49 Yonge Street
Brunch for two with all taxes, tip and beer: $56
They call it the breakfast of champions, and there was a point when a glass of stout, such as Guinness, was touted as a healthy start to the day. I don’t know if I could do that every morning, but when settling in for brunch at the Irish Embassy, it seemed wrong not to be sipping a glass of Ireland’s favourite beer.
Normally the domain of Bay Street brokers and executives, on an early Sunday, the sun streams through the high south-facing windows of this former bank and the light bounces off the architectural details of the arched ceiling. Never having been to Ireland, I’m not sure if all the locals there are this impressive, but the Irish Embassy is surely one of the most ethereal places I’ve eaten brunch. That may be because it’s not especially busy. This is an odd state and apparently not the norm, but explains why the sharply-dressed and aproned servers outnumber the customers by about 2-to-1.
We start with the aforementioned Guinness ($6.74) which is the freshest I’ve tasted (having found myself drinking the stuff four times in the course of as many days). Turns out, after years of thinking I didn’t like the stuff, I just need to order it at places that go through a lot of it and thus serve it fresh, from clean draught lines.
The menu is a mix of traditional brunch dishes topped up with pub favourites like hamburgers ($14) and chicken curry ($16), along with classic Irish items like Kilkenny battered haddock ($15) and traditional Irish stew ($15).
I opt for the smoked salmon quiche ($12). It’s a light eggy quiche full of smoked salmon and leeks and Dubliner cheddar. I don’t get much in the way of the distinct cheddar flavour, but it’s a generous portion, served with a house salad and nicely browned homefries.
Across the table, the hungry husband aims to eat an entire pig in the form of the Irish breakfast ($12). Scrambled eggs are complimented by strip bacon, back bacon, Irish sausage and blood pudding, along with beans, homefries, toast and half a fried tomato (just to make diners feel as if there’s something healthy about the thing). It arrives on a big heaping platter and I’m astounded when he manages to eat all of it except for a portion of the blood pudding.
Not having had blood pudding since I was a kid (and not liking it especially then), I must admit to being a bit freaked by this particular item on the plate. The texture was like that of a really moist brownie, and I could even trick myself into believing it was a super healthy brownie made with beets to account for the dark magenta colour. But the rank taste of blood can’t be ignored, and by the end of the meal, the last chunk, the one that even the hungry husband begged off from eating, had been nicknamed “the sausage of death” because of the taste. This might well be a fabulous example of blood pudding, the best available in the city, but interested readers are encouraged to check it out for themselves as I have no real point of comparison, other than years of being a Goth, which qualifies me to attach the “death” moniker to things as I see fit.
To lighten the mood and get the taste of pig’s blood out of our mouths, we shared a bread and butter pudding ($6) for dessert. The light fluffy pudding, studded with raisins, came with an Irish whisky sauce that was more custard than runny hard sauce. We tried to convince the server to just bring us a bowl of sauce, but to no avail.
Overall, we were quite pleased with our Irish Embassy brunch. A great space and great service was complimented with wonderfully decent food that is definitely better than most other offerings on the Yonge Street strip on a Sunday morning. That I’m allowed to have a beer with breakfast is just the whisky sauce on the pudding.