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Lunch at JK Gardiner - review

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I had lunch at Jamie Kennedy's spot on the third floor of the Gardiner Museum on Friday. Party of 2, managed to get a reservation the day before for 2pm. Most tables were busy in the street-side half of the resto, and about half of the other side. Not too busy, but definitely hopping - it took us a while to get water, etc, but otherwise the service was courteous and quick.

The menu isn't huge, and is a nice mix of salads, app-stye seafood stuff, and bigger mains like burgers and sandwiches. All the items have a paired wine which can be ordered by the 3 oz, 6 oz, 1/2 litre and bottle. Prices range from $8 for a small soup or salad to $18 for a full lamb chop or seafood dish. The room is lovely at mid-day, with a nice view, lots of light, and simple tables nicely spaced out so one doesn't feel crowded cafeteria style. Plus, it has pretty much the fanciest bathrooms I've seen since Boiler House.

The food! The spread that come with the artisan bread, to start, is divine - cumin spiced and chickpea based I think. My friend and I split the beet salad with mustard green that very tart and lovely. My friend had the smoked salmon, which really was a app sized portion. She said it was nice though. I had the signature hopper dish, which they describe as a mild Sri Lankan curry, with the halibut filet. It comes with a dosa/injera-like bread lining the bowl, then a veggie curry on top, then the halibut on top, also treated in the curry sauce, and it came with a platter of haka-style condiments to sprinkle on top (ala Saravanaa Bhavan). Stunning, stunning, stunning. Such complexity of flavour, paired perfectly with a Malivoire Gewurtz.

I can't say enough about the overall experience and the quality of the food. I really appreciate the attention to Ontario wines, in particular. All told, came to $70 with tax and tip for one salad, two 3oz glasses of wine, the smoked salmon dish and the hopper. For a lovely lunch in mid-town, well worth it!

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    Jamie Kennedy Gardiner
    111 Queens Park, Toronto, ON M5S, CA

    1. What a great review, LemonLauren! Thanks for providing so much detail and, well, passion! Will def give JK a try.

      And the bathrooms too.

      1. Thanks for the review. I've seen the space during Nuit Blanche, but haven't had a chance to drop by for lunch. Hopefully that can be remedied soon.

        1 Reply
        1. re: xtal

          Yes thanks LL, great review. Based on your post, I have now bumped it up the list. Hope to try for lunch very soon. Happy new year.

        2. one more thing i should mention is that my friend was wearing jeans, and i khakis, and we didn't feel out of place at all. there's no snob factor,which is nice.

          1. Thanks for the review - was pondering trying JK @ Gardiner for lunch sometime - this review sealed the deal for me.

            I have a side question: if we only want to go for lunch, do we have to pay to get in the museum or is there a separate entrance to the restaurant?

            1 Reply
            1. re: led2

              you don't have to pay for the musume if you're there for the restaurant.

              the spread that comes with the bread is absolutely divine, i agree. it was a pickled beet spread when i went in the summer and it was delicious.

              the frites were great too!

            2. Review from a Saturday lunch:

              Had to wait about 1/2 hour from 2PM but didn't mind since we went for a walk. Some people complain about the room but I think it's great: clean, minimal, and refined. Basically the dining room is encased in glass with stone and wood accents and use the sun and view of the ROM to good advantage.

              We had:
              Yukon Fries with Lemon Mayo
              Typically superb, with just the right crisp in the centre with a hint of seasoning. Best fries in Toronto for me.

              Local Beets with Mustard Greens and Pecorino Fresco
              Was a pleasant enough dish but wasn't very memorable - simply the 3 items placed on the plate. I remember a similar beet salad at the Rosebud being fantastic, with the beets being cooked and seasoned and a hunk of baked chevre.

              Black Cod Brandade with Toasted Brioche and Poached Egg
              Marvelous. Not what I expected (I thought it would be like a puree) but more of a stewed combination of cod and a meat (pulled pork) with a circle of toast and a poached egg on top. The flavors and textures of the brandade were just delicious and the different oils and sauces had an emulsifying quality that made it almost float in your mouth. The egg and brioche only contributed to the creamy richness. A tad too salty but a faint complaint on an otherwise perfect dish.

              Sea Scallops with Pork Belly
              3 scallops cooked to (a difficult) perfection, seared outside just slightly raw on the inside, a great tangy sweet flavor. The pork belly was a decent compliment, sweet and fatty as it should be. It also came with a slice of what I think was a plain frittata but that was a little dry and stiff and was left mostly uneaten but still left quite a pleasant dish.

              Hopper with Halibut
              I'd never had a hopper before so I don't have a good gauge but the whole dish was presented very appealingly: a large soft shell with a good cut of halibut and a great selection of vegetables sauteed in a curry-like sauce. A number of traditional accompanying sauces (9?) made it a fun dish to futz around with. Overall good, but the halibut was a little overdone and it might just be me but it wasn't the most interesting dish.

              Service was consistent with the atmosphere; very professional, highly responsive and unobtrusive with no hint of attitude. Water glasses were always filled and the waiter noticed my nod immediately for the bill. Being a little tired me and my Chowfriend first ordered and had everything come at once, the waiter suggested that the starters come first and the mains after which turned out to work far better.

              All told with 2 1/2 glasses of a good rose, 3 starters, 2 apps for 2 people was ~73$ before tax/tip and we were quite full (but not big eaters). We expected a menu like JKWB but it's more (loosely) divided as apps and mains. The dishes are small enough to be conducive to sharing but I'd recommend like us that you have the starters come first before the mains. The atmosphere is perfect for a business lunch: great service, great food in smaller portions, accessible location, and professional atmosphere. Reservations highly recommended (we had to wait .5 hour at 2PM on a Saturday). I look forward to going again and would likely order the Brandade again!