GARDINER CAFÉ (111 Queen’s Park, at Bloor, 416-362-1957) Complete lunches for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $11. Open daily 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Closed some holidays. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NN
Jamie Kennedy and the Gardiner have never been the best of fits. Since relocating to the ceramics museum after his resto on the roof of the ROM across the street was demolished to make way for the Crystal, Kennedy has struggled to make the Gardiner a go.
The recent very public downsizing of his empire has not been very kind to the museum café. If the two sad lunches we endured last week are any indication, Kennedy would have been better advised to install a vending machine. All high ceilings, walls of glass and cold concrete, the space has always been problematic.
Dramatic by night for a TIFF gala, by day the cavernous room is cut in half by a collapsible wall, leaving the ladies who lunch on the side without the spectacular view and the wrap-around terrace. It's like eating in the cloak room. And what restaurant in a museum - other than Frank at the AGO - doesn't have art on the wall?
The lunch-only card has also gone down-market, not a bad thing considering the success the organic guru has had with Gilead Café (4 Gilead, at King East, 647-288-0680) and Hank's (9½ Church, at the Esplanade, 647-288-0670) doing the same thing.
At Gilead, substantial roast beef sandwiches come on thick slices of multi-grain lavishly spread with house-made mayo and sweet onion jam, a few bitter leaves of arugula for bite, some pickled slaw on the side.
At the Gardiner, roast beef sandwiches (both $10) are half the size, contain a third the meat and come pre-buttered on brown, their advertised dressing of "local greens" merely knife-cut lettuce.
Compared to Hank's terrific smoked fish sandwich ($8), the Gardiner's is positively microscopic, not that we could be bothered to finish it ($11). Potato salad ($5) is amateurish, devilled eggs ($2.50) could be something out of a Betty Crocker cookbook.
At least chef's famous frites ($6) survive. Spilling out of a logo-stamped paper cone next to a ramekin of apple cider mayo, they're as historic as we remember. Pity the same can't be said for the rest.