Celebrating the Queen's 90th with afternoon tea at the Fairmont Royal York

Fairmont Royal York afternoon tea

First of all: is it high tea or afternoon tea? I had incorrectly thought high tea was simply the frou-frou name for the same event. When in fact, according to About Food, afternoon tea is actually the more elite social gathering of the two. Since it happens in the afternoon, the foods served are lighter; small cakes and sandwiches, essentially the items we traditionally link to the occasion. Whereas, high tea occurs in the evening when the working masses are done for the day: meals are heavier, even including items such as fish and meat pies. Hopefully, that assures you I’ve named the post correctly.

The Fairmont Royal York is a great place in Toronto to indulge in afternoon tea. The hotel, a historical landmark to our city, is rich with architectural elements and the elegant touches that makes having tea there an experience.  

Not to rest on their laurels, Executive Chef Robert Mills recently re-vamped the menu, taking inspiration from properties across the world – including the Savoy in Britain – while maintaining some tried and true favourites such as their signature Chantilly Swan. Interesting fact: this pastry was inspired by the hand painted ceiling in one of the hotel’s ballrooms.

My favourite part of their new menu are the sandwiches, made with different breads and topped with plenty of varied ingredients:
  • Vibrantly coloured grilled vegetables sitting on a soft pretzel spread with hummus, great for the summer months.
  • Encapsulated in airy brioche is smoked turkey breast slightly sweetened with cranberry aioli and a crunchy chicken salad mixed with caramelized pecans for added texture.
  • The smoked salmon mini bagels are cute and dainty, the essence of afternoon tea sandwiches.
  • Even the traditional cucumber sandwich is jazzed up by being served open-faced in a beautiful fan and the cream cheese spiked with pink peppercorn.
Yet, Chef Mills understands when to leave things alone, which is the case when it came to the scones. The recipe has been used in the hotel for decades; these freshly baked biscuits simply require plenty of silky Devonshire cream and preserves to spread on top.

The top tier holds a tempting selection of pastries: aside from the cream puff swan there’s also a rich dark chocolate truffle torte, cute meringue tart and a chocolate cup filled with refreshing guava cream with fruits.      

In celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday, I was lucky enough to get invited to experience afternoon tea inside the ROYAL SUITE … the same place the Queen herself (and consequently Prince Harry just the week prior) stays in when they visit Toronto.

With two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a comfortably sized living room complete with fireplace and full dining room (perfect for private dinner parties), the Fairmont Royal York is the official royal residence. In fact, the family even stores personalized furniture at the hotel, which gets moved into the suite before they visit.  

Alas, staying at the Royal suite is by invite only; under normal conditions it hosts other world leaders (Bill Clinton) and an array of celebrities (Leonardo Di Caprio, Justin Bieber, Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel).

As a special treat, Chef Mills served a chocolate biscuit cake (not normally part of their afternoon tea menu), the same cake served at Prince William and Princess Kate’s wedding. Chocolate lovers would swoon with its luscious smooth dark chocolate interior, crunchy bits of cookies along the circumference and silky sweet ganache on top.

It’s a rich cake, but went particularly well with the Librarian Liberation whiskey chai tea, a bespoke blend made at the hotel that smells faintly of whiskey but packed with the taste of exotic spices (cardamom, cinnamon and cloves). The tea is so flavourful it didn’t need milk or sugar.    

Afternoon tea ($50 per person) is normally served in the hotel’s Library Bar (near the lobby) on Saturday and Sunday with 12:00, 12:30 and 2:30 seatings. After the filling meal, stick around for the complimentary tour at 2:00 and 4:00 where you’ll be whisked around the hotel, learning interesting details and even visiting areas not normally accessible to the public (including the hotel’s rooftop that houses over 300 honey bees and herb garden)!

The hotel has come a long way since it started as its own city within Toronto – spoiler alert from the tour: Royal York use to have a connected golf course, bank, 12,000-book library and even hospital beds on site!

Nonetheless, in a world that’s always changing, sometimes it’s nice to embrace tradition, slowing down and simply relaxing over a cup of tea. The fact that the tea comes with three tiers of delectable sandwiches and pastries? You deserve the royal treatment.  

Disclaimer: the above meal was complimentary. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will still provide an honest opinion.

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 100 Front Street West

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Library Bar - The Fairmont Royal York Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Let's Get Social Party at the Intercontinental Toronto

With its prime location along Front Street, the Intercontinental Toronto Centre has always played host to tons of corporate functions and events. The décor for these proceedings has just become more modern as the hotel redid their Ballroom to incorporate a steely grey palette highlighted with clean white and silver accents.

To showcase the new space, the Intercontinental threw a Let’s Get Social Party inviting Torontonians to experience the entire bottom level space including a cool minibus photo station, food stations, dessert buffet, candy bar and freshly made waffles!

