Being a west-ender, I couldn't help but check out what all the hype has been all about. First, a caveat: I am ambivalent about the project, and this may have coloured my first impression.
For those unfamiliar with the story, the Drake Hotel is a new conversion on Queen West, a restoration of an old hotel into a boutique hotel and events venue, with a restaurant, cafe, yoga studio, patio etc. This project is financed by a young dot-com millionaire, who wants to establish the Drake as arts and culture destination.
The restoration: The exterior of the hotel is well done, as many conversion projects in the city. The front main floor is changed, however - it is now a very slick surface, shiny black with some metal. I like it, it integrates well with the rest of the block, and it doesn't "ruin" the overall building. The restaurant/bar area is nicely restored and made to be very cozy. I agree with the Toronto Star review that says they tried a little too hard (ie. new furniture made to look old and distressed, obviously mixed up styles of furniture etc), but the overall effect is comfortable and loungy. There is a bar at the front, with quite a lot of couches and loungy chairs and a fireplace, and the retaurant is at the back. Beware of smoke at the front - the smoking area is separated by a curtain!
Food: So far I only went for lunch, so this is a very limited review. The chef is the ex-chef from Patriot, but I am not sure that he cooks at lunch. Given my fond memories of the ceasar salad from Patriot, my lunch companion and I ordered it at the Drake, assuming by the description that it will be "updated." It was, to the point that it lost most resemblance to a ceasar salad. The salad was an incredibly fresh mix of lettuce greens, red onion, croutons, black beans, tossed in a very light garlic dressing, with crisps of cheese. It was very tasty but should not have been called "ceasar." Dressing was negligible, there was no romaine lettuce as far as I could tell.
I then had a crab cake, and my companion had the all-day breakfast. My crab cake was, in a nutshell, a disappointment. The taste of the crab cake did not resemble any of the many crab cakes that I have eaten (I assume crab meat was mixed with other stuff - the consistency was also very different than typical), it sat on shredded celery in a mayonnaise-type dressing (that was good, and it went well with the crab cake), and it was topped with apple sorbet! It SO didn't work - first it was quickly making my crab cake cold and watery, and the flavour of the sorbet on its own was very weak. I didn't get it.
My companion's all-day breakfast was good value ($7) but nothing great. Three eggs, to be served with toast, and hash browns. The hash browns, which really was the draw of the dish, were substituted without notice by pedestrian potatoes.
So, for me the verdict on the Drake is still out. For lunch, there are many places on the strip much better (the Beaver Cafe is just a few steps west, and Swan, Sugar, and others a couple of blocks east - all serve much better lunch and brunch). But I would definitely go back there for drinks, and will try the restaurant for dinner.
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