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At Beech Tree, the vodka cocktail (left) is made with OJ, house-made cherry sauce and bourbon-soaked cherries; a Brie mousse is flavoured with baby beets and spicy sunflower-seed crumble.
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The crisply roasted half-chicken comes with lentils and harissa sauce.
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Owner Robert Maxwell shows off his signature chicken dish.
BEECH TREE (924 Kingston, at Lawlor, 416-699-4444, thebeechtreepub.ca, @TheBeechTreePub) Complete dinners for $45 per person, including tax, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $20. Open for dinner Tuesday to Saturday 5 to 11 pm, Sunday 5 to 9 pm. Brunch Sunday 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Monday, holidays. Reservations accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN
The Beech Tree might not be the trendiest trat in town, but for those who value substance over surface flash, the five-month-old east-side bistro more than fills the bill.
Taking his culinary cues from UK gastro-pub heavyweights Heston Blumenthal and Marco Pierre White, Robert Maxwell isn't out to reinvent the wheel. You'll find no deconstructed tacos or silly foam frou-frous here. Superfluous garnish is a foreign concept.
The 34-seat room is just as clutter-free, with a comfy banquette down one wall facing bare tables and a well-stocked bar, and a glass garage door up front that will open to the boulevard once summer eventually rolls around. I swear I recognize the turquoise brocade wallpaper from Carla's flat on Coronation Street.
The Tree's retro starters are worthy of the Street as well. Ex-Opus sous Jamie Newman's opening salvo sees delicate Pringle-like fingerling potato crisps paired with an addictive buttermilk dip ($3). He follows with textbook sausage rolls made with artisanal pork shoulder supplied by Sanagan's Meat Locker in a proper puff-pastry shell, a splash of fruity house-made HP on the side. And could there be anything more old-school than creamed cauliflower and stinky Stilton on toast dressed with garlicky bread crumbs and curly English parsley (both $5)?
When we ask our newbie server to identify the blobs of tasty purple reduction that accompany the board of butter-smooth foie gras parfait and warm roasted pear ($12) - we're guessing blueberry - she returns from the kitchen to say "Red cabbage" with a smile. And we can hear what she says above the muzak. You don't get that at La Carnita.
Passing on the $24 Thursday-night steak special - tonight a 6-ounce sirloin culotte with horseradish beurre sided with beer-battered onion rings and rosti-style turnip (!) croquettes - we opt for the pork chop instead. Brined in star anise and coriander seeds, this whey-fed, thickly cut, grilled Mennonite behemoth straddles a heap of flageolet beans strewn with house-smoked hock and roasted Brussels sprouts.
A crisply roasted half of King Capon chicken (both $20) arrives partially boned and cleaved into lemony
sections, a pool of spicy du Puys lentils, red harissa and more turnip - this time roasted and sprinkled with black and white poppy seeds -
underneath. A substantial char-grilled burger, 8 ounces of house-ground brisket, shows up on a house-baked brioche bun draped with aged cheddar, lettuce and pickled onion ($15), its side of chunky Brit-style fries triple-cooked to crunchy perfection.
Dessert can only call for a wedge of flourless chocolate cake ($8) finished with Maldon sea salt and a dollop of unsweetened crème fraîche that borders on mascarpone.
Maxwell gave up his lucrative career as a broadcast media analyst to launch the Beech Tree. Would he advise others to do the same? "Be careful what you wish for. Your dream just might come true!"