THE EMBASSY (223 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-591-1132) Complete meals for $20 per person, including all taxes, tip and a $5.75 pint. Average main $7. Open Monday to Friday 4 pm to 2 am, Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 2 am. Licensed. Access: two steps at door, washrooms in basement. Rating: N Rating: N
There was much scornful speculation during the renovation of the Embassy, as there generally is about any new venture in Kensington Market. Residents and regulars are protective of their little piece of the city, and anyone hoping to ride the most recent wave of popularity would do well to consider the neighbourhood dynamics.
It's apparent simply from the selection of drafts that the Embassy doesn't want the usual Market crowd. $5.75 pints of oatmeal stout don't go down so well here.
I do want to give the place a chance, and brunch seems like the safest starting point. While the Bacon and Egg Salad ($6) with tomatoes and aíoli dressing looks interesting, Tom's Breakfast Soufflé Pie sounds delicious: "decadent layers of creamy scrambled eggs, cheese, peppers, mushrooms and sausage in a puff pastry shell, served with toast and salad."
But this kind of thing can't be done properly when there's no kitchen. The pie is nuked to a dense mass of rubbery egg, the pastry soggy and the cheese undetectable. Slightly warmed bread is served with marmalade but no butter.
Returning for dinner, my guest immediately pronounces, "It's too clean for the Market."
Indeed, it shines, with pale lime walls and bright red vinyl booths, exposed brick, hardwood floors and a small seating area of couches.
"I'm not hostile to change or cleanliness, despite what some people say. Look at this, they have people playing the sitar and didgeridoo on Sunday nights."
Having sampled the breakfast pie, I ask the server whether the Classic Steak and Kidney ($8) and Chicken Pot ($7.50) Pies are fresh or nuked. When he confirms nuked, we order items that might stand a chance.
The European Sammy ($6) promises a toasted croissant with hot Italian sausage, melted cheddar, sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions. The croissant is warm to the touch, the bland cheese spottily melted and the sausages stone cold. It's unpleasant.
The Pâté de Campagne ($5) is a mix of roughly chopped veal, pork and lamb, similar to cold meat loaf, complete with slightly congealed bacon. It cannot be spread on the provided toast.
It's this kind of contemptuous disregard for the nature of Kensington that leads to failure. The Market is still about good, fresh food and a sense of community.
Those who love it want to keep it that way.