What Toronto landmark hotel has a rooftop herb garden and serves seasonal, sustainable, local food? The Fairmont Royal York

A weekend getaway to Toronto is always an enjoyable escape, and when it has a culinary focus it takes on a completely different (ahem) flavor.

Staying at the Royal York Hotel is a treat at any time. When you add in their emphasis on local, sustainable, seasonal food for their restaurants ,  it turns into a gastronomic extravaganza.  Competitive rates and unique packages clearly appeal to people of all ages judging from the crowds in the lobby.  Young couples with small children, jet lagged, Tilly clad travelers, young spandex wearing clubbers and elegant seniors bring energy to the classic opulence of the hotel.











We began Saturday morning at the Royal York Hotel with the “Shop with the Chef” tour led by Chef Tom Phuong-Luu through neighboring St. Lawrence Market.  Dressed head to toe in chef whites complete with hat, he introduced us to several vendors of local food from whom he regularly buys produce for the hotel restaurant.

We had a delightful chat with  Murray, owner of Golden Orchard Fine Foods for 35 years who said, “If we don’t support local growers today, they won’t be here tomorrow.”

We stopped for a market favourite, a peameal bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery, adding mustard around the corner at Kozlik’s Mustard, choosing from thirty four unique types.  Chef Tom mentioned that the restaurants at the hotel use many of Kozlik’s mustards as a base for marinades and dressings.











At Mike’s Fish Market, we picked up tips from Chef Tom on how to buy fish.  “If the fish has clear eyes, and no fishy smell, it’s good.”    Jon-Michael, pictured above, introduced us to one of the lobsters he was about to pack up for a customer.

The tour gave us an insider’s look at the market, and the tour allowed us to see where many of the ingredients for our evening’s dinner originated.

We headed back to the hotel and  had a tour of the rooftop terrace garden with Chef Tom  where we met six queens and their accompanying entourage of thousands of bees. Desserts in the restaurant are flavoured with the  hand-harvested roof top honey. Exploring the decade old and flourishing rooftop herb garden, Chef Tom pointed out a variety of herbs and vegetables and encouraged us to take anything we wanted. The seasonal, hand-nurtured herbs accent each dish in the restaurant, and he mentioned the chocolate mint would be perfect in a chocolate mint Mojito, I laughed and said that I would love one with my dinner, so he immediately plucked a bunch to take to the bartender so she would be prepared.

For an early evening appetizer, we headed to the highly recommended Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill, a short walk from the hotel, in the financial district.  My dining companion enjoyed a dozen fresh oysters of the shucker’s choice sourced from east and west coasts, Japan and North Wales.

They were deftly prepared by Lawrence David who shucks  a thousand to twelve hundred oysters a day. I savoured house smoked haddock fishcakes along with a Bellini made with fresh Ontario peaches.

Later at the Royal York we enjoyed a veritable feast at the Epic restaurant, where they concentrate on sustainable, seasonal food, 95% of which is local.  Relationships with local farmers and producers are obvious in the menu, where farms are named as well as locations of where food was sourced. It is easy to toss words such as “sustainable” and “local” around carelessly, but the Epic restaurant follows the seasonal harvest so closely, the menu constantly changes. After starting with chocolate mint mojitos, based on our rooftop harvest earlier in the day, soon came house-made bread with a soft center served with pureed butternut squash – brilliance.  Pickled watermelon accompanied the tiniest pieces of gold and red beets that were dabbed with local goat cheese – a light, scrumptious appetizer. Speckled trout from Collingwood was the main dish served with by miniature patty pan squash and roasted fingerling potatoes which was all delicious.  An impressive “Lifestyle Cuisine” menu is also available catering to a variety of diets including HeartHealthy, Vegan, Diabetes, Raw, Macrobiotic, and Gluten Free.

Address:  Royal York Fairmont Hotel, 100 Front Street West, Toronto, 416-860-4556. www.fairmont.com/royalyork, www.epic.ca

Starfish Oyster Bed and Grill, 100 Adelaide Street East, Toronto, 416-366-7827, www.starfishoysterbed.com

For more information, visit:  www.SeeTorontoNow.com



About The blog of travel & lifestyle journalist Melody Wren

Melody is a freelance writer because she believes that work and fun should not be mutually exclusive. She writes about travel, food, lifestyle and green living. Melody loves staying in a place long enough to get acquainted. Local customs, markets and traditional cultures are magnets for this writer. When not writing she’s either on the road, in the air, or savoring something tasty. Most of her travels feature outdoor adventures of some sort, although she typically avoids sleeping on the ground. She is an ordinary person that enjoys challenging and pushing herself, facing fears with an eye on experiential travel. She needs to do it, feel it and see it so she can write about it. Her hope is that her stories encourage readers to get out there and do the same.
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