1 of 5
Caesar salad and fried chicken.
2 of 5
Fish wraps are a dim sum favourite.
3 of 5
Turnip cakes are wonderfully creamy.
4 of 5
Chantecler’s Stina Pham chats with guests while owner Jacob Wharton-Shukster works the bar.
5 of 5
Chantecler chef Jonathan Poon preps Caesar salad and fried chicken.
CHANTECLER (1320 Queen West, at Brock, 416-628-3586, restaurantchantecler.ca, @ChanteclerTO) Complete lunches for $40 per person, including tax, tip and a cocktail. Average main $10. Open for lunch Sunday 11:30 am to 3:30 pm. Dinner Sunday to Wednesday 6 to 11 pm, Thursday and Friday 6 pm to midnight, Saturday 6 pm to 1 am. Bar nightly till close. Licensed. Access: one step at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNNN
Is there a more cerebral local chef than Chantecler's Jonathan Poon?
Who else would ditch his critically acclaimed carte six months into the Parkdale beanery's existence for on-trend ssam-style lettuce wraps? And then there's the innovative East-West fusion tasting menu he only offers once a week, so popular it sells out months in advance. But brunch?
"I like to think of it as Sunday lunch," says Poon of his recently introduced dim-sum-inspired lineup. "We've had people sit down, look at the menu and walk out."
Fools! Instead of the inevitable French toast and eggs Benny, they could have been tucking into Poon's signature iceberg lettuce cups stuffed with ground pork, shredded oysters, roasted seaweed and what appears to be deep-fried larvae but turns out to be puffed 'n' grilled wild rice ($4). The squeamish might want to stick with a silver tray of his impossibly light donuts spread with lemony grapefruit custard ($5 for four) instead.
True to its Spadina roots, a mess of steamed Cantonese shrimp on a bed of smoky cellophane noodles tossed with garlic oil and a few raw scallions ($8.50) shows up on a cheap plastic plate. They're followed by a gorgeous pewter bowl brimming with dessert-sweet congee swirled with shredded chicken breast, free-range egg and slightly frazzled garlic ($8) and a trio of exceptionally creamy pan-seared turnip cakes studded with lap cheong sausage and finished with spicy house-made XO sauce ($6.50).
Poon pays tribute to the Egg McMuffin with Chantecler's Fancy Muffin ($12), a meaty sage-scented pork patty on a white-bread English muffin dressed with cheddar cheese, a fried egg, house-cured pork belly bacon and a splash of HP-like tonkatsu sauce, all sided with a heap of cheesy ripple chips. A serrated knife makes sharing a snap. Spring for a side of deep-fried hash browns and a packet of Heinz ketchup ($2.50) for the full greasy-spoon effect.
"You can't just be fancy for the sake of it, especially at lunch," says Poon. "People want simple food that doesn't require too much thinking."
And so we get a riff on Caesar salad ($5), its correctly crisp leaves of inner romaine drizzled with a dressing infused with fish sauce rather than traditional anchovies, plus a shower of shaved Parmesan and a toss of Hickory Sticks straight outta the bag. And you're really missing out if you don't opt for the terrific southern-fried chicken upgrade ($7). What's even more astonishing is that Poon and crew do almost all of this spectacular work on an antique four-burner electric stove.
How ever do they manage?
"It's the only piece of equipment we own that hasn't broken down!"