Interest in George Brown College’s culinary program has soared in recent years, and if its sleek new downtown Toronto restaurant is an accurate reflection of the curriculum, it’s not hard to see why.
There’s nothing even remotely scholastic about the setting—a bright, modern and minimalist space that gains warmth from the exposed brick and girders of the restored factory building, and as a centrepiece an open kitchen that offers no shelter at all for the team of student chefs. (Video cameras up the ante even further, broadcasting their work to flat-screen televisions.) And while it must be said that we took lunch at a mostly empty Chefs’ House before its official opening, and that the almost comically attentive staff obviously knew we were representatives of the media, the food was nothing short of terrific.
Cafeteria nosh this isn’t. Starters: a classic combination of citrus-cured salmon on a crispy potato pancake with honey mustard sauce, and grilled baby octopus—unexpectedly cold, but unmistakably fresh—atop a savoury white navy bean salad, vinegar and basil and red onion cutting through a healthy glug of olive oil, a dish that would have been a stunner even without the mollusc. For mains, one of us chose a boldly and complexly spiced chicken biryani over perfectly al dente rice, served with hard-boiled egg to cool the palate. The other of us was shamelessly drawn to the confit of pork belly with sautéed shiitake mushrooms and Napa cabbage, and could not have been more pleased with it: sticky, not crispy, five-spiced crackling atop that melt-in-your-mouth meat only a slow-cooked pig can deliver. The taste lingers in the memory for days. Desserts—cold crepes with mascarpone and raspberry coulis, and a phyllo dough apple strudel—were also very good, though not quite as remarkable.
And the damage? $18 for a prix fixe lunch or $39 for dinner, all less than 10 minutes’ walk from Toronto’s financial district. Competing restaurateurs might ruefully wonder what bargains they could offer with a limitless, eager supply of free labour, but a buck’s a buck. If downtown expense accounts shrink in time with the stock market, George Brown might just have a gold mine on its hands. Heck, the lunch bill isn’t much beyond a student’s splurge zone.