THE GALLERY GRILL (Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle, at Wellesley, 416-978-2445) Brunch for $30 per person, including all taxes, tip and a glass of wine. Average main $15. Open for lunch only Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 2 pm, Sunday brunch 11 am to 2 pm. Reservations recommended. Access: elevator to second floor, then one step down to restaurant. Rating: NNNN
It feels very grown-up and clubby in the Gallery Grill, as though a stern old master might come by the table at any moment and inquire after our right to be there. The neo-Gothic style and grey stonework, spare wooden furniture, crisp white linen and coat-of-arms china all contribute to a weird sense that it's still 1919, when Hart House opened its doors to an all-male membership.
Women were allowed to join in 1972, five years after the death of its Edwardian-minded patron, Vincent Massey, and the former private club room for staff and faculty has been serving lunch and Sunday brunch to the public since 1995, currently under the highly capable guidance of noted former Lakes chef Suzanne Baby.
Despite friendly, highly competent staff, it still feels exclusionary, as though all the years cannot erase the snobbish, sexist ghosts. If that doesn't put you off, or is in fact your thing, the brunch is superior, with not an eggs Benny or home fry in sight.
The juice menu is almost as extensive as the wine list, offering such novelties as unfiltered fresh cranberry and ginger-spiked pear ($3.25). The daily soup ($3.95 cup/$4.95 bowl) is a nicely thinned purée of sweet potato with a ginger kick. Ordered with a side of warm goat cheese and chive tea biscuits ($2.95) with sun-dried tomato butter, it's a cozy lunch on its own.
Scrambled eggs ($13.95) reach new heights with just a drop of truffle oil and diced French Brie folded in at the last minute. Served on a bed of watercress salad, toasted brioche and three large slices of cured Westphalian ham, it's a sophisticated and perfect plate.
The warm smoked trout salad, all bones meticulously removed ($14.95), is a rare pleasure. It's accompanied by soft fennel, perfectly grilled fresh artichoke hearts and potatoes, with a dollop of pumpkin-seed pesto on the side for an understated complementary flavour.
Outside the leaded interior windows, music students gather in the Great Hall below. As we complete our brunch with an impossibly dense bittersweet chocolate pot-de-crème with port-glazed figs, the windows are opened for a short concert.
Somehow, I expect to see a young Jeremy Irons, circa Brideshead Revisited, wander in for a sherry.