This was the meal I was supposed to be reviewing for Challenge 9 of Project Food Blog. Until I was eliminated on Friday.
“Based on the votes of the judges and your fellow Featured Publishers in Challenge #8, your entry did not advance you to the next round.”
I won’t lie, I am extremely disappointed to say the least. I have poured my heart and soul into my PFB posts since the middle of September and to be ousted so close to the end, well it hurts. Thankfully, my blog has continued to exist outside the contest, as the 50-some posts I have written on top of my PFB posts will attest to, and you, dear readers are still here too. If you discovered my blog because of the contest, I hope you stick around. If you were following me before it started, thanks for staying with me for the ride. I could never have made it as far as I did without you all, so from the bottom of my heart, thanks.
A few of us who were eliminated on Friday decided we would post our restaurant reviews anyway so here goes…
Brunch is an odd meal. I remember when I was very young, there was no such thing. I am not sure about anywhere else in the world but most certainly Adelaide circa the 1980s didn’t have anything resembling brunch. Heck, many restaurants weren’t even open on Sundays back then (or at least that’s what mum and dad told us, LOL!). My first brunch experience at a restaurant was probably at La Guillotine (now closed), opened in the mid 1980s, where I distinctly remember eating my first ever croissant outside of France in the form of a fancy breakfast croissant. It felt very chic.
Fast forward a decade to when I was living in Paris and where brunch was something I dreaded. As a part-time waitress at Woolloomooloo Restaurant Australien, it was the shift you crossed your fingers not to have. After a late night on Saturday, serving punters good Aussie brunches a few hours later was not exactly where you wanted to be. It felt very unfortunate.
Years later when I had given up on waitressing (I bow down to those who do this full time – such a demanding job!) and was teaching English, I relished my Sunday brunches with friends, usually at places like The Lizard Lounge, where, inexplicably, anglophones gathered to eat Anglo-American food. In Paris. What can I say, it felt fabulously exotic at the time. And I felt like such a grown up.
Ten years later, I find myself in Toronto, living in the vicinity of a half a dozen excellent brunch places. I barely have to walk a couple of blocks to eat an amazing and decent priced brunch (bonus? You only have a couple of blocks to walk home to indulge in the inevitable post-brunch nap!). What this means though is that it takes a very special place to extract us from the ‘hood on a Sunday morning. When I heard that Luma started serving brunch a few weeks ago, I knew that a trip outside of our “brunch comfort zone” was necessary.
Luma is the latest addition to Toronto’s new entertainment “destination”, the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Home to the Toronto International Film Festival, the Lightbox houses five theatres, three exhibition galleries and an event space, as well at two Oliver&Bonacini restaurants, O&B Canteen and Luma. At Luma, Executive Chef Jason Bangerter showcases global and Canadian artisanal cuisine using local and regional ingredients.
Luma’s dining room has been designed with rich colours and its floor to ceiling windows offer views of of King Street West’s “entertainment district”. The room is light, bright and spacious without losing its warmth. I liked that the tables were a reasonable distance from each other. We’re used to sitting nearly in our neighbours’ laps at our local places (not necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes you need a bit more of a peaceful ambiance on a Sunday morning!)
Neil ordered a Henry Of Pelham Non-Vintage Cuvée Catharine Brut Rosé VQA ($17) and the girls ordered Mimosas ($12) and Bellinis ($12) .
We normally never order alcoholic drinks with brunch so our bill was much more than we are used to paying. But sometimes you just have to go with what feels right and in that beautiful space, a fancy drink seemed in order.
The menu is short but features classic brunch offerings (omelette, eggs benedict, scrambled eggs, steak and eggs), a couple of lighter offerings (salads and a grilled cheese), a spaghetti dish and some fish cakes along with two dishes for those who prefer a sweet brunch. Miss Melanie went with the Ontario cheddar and spinach omelette ($13):
The presentation of this dish was gorgeous. Clean and simple with stunning colour. Curiously, it was a deconstructed omelette, with the layer of spinach on the bottom and the cheese on the top (and perhaps inside too? We couldn’t tell). Mel loved the flavours of this but found that she kind of wanted the omlette reconstructed, especially towards the last few bites when there was no spinach or cheese left. She helped herself to Neil’s homemade ketchup (outstanding – smokey and flavourful and most definitely not from a bottle) which helped those last bites. We were a little surprised that a side of toast was not included (“artisan toast” $4) – it would have been nice had the dish come with toast to start with.
