rick mcginnis/metro toronto


Robert Bartley, the man behind the menus at the Four Seasons Hotel, offers flexibility in all his dishes.


Studio Café

Address Four Seasons Hotel,

21 Avenue Road

Phone: 416-928-7330

Lunch: 11:30a.m. - 5p.m.

Dinner: 5p.m. - 11p.m.

Capacity: TK

Dinner for 2 w/tax & tip $80

**** (out of five)

It’s been six months since Robert Bartley took over from Lynn Crawford as executive chef of the Four Seasons, one of the city’s most visible hotels, thanks to its enviable location — adjacent to the city’s toniest shopping district and in the middle of some very expensive residential real estate. A favourite of celebrities, it’s constantly in the news, never more so than during the Toronto Film Festival every September — a very high-profile gig, and one that Crawford rode to celebrity chef status with a regular gig on the Food Network’s Restaurant Makeover and a bout with Bobby Flay on Iron Chef.

Bartley has kept a lower profile since stepping into Crawford’s chef’s whites, moving from the right-hand man spot he’d had at the hotel since 2005. “As the executive sous I was more involved in running the day-to-day operations of it all,” he recalls.

“Being the executive chef, I still don’t have an exec sous position, but what I’ve done is delegated a lot of those responsibilities to the other sous chefs, to give them an opportunity to learn something new, and to be responsible for other things,” he says. “So my role is changed in that I’ve become more creative — I have to do more menu planning, I have to do all the menus for any large banquets, VIP functions, weddings, the Studio Café menu, the Avenue menu, and

I oversee Truffles, so it’s a lot of menu writing. Which is great because it’s a totally different outlet of energy.”

While the kitchen at Truffles is in the very capable hands of Lora Kirk, Bartley has to keep his hand on the tiller of a very busy hotel’s constantly mutating demands.

The Studio Café is the distaff version of the more masculine Avenue Lounge downstairs — open all day serving guests with a concise but flexible menu that, according to Bartley, is only occasionally consulted by the clientele, who will order everything from lobster to tartare, requests that Bartley says a big, well-stocked hotel kitchen like the Four Seasons is uniquely able to meet.

“I consider us very good at being able to modify anything to a customer’s needs. People come into the Studio Cafe all the time and order stuff that’s not on the menu — that happens 50 per cent of the time. And that’s what we’re good at.”