Tuesday, January 22, 2013

British Dining - Queen & Beaver / Oxley House / The Grove

The Queen and Beaver on Elm Street is a cut above the usual English pub chains found in Toronto, in terms of its authentically British menu, decor, and even the china on which the meal is served.  It is a perfect fit for the recently coined concept of the British gastropub - a pub that serves higher end restaurant food.

Unique starters on its pub menu include pressed quail and goose liver with spiced prune jam, grilled ox tongue and mushrooms, potted duck and pontack-sage chutney.  Pheasant, Venison and Welsh lamb are examples of main courses, which range from $23-31. Sides include fondant roots, neeps and tatties and dripping chips.  This is not the typical Fox and Fiddle fare. 

You can also order from the less expensive but still quite expansive bar menu.  Here you find the standards more traditionally found in North American pubs, such as fish and chips served with homemade ketchup and shepherd's pie with peas.  But you could get more adventurous and order rabbit and potato pie, lamb curry with chutney, or braised steak with prunes, to name a few. 

I went for an amazing dish called the Wild Mushroom Pithivier, which was like a flaky slice of pie that contained layers of scalloped potato and savoury mushrooms.  This came with a side salad and was both unique and delicious.  For appetizers, we shared crispy rabbit from the bites section for $9, and a scotch egg from the snacks section for a mere $6.  The rabbit came in large battered chunks of moist, tender meat covered in a sweet, fruity oxford sauce and accompanied by a side dipping sauce.  The scotch egg had a nicely gooey centre, with flavourful pork filling.

The dessert menu is titled "Puddings", even though tarts and ice cream were also on this list. We had the daily special pudding, called "The Wild Blueberry Queen of Puddings", as well as the Elderberry and Plum Tart with Buttermilk Ice Cream.  All the appetizers, desserts and coffees were served in mismatched, patterned plates, saucers and mugs that had quite the British feel.

British monarchs were highlighted in the decor, with an entire wall dedicated to Queen Elizabeth II at various ages and Charles and Diana commemorative plates in the china cabinet.  We sat under a huge portrait of Queen Elizabeth I holding a beaver in her lap.  The most outrageous feature was found in the men's washroom (which my male friend sneaked me into so I could see).  The urinal stalls came with a miniature soccer field, complete with net and soccer ball.  I think the point is to practise your aim while you pee?  Men have all the fun!

Shortly afterwards, we visited the Queen and Beaver's sister restaurant in Yorkville, called Oxley House.  The menu was similar in theme although not all the same choices were available.  We were impressed by the interior decor, which made you feel like you were visiting a stately manor and the beautiful garden patio. Alas, there was no fun bathroom fixture this time (I made Rich go and check!)

In terms of the meal, we had roasted chicken breast with heirloom tomatoes, mussels in a wine, fennel and onion broth with fries, and a sautéed vegetable medley.  We finished off by sharing a scoop of wild cherry and stilton cheese ice cream, which was a strange combination of tart, sweet and salty.  We liked the meal that we ate at The Queen and Beaver better since we chose more interesting options.  But the ambiance of sitting outside in the garden patio of The Oxley on a warm sunny afternoon could not be beat.

Upscale British dining seems to be a new trend in Toronto these days, as The Grove also also focuses on English cuisine.  It is a restaurant, not a gastropub, and has a small menu that offers a choice of 4 mains which change regularly.  When we went, fish served with fresh green vegetables and no starch was heavily featured.  This made for a nice healthy main course that was good, but nothing special.  What did stand out was the soup made of parsnip, bacon, snails and fried bread. I could have eaten several bowls of this and called it a meal.  Also unique was the presentation of the dessert, which was like a deconstructed lemon meringue pudding, served in a mismatched teacup and saucer.

Queen & Beaver
35 Elm St.

121 Yorkville Ave.

1 comment:

Anthony Mackie said...

I love the sound of this fantastic and delicious food place The Queen and Beaver on Elm Street. One of my friends who lives nearby took me there for eating, believe it was the best food I had ever eaten. I have a Toronto restaurant guide which I always follow whenever I want to go eat out.