday night and a block away we could hear bagpipes. As we approached, we could see that the sidewalk was blocked with a carpet and red velvet ropes. In the curb lane in front of the entrance were two Royal Mounted Police officers in the full dress uniform worn when presented to royalty (black serge and pith helmets as opposed to the traditional red serge and stetson), atop two gorgeous horses.
We stood on the sidewalk; confused, embarrassed and guiltily gleeful. If those officers and bagpiper weren’t actually there for us, I’d have growled about how pretentious the neighbourhood is getting. But all I could actually do was give the horses a scratch on the nose, and smile self-consciously as the piper piped us in to the Official Dinner.
Part of Alphabet City’s month-long Food Festival, the Official Dinner was a partnership between Leisure Projects and chef Anthony Rose of the Drake Hotel.
Emulating the atmosphere of official Canadian entertaining, especially the Royal tours of the 1950’s, the evening will include an exhibition, a sumptuous dinner, surprise guests, and a performance by Quartetto Gelato. The menu for the event, designed by Drake is inspired by official meals of the past such as Queen Elizabeth’s Lunch aboard the Britannia.
We went expecting aspic and turned potatoes, but the menu was actually quite contemporary, although incredibly rich. Guests got into the spirit of the event – many women showed up in vintage gowns and dresses, and everyone was given corsages upon entering. Even the floral arrangements were created from archival photos from Royal dinners of the time period.
The guests were a mix of artists, arts patrons and foodies. I suspect there were probably a few monarchists as well. Apparently former Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson and her husband John Raulston Saul were present, but neither Greg or I actually saw them.
The appetizer was Aboriginal Smoked Wild Georgian Bay Trout. This was served as a passed canape atop mini pancakes, and was served with other canapes as well, including stuffed mushrooms and smoked duck breast. Complimentary wine was Henry of Pelham’s Cuvee Catherine Rose Brut, Canada’s answer to champagne. I didn’t get any photos of the appetizers as the room is quite dark and stuff was moving too fast.
After being seated, we were served Heirloom Squash soup garnished with roasted Canadian goose and cranberries. This was paired with Henry of Pelham 2006 Chardonnay Reserve. I loved the cranberries in the soup, but am generally not a fan of goose, and there was a whole lot of goose meat in this soup.
The main was a Grilled Filet of Ontario Beef with Forest Mushroom Jus, Yukon Gold scalloped potatoes and brussels sprouts with maple glaze. The wine pairing was Henry of Pelham’s 2005 Cabernet-Merlot, quite possibly one of my favourite wines. Here’s where things got interesting. Yes, mostly vegetarian girl did eat the steak. It was deliciously rare. Since I’ve fallen off the veg wagon, beef has been the one thing I’ve not really eaten much of; it’s still got a really dank, deathly flavour and smell that turns me off, but Chef Rose’s steak might have allowed me to turn a corner. Only time will tell if this is a good thing or not. The beef was not cooked to order, however, and I can see people who prefer their meat well-done having some issues with the bloody pinkness.
The potatoes were impossibly creamy – we joked that there must have been a pint of cream in each portion. The brussels sprouts were flavoured wonderfully, the sweetness of the maple syrup combined with a hint of horseradish for a surprise kick. They were, unfortunately, severely undercooked. The Queen would not have been inpressed.
Dessert was Pomme Jalousie with an Aged Quebec Cheddar Crust a la Mode. Paired with Henry of Pelham 2006 Select Late Harvest Vidal. This was a gorgeous apple tart with buttery, fluffy pastry and ice cream laced with grains of vanilla. The square of strong salty cheddar didn’t really pair well to my palate. Although I would have undoubtedly loved it in another context, it was too strong for the sweetness of the tart and fought rather than complimented the flavours. After dessert, chocolate truffles served as the petit four to go with coffee.
Service throughout the evening was friendly and professional, although definitely not what you’d expect if Betty Windsor and Phil (“He’s Greek, you know!”) were actually present. But our waiter did do fun things like flipping the napkins onto our laps, and folding them tidily when we left the table. When I joked that this was the first steak I had eaten in almost ten years, he chided me for not asking for a vegetarian meal. I might have, if I had known it was an option, but it would have ruined the authenticity of the event, I think. There would have been no vegetarian offerings at a royal meal in the 50s unless it was for religious reasons. Protocol, people, protocol.
Overall, it was an incredibly interesting and fun evening, although the excess amounts of really rich food are definitely something I’m not used to. I’m not sure how the Queen manages to eat like this every time she goes on tour, for it’s certainly hard on the old arteries.
There’s another, similar event scheduled for later in the Alphabet City festival, this one focusing on Maria Calas, with a meal of her favourite foods and performances of her greatest hits. I’m afraid to even think about what will greet us on the sidewalk for that one.