Neil said he was going big or going home so, after ordering the most expensive drink of the day, proceeded to order the most expensive dish on the brunch menu – Steak and eggs with matchstick fries ($21).
Again, a visually beautiful dish. The pepper-rubbed steak was cooked perfectly as was the egg – the upscale version of the classic greasy spoon breakfast. The matchstick fries, though tasty and attractive, were a bit fiddly to eat and Neil would have preferred something a little more substantial. Fortunately for him, Alicia ordered the grilled cheese ($6) and a side of frites ($6).
Isn’t that the most perfect-looking grilled cheese you have ever seen? We loved the floral garnishes and the perfect grill marks on the pain au lait. This was a well-executed dish but it lacked the gooeynesss of that grilled cheese you are craving on a Sunday morning. Could have done with a lot more cheese and a smidge more butter. I did think that if I were downtown shopping and needed a quick bite, it might be the perfect lunch with a glass of wine. But for brunch, even elegant dishes sometimes need a little grease! The frites made up for the lack of gooeyness on the sandwich side. Crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, topped with a little grated cheese. Perfection.
Even before I even read the menu, I knew that if eggs Benedict were on the menu, I would order them. It’s the standard by which we tend to judge our brunches. Fortunately for me, they were – Poached eggs with smoked ham on artisan croissant with lemon hollandaise (14):
Again, a simple but eye-catching plating (just LOVE those flowers!) and for me, the standout (savoury) dish of the morning. The test? The yolks…
Absolutely sublime. Initially I had thought this dish was a little light on the hollandaise and was worried it would be a little dry, but once I had cut into the egg, I realised that any more hollandaise and the croissant would have quickly turned soggy before I finished eating it. The layers of melt-in-your-mouth salty ham paired well with the slight sweetness of the croissant and the tart lemon hints in the hollandaise. I know eggs Benedict is traditionally served with bacon, but I loved this variation. Fried bacon would have just weighed this down too much – the delicate ham was much more suited to this grown up version.
After brunch, even if my belly is replete, my mouth always wants for something sweet. Luma’s brunch menu offers two desserts but we were also able to choose from the lunch dessert menu. After much deliberation (since we figured we could not eat a whole dessert each), we decided on the Chocolate délice ($10) – dark Valrhona chocolate, caramelized bananas, peanut butter ice cream and cocoa nib crisp – from the Lunch menu.
This was absolutely incredible – from the plating to the palate! The Valrhona chocolate fondant was not too sweet, not too bitter, the peanut butter icecream (though inexplicably runny – it melted within about a minute of it being set down on the table) rich and creamy but not overpowering and the cocoa nib crisp provided some much needed texture. The only odd item was the banana – yes it was caramelized but it was cold. We found it rather a strange addition to the dish (the caramel was also so hard that it was hard to cut the banana without making a huge mess of the rest of the prettiness!). Not bad, just odd.
For our second dessert, we went with the Sugar Spiced Beignets ($10) from the Brunch menu. Beignets with pastry cream filling on caramelized bananas, served with whipped cream, toasted pecans and chocolate – how could we not order this? 😉
Another deconstructed dish – this one a huge success. The beignets were hollow and you sort of dipped them in the various creams and sauces to get a little bite of heaven on your fork. Sweet, spice, cream and crunch all in one bite…
With two lattes and a coffee, our bill (for four) topped out at around $160 plus tax and tip, so not the most economical of brunches. Had we not ordered anything other than coffee to drink, however, the bill would have been comparable to that of one of our standard haunts. But such a different experience from our usual local places that it’s not fair to compare. Luma is a gorgeous space with beautiful food, a place for a special meal. It’s early days yet for this newcomer to the Toronto brunch scene, but I have no doubt that Luma’s brunch is here to stay. I know I will be back.
TIFF Bell Lightbox, 2nd Floor
330 King St. West
Toronto, Ontario, M5V 3X2
Please check out my fellow PFB “eliminees” and give them some blog love!
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Korean American Mommy
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