My husband and I had a memorable and very delicious meal at Ici Bistro at Manning and Harbord a couple of years ago, so I booked a new visit with a friend and learned the restaurant had moved to the Windsor Arms Hotel.
It was a disappointment.
The food was competent and looked pretty on the plates, but there was little flavour, no zing, no pizzazz. This was puzzling because the server assured me Jean-Pierre Challet was, in fact, in the kitchen the night we were there. What's happened? Even the bread basket was a letdown...lined with pieces of dried bread "crackers" with a few chunks of caky bread cubes in the middle.
For the record, I ordered an oyster, the calamari and avocado fritters, then the duck. The amuse bouche was a sushi/quinoa thing and it was odd. My Kusshi oyster was delicious (not much to that) and the dessert -- Grand Marnier soufflé -- was the highlight, perfectly executed.
The giant stroke of INcompetence came with the service. It was, in a word, amateurish. Three or four times, the server reached in front of me to serve food or drink to my friend even though her side of the table was perfectly accessible. At one point, my friend's knife and used fork (used for the amuse) were on her bread plate and the server delivered a soup spoon (for the bisque she ordered) and, instead of placing it on the tablecloth, put it on the crumb-covered bread plate too. Really? There were cutlery mixups. Every time food or drink came to the table, we had to explain whose dish (or glass) was whose. The service felt intrusive, with abrupt interruptions to our conversation.
My oyster (with fixings) and hot appetizer were brought to the table simultaneously and the server stood by the table for a minute, not knowing what to do. She decided to place the oyster off to one side, almost out of reach, and the appetizer in front of me. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't proper service have been to bring my oyster first, then take away the plate and bring the hot appetizer at the same time as my friend's soup?
All of this may sound snobbish of me, but I expect better of a high-end restaurant. I realize it's challenging to find experienced servers and to keep them, however I would expect a place like this to properly train the staff before putting them to work.
I realize it doesn't help the restaurant that I didn't complain on the spot, but my friend was enjoying her meal and the focus that night was on conversation and friendship.
I don't expect amateur hour at the Windsor Arms and am surprised by bland food from JP Challet. I won't be returning anytime soon.