The Fairmont Royal York Hotel
100 Front Street W, Toronto ON M5J 1E3
Written & Photographed by: Andrew Coppollino
Food: Service: From time to time, I hear the slag that kitchens in hotels can’t be successful. There are reasons, no doubt, that such a statement is made; and precedents for experiencing the truth of it too. Many of us might agree with the statement, however, it’s not the case with EPIC in the Fairmont Royal York. The effort and the execution by Chef Tim Palmer and his EPIC staff is a noble one; and one that is entirely successful, my palate tells me. They’ve put together a solid Canadian menu and some simply great Ontario wines. It’s packed with juicy flavours and aromas.
The Royal York is a grand hotel. It has history and character, but it’s not beholden to the past. I like the soft, fluid and few plush elements of the dining room. I sat at a table which seemed quite private but also had the feel of a pleasantly busy dining room. That hits a good balance for me.
In terms of the food, the decision has been made for a sustainable, Canadian menu. That’s laudable. Yet, at the same time, it is never a good thing to be hoist on one’s own local petard, or to be cudgeled by one’s own 100-mile principles (and Palmer isn’t). Sometimes you want an exotic piece of seafood from far, far away, or a succulent chunk of tropical fruit—and why shouldn’t you be able to have it?
Palmer has worked his way through the Fairmont program – the apprenticeship program is something the company is proud of, via Southern and Northern Alberta Institutes of Technology in Calgary and Edmonton, respectively, before earning his chops at among other establishments, Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and the Fairmont Southampton Bermuda. He’s cooked in enough places to know local, but he isn’t driven erratically by it. Like I said, “It’s a good, solid Canadian-ingredient menu.” “Canada has the best of everything, except mangoes,” he says with a laugh. That’s a sentiment that I buy into.
To me, EPIC’s cooking – heightened by Canadian ingredients and flavors’ – puts the restaurant in this landmark hotel category on simply delicious terrain, 100-mile or otherwise.
In its entirety, The Royal York, apparently, can punch out 10,000 meals a day, including banquets, and that’s no mean feat. At the same time, Palmer, et. al. has a very good and fine touch that belies the immensity of what an otherwise very busy major hotel does with food en masse. I love the majesty of the ol’ RYH,
still prominent though the taller bank buildings nearby tower over it. And the food never towers on the plate in overly dramatic presentations, or sits in a silly and overly fussy fashion on the plate. The food can have towering flavour and architectural beauty, however. Sweet, satin-textured Laurentian, Quebec, foie gras is moulded and gently brûléed. Soft and heady, the foie is countered by the sweetness which settles nicely along as a classic pairing with walnut-raisin bread, bumbleberry, Saskatoonberry (a nod to Palmer’s prairie origins), and a luscious charred fig that yields an avocado-texture richness. Something you can’t find in Canada, is there anything more sensual than a fresh fig?
Perhaps the best crab cake – meaty crab flavor and superb texture that you can get only from the real thing – I have ever had, along with a succulent, meaty divers scallop – just translucent inside – with a balanced combination of Savoy cabbage, lentils, and a playfully zesty jalapeno truffle-foam that doesn’t out muscle the scallop. The lentils snap just slightly, just like I like them to. An inter-course of a mushroom cappuccino / latte is an inventive and complex chowder of heady hedgehog and yellowfoot or chanterelles, topped with a Pinot Noir froth and garnish of porcini powder. It’s a delicious little slurp with big flavour that somehow manages to stimulate the appetite in a way I couldn’t have imagined.
A Ewenity Dairy Co-operative goat cheese, out of Conn, Ontario, accompanies a dual-coloured, sous vide-cooked beet salad served with a simple balsamic vinaigrette and greens. The flavour and colour of the beets shine. This, to me, is the purest form of cooking. Sure a sauce might be harder to make; however, treating the vegetable in this simple way is the essence of getting the most flavour out of the produce possible.
A main course of roasted halibut arrives with fingerling potatoes. It’s sweet and succulent, and though I would have liked it just a tad less cooked, it is rich and delicious. Swiss chard, sweet potato, and broccoli are simple, foundational vegetables kicked up by a small dollop of sturgeon caviar. It’s a lovely dish, both in appearance and flavour.
Palmer riffs on surf and turf with tender lobster tail perched atop seared venison (I love that flavour), and served with the striking contrast of white asparagus and citrusy foam. The marker here, though, is a chocolate-tinged sauce that pairs well with the venison and, not surprisingly given lobster’ inherent sweetness, manages well enough with the shellfish too.
Cheeses finish up the dinner, and a favourite of mine: Le 1608. Made with milk from a unique and at-risk beast, Canadienne cattle, brought from France four hundred years ago. These cheeses are matched nicely by a 2005 Lakeview Cellars “Starboard” fortified Cabernet Sauvignon at 19 percent a.b.v. It spends 18 months in oak barrels and has plumy, chocolatety tannins. Overall, a truly fine dining experience and one I would return for again!
Dinnerreviews.com© is proud to feature this Canadian restaurant reviewer for Echo Weekly and former restaurant critic of The Waterloo Region Record. He is a full time freelance writer, broadcaster, and food commentator, and host of both the radio program “The Food Show” on 570 News and the cooking and food segment on Rogers TV “Grand River Living.” Andrew’s done cooking apprenticeships at Kitchener fine dining restaurants, and does occasional kitchen stages when he isn’t writing for various publications, developing content for his website Waterloo Region Eats, or in a restaurant somewhere eating yet more food.