The Windsor Arms
18 St. Thomas Street
“The Windsor Arms has a reputation for being a bit stuffy,” said Executive Chef Stephen Ricci. And then I cocked my eyebrow. And then he caught me cocking my eyebrow. And then I was forced to explain.
Historically, while the 80-year-old hotel does have a reputation for being very “old money”, in recent years that reputation has changed from stuffy to a more modern take on high society, which roughly translated still means rich, but now comes with the glitter (or tinge, depending on your point of view) of celebrity. With a guest list that has included such non-stuffy names as Jennifer Lopez and Drew Barrymore, the Windsor Arms is still saddled with the reputation of being unattainable to the common folks; of being the type of place that everyone talks about, but that no one has actually been to.
Recent renovations to the hotel’s restaurants aim to change that. The once formal tea room is now both classic and edgy, with the outer room done in shades of cream and gold. Chairs are upholstered in a cream boucle fabric shot with gold thread, reminiscent of a gorgeous 60s Chanel suit. The inner tearoom has undergone a fantastical change, with the traditional (and, yes, stuffy) beige décor replaced with dark purple walls and sheer white curtains.
Afternoon tea remains a feature, and the assortment of tea sandwiches, pastries and rich buttery scones is considered one of the best in the city. To compliment the afternoon tea offerings, Chef Ricci has added a Twilight tea, served in the early evening. While the premise is the same, the sandwiches and pastries differ, with shaved prime rib, vegetable scones and more savoury items available as a light snack before an evening out.
Across the lobby, in the cocktail bar, Club 22’s brown leather club chairs have been replaced with pretty metallic leather seats and low marble tables. Five glowing orbs comprised of tiny crystal flowers light the bar, and a private room, formerly the hotel’s barbershop, offers an intimate setting for groups. The menu here is tapas-style, with specialty cocktails.
Tucked behind the elevator bay, Prime is the newest jewel in the Windsor Arms’ crown. Decorated with grasscloth wallpaper, and featuring the work of Canadian artist Charles Pachter, the space is both intimate and inviting. Offering a carefully chosen selection of Canadian beef, in addition to American Kobe striploin and burgers, Ricci is in his element with an 1800 degree infrared steak broiler. And vegetarians need not worry; Prime offers a daily vegetarian tasting menu.
To compliment dinner, Prime boasts an onsite wine cellar that also offers private lockers. The $14,000 bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Pauillac 1918 is kept in a safe elsewhere in the hotel, however. (Yes, I asked – it’s the closest I’m ever going to get to one.)
Ricci stresses that he wants to cater not just to hotel guests, but hopes to draw in locals from both the immediate Yorkville neighbourhood and the entire city. With a price point that is comparable but does not necessarily exceed other high-end dining establishments in Toronto (afternoon tea is $30, dinner at Prime will run from $100 to $150 per person depending on the steak cut), the restaurants at the Windsor Arms, with the new buzz created by the renovations and changes in the menu implemented by Chef Ricci, should now be a consideration for Torontonians looking for something they haven’t tried before.