Osgood Hall Restaurant
130 Queen St. W.
Mon. – Fri. 12am – 2pm
Closed July & August
Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip: $60
**** (out of five)
There are easier restaurants to find than the dining room at Osgoode Hall, Toronto’s historic law courts next to City Hall, and there probably aren’t any that require you to pass through metal detectors before you reach the front door. The journey is worth it, as there are few rooms as dramatic as the restaurant that sets up every day for lunch in what was once a classroom and library in the historic building – a tall, light-filled, barrel-vaulted room ringed with bookshelves, where you’re likely to see tables full of QCs in their short jackets, gowns, wing collars and linen bands.
This has been Adam Foley’s room since last Spring, when the former executive chef at the Rosewater Supper Club, Empire and Brant House took over the kitchen. Like the smaller, but no less dignified dining room at Hart House, it’s one of the city’s best-kept secrets, with its limited hours and out-of-the-way location, and it’s been quietly building up a fine dining reputation for years.
The best bargain is the Chef’s Menu, Foley’s carefully planned meal of the day, and when I sit down on an early Monday afternoon, it begins with a mild but flavourful Mulligatawny soup spiked with chunks of sweet mango chutney, a perfect remedy for the bitter cold outside. The entrée is a boneless half or Cornish Hen, seasonally perfect with sides of crunchy snap peas and a squash gratin, and a dark reduction redolent of rosemary.
“Since I came here in April, I've tried a bunch of different stuff.,” Foley says. “A lot of the people who come here are older, and they like the chef's menu - it's very good value for the money. Those are really the only entrees we sell. We don't sell many appetizers. The non-working people who come here have a bit more time, but the lawyers - we sell 70 per cent of them sandwiches. They just want to get in and out. We have a tuna nicoise and a lamb burger, but people still don't want big courses.”
There’s a paradox to lunch in most of the western world. Nutritionists are unanimous that a big meal at mid-day is better for us than one at supper, when we’re winding down and food doesn’t have a chance to metabolize. On top of that, we celebrate the Mediterranean diet – olive oil and fish, bread, fruit and vegetables – but we don’t eat the way they do in that part of the world, where cities and towns shut down in the early afternoon for a big meal and a relaxed moment to digest before pressing on with their day.
And then there’s our palette, which is often tired by the end of a day, after breakfast and lunch and several coffees and a drink or two, and is often unable to appreciate something like the subtle notes that someone like Foley puts into his meals. It’s a paradox the chef understands too well, especially with his gowned regulars.
“I've worked nights for so many years, and now I'm on a day schedule,” Foley tells me. “I'm exercising more, trying to change my ways. We were off in the summer and I looked around the neighbourhood at lunch - for the most part people just want to grab and go. Walking around, the Tim Horton's was absolutely jam-packed. I tried to figure out why it was so busy, and they had the value meal - a soup, sandwich and coffee for, like, $3.99. Our whole society is so rush, rush, rush. It's a three hour commute and you eat when you're tired at the end of the day and collapse on the couch.”