KENSINGTON KITCHEN (124 Harbord, at Spadina, 416-961-3404) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $5.50 imported beer. Average main $10. Open Monday to Thursday 11:30 am to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 11:30 am to 11 pm, Sunday 11:30 am to 10 pm. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The deeply forked trunks of an impressive Manitoba maple strain against the roof deck at Kensington Kitchen, its forceful spread accommodated by gaps in the fencing. Living with the tree for over 20 years has rewarded owner Said Mukhayesh with a broad canopy of leaves and dappled light fluttering in a light breeze. Even the most committed cynic has to confess it's romantic, all the more so since the object of my desire has just returned from an ill-conceived experiment in absence.
Given the surroundings and the company, an idyllic Sunday brunch ensues. I order the Chef Combo ($9.95), a platter of eastern Mediterranean antipasti. He orders the eggs florentine ($9.50), primarily to try the chickpea- flour pancakes. We sip cold Becks ($5.50) while we wait, and take note of the refreshing lack of pretense about the place and its patrons.
My platter is a flawless, satisfying assortment of veg, salads and dips, served with a fresh whole-wheat pita. Deep-fried eggplant has turned a caramel brown, and the cooking process has removed all traces of bitterness. The tabbouleh is properly laced with parsley, the Greek salad with mild feta.
Flash-fried cauliflower proves even the most boring of vegetables can be redeemed with a little imagination, in this instance a light drizzle of lemony tahini. The hummus and baba ghanoush are both enhanced by a dollop of harissa, a tart Middle Eastern sauce of olive oil, red pepper flakes, paprika, garlic, coriander and caraway. It works with everything on the plate.
The poached eggs on a bed of spinach are a few moments overdone, but the pancakes upon which they sit are light and flavourful. Such creative treatment of a standard brunch dish outweighs the small complaint. It's served with salad or spiced, slightly limp Yukon Gold fries.
Returning for dinner, four seared sea scallops ($14.50) are perfectly, gently cooked and served on soft roasted yam chips, with a salsa of grapefruit and fennel. This dish comes with excellent grilled zucchini, sweet red pepper and eggplant. It's a lovely, summery meal. The lamburger, however, ($8.95) is the main reason I'd return. It's a thick and juicy 8-ounce patty grilled medium-well and dressed with an ingenious combination of feta, aíoli and pesto, and comes on a soft bun, with a choice of side salad or fries.