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Dec 13, 2006 04:10 PM

Hugh's Room

For those who aren't familiar, here's the "rub":

Hugh's Room is a concert venue in Roncesvalles that masquerades as a restaurant. If there is a musician that you want to see/hear, you can only reserve a seat if you go for dinner. Otherwise, you take your chances on getting a seat anywhere in the joint. This ripoff would merely be evil if the food wasn't both (i) inedible; and (ii) overpriced. As it is, Hugh's Room is diabolical.

Went last night for a FANTASTIC concert by Oh Susanna and friends, which doubled as a fundraiser for the Daily Bread Food Bank. The lineup was a who's who of the Canadian music scene, and Oh Susanna was unbelievable. If you ever get a chance, make sure you catch her.

Unfortunately, we wanted to have a decent perch for the concert, so we took the plunge and made reservations for dinner. The meal went something like this:

1. Ordered bottle of wine from 6 bottle wine list. Usual Toronto restaurant markup in effect. I think the Yellowtail Shiraz was around $28.
2. Server brought wine and bread. Bread was yesterday's from Loblaws across the street. No word of a lie. Server couldn't quite get the wine in the glass, but she did have about 15 tables to look after...
3. Split the mussels to start (somewhere around $10). Server said they were "grape with brie", and came back to correct herself as they were white wine with shallots. Yawn. Overcooked. Rubbery. Easily the best part of the meal.
4. I had the 10oz Pork Chop with Twice Baked Potato, Seasonal Vegetables and Smoky Housemade BBQ Sauce. This was by far the WORST plate of food I have ever had in a restaurant, all for $18.95. Greasy, fatty pork chop with some sort of President's Choice sauce mixed with chopped garlic from a jar. Two (I'm not kidding) dried out baby carrots. A handful of dried out string beans. Half of a burnt, twice baked potato.
5. My GF had the Linguini with Roasted Chicken and Sauteed Mushrooms in a Rich Garlic Parmesan Cream Sauce with Green Onions for $16.25. I've had better pasta from can. Tasteless. Bland. White. Disgusting.
6. Still hungry and not heeding my pleas, my GF figured she'd have the Rustic Apple Pie with ice cream for $5.50. Here is the description from the menu: Tart and sweet apples combined with raisins and pecans in a buttery shortbread crust and pastry leaves. Here is what we got: a sliver of store bought, slightly stale apple pie. No mix of apples. No raisins. No pecans. No shortbread crust. No pastry leaves.
7. My friends arrived late. We told them go back across the street to Ali Baba's for 2for1 shwarmas. They didn't listen. Suffice it to say their meals were equally horrendous. D had the linguini - same as before. J had the Steak Frites for $24.95, which is supposedly an 8-9oz AAA Striploin served with Housemade Frites, Provencal Tomato, and a Peppercorn Demi Glaze. Fries were not bad. It did come with half a tomato. Steak was striploin. Demi-glaze? Sure. Taste? Non-existent.
8. They didn't stop there - still hungry (since the portions are skimpy), they went for dessert. They ordered the Chocolate Coconut Cream Cake: extra chocolaty cake layered with a rich pecan and coconut butter cream, topped with a chocolate ganache and toasted coconut for $6.25. Two words - freezer burnt. Enough said. I spat out my one bite.

You have been warned.


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  1. There's no doubt in my mind that something has changed radically for the worse at Hugh's Room over the last while.

    I've been going there for quite a few years. In the past I've had meals that were on the upper end of palatable. Nothing elaborate--just steaks and pastas properly prepared, salad that didn't come straight out of a plastic clamshell container, and desserts that looked and tasted as if they were made by someone who knew how to bake. I always thought how pleasant and unusual it was to have a combination of outstanding music, an attentive audience, and decent food.

    Couple weeks ago, we went with friends to hear James Keelaghan, and our experience was identical to yours. I can't remember what the other folks had (only that they didn't finish their meals). But I remember their frites (which, paradoxically, arrived both cold and burnt) and I sure remember my dish--the same linguini dish that your GF ordered. Overcooked pasta, gloppy bottled-tasting sauce, and (worst of all) tepid chicken chunks that had that ineffable "cooked two days ago and been sitting in the fridge since then absorbing odours but reheated just for your dining pleasure" taste and texture. Inedible.

    In addition to the bad food and inept service, as usual half the toilets in the women's washroom were out of order, and the stairs leading to the lower dining level had a broken, falling-off safety rail. I shudder to think what the premises would look like in daylight. How on earth does this place get passes from the food and safety inspectors?

    I love the music that's offered at Hugh's Room, but never again will I go for dinner there. I'll take my chances with the rush seats. The venue used to be a place to hear stellar music and enjoy a modest, decently prepared meal. The music is still stellar, but the meals are everything you described (and less).

    If only Jeff Healey's club at Bathurst and Queen would book the artists that Hugh's Room does, I'd be there three times a week. The food isn't ambitious at Healey's, but it's orders of magnitude better than what Hugh's Room is offering these days.

    1. Wow! Both of those reviews are pretty sad. I've been to Hugh's Room a few times, usually not paying for the better table, but watching from the bar area. We've had the odd order of fries with aioli--good, too. But that was many months ago. Sorry to hear about the current situation--have there been any ownership or kitchen changes? The main focus has always been the music.

      One place that's consistent is the Free Times Cafe on College, west of Spadina. Not nearly the same quality (or cover charge) as Hugh's, but solid food. Especially the 'Bella Did You Eat?' Brunch. Yummmm.