To promote mingling eats were served through food stations, encouraging attendees to move throughout the room and strike up conversations with other guests at cocktail tables. One popular station was the seafood corner containing freshly shucked oysters and a large sushi spread.

With tons to sample, my favourites for the evening were the beef empanadas with a light cinnamon spice and beautifully crinkled edges as well as the juicy thick chicken breast sliders topped with tropical salsa.

The braised BBQ brisket perched on a disc of crumbly corn bread had to be the most artfully plated.

Yet, it was in the smaller area beside the Ballroom that I saw the most joy amongst the adults: oh the smiles as they laid eyes on the spread of cakes, tarts, macaroons and chocolates! Luckily, I snapped the picture upon arrival, as the dessert was thoroughly ransacked by the end of the evening with guests going back for seconds … and thirds.

For my husband, I left with a take-out carton from the candy bar. Although, I may have also filled it with peanut M&Ms and Fuzzy Peaches, two childhood favourites, for myself.

What a great idea to throw a full blown event to show off the newly renovated space. With the full set-up you really got a sense of what a great corporate celebration the space could accommodate – is it too early to start planning for the holidays?

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 225 Front Street West

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Agua (Grand Cayman)

Auga Grand Cayman

Agua’s menu sounds like the United Nations of the food world: tons of Peruvian specialties, European influences, dishes incorporating Asian ingredients and comforting Italian pastas. The all-encompassing commonality between the selections is the predominantly seafood-based choices, which isn’t surprising for a restaurant named as ‘water’.

Their ceviches ($13.50 each) are popular, it seemed every table was graced with one. With five choices, the two we selected were pretty similar: you would think a classic Peruvian (clasico Peruano) and Thai recipe would be different, yet both incorporated the classic lime juice base, red onion and cilantro. The coconut milk added to the Thai version did give that dish an edge, resulting in the ceviche having a lovely creamy finish.

Auga Grand Cayman: cevicheAuga Grand Cayman: ceviche

Both were good: tender large cubes of fish incorporating enough flavour without being overpowering – you could taste the citrus without a lingering burning sensation. The lackluster wonton chips could use some improvement: not crispy enough to really withstand scooping and much too oily leaving a sheen on your tongue that detracts from enjoying the ceviche’s tastes.

I had my doubts when reading the description of the tuna tartare ($14.50) … sweet and sour sauce AND truffle oil? Two very different ingredients that in my mind had nothing to do with tuna. Admittedly, the truffle oil was a tad overpowering, but overall everything worked. The tuna itself was left in large enough pieces to not drown in sauce and the mixture ended up being slightly sweet with a mild chili finish.

Auga Grand Cayman: tuna tartare

The tower was also pretty, the tartare perched perfectly on a bed of diced creamy avocado. If only there was a taro chip for scooping; with all the flavours something salty and crunchy to tie everything together would have been nice.

We moved into warmer waters for the mains, my Peruvian mixed grill ($28.50) consisting of a perfectly cooked fillet of mild white fish topped with shrimp and calamari rings. Yet it was the buttery aji panca pepper sauce that made the dish: the Peruvian pepper offering a mellow heat, smokiness not unlike chipotle and a slightly sweet finish. If I weren’t feeling full from the rather large appetizers, I would have eaten every drop of the sauce with the steamed rice.

Auga Grand Cayman: Peruvian mixed grill

I was glad to see that Agua’s lobster and shiitake ravioli ($27.95) was more than a handful of pasta. There were about a dozen, each filled with a mushroom mascarpone and also containing broth so the stuffed pastas had an almost dumpling quality. On top was a healthy portion of cubed lobster finished with a chive butter sauce.

Auga Grand Cayman: Lobster and shiitake ravioli

The first meal of the Cayman Island’s trip was delicious and the restaurant’s prime location along Seven Mile Beach a convenient draw. Thanks to our host for introducing us to the place, Agua set the bar high for the other meals to come…

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman
 Address: West Bay Road (in the Galleria Plaza)
 Website: http://www.agua.ky/

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

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Hornito and Sauza Tequila's Cinco De Mayo Event

Until Hornitos and Sauza tequila invited me to participate in their Cinco De Mayo event ($20 including five drink tickets and all the food), I had limited knowledge on the May 5th celebration other than it being a festive day filled with sombreros, tacos and tequila – a party day not unlike St. Patrick’s!

Aside from the parties, it’s seen as a day for participants to embrace the Mexican culture and the delights they’ve gifted the world. It wasn’t until educating myself on Wikipedia about Cinco De Mayo’s significance that I discovered it’s really a holiday to commemorate the day General Ignacio Zaragoza lead the Mexican army to win the Battle of Puebla. The army was poorly equipped to fight against French forces, so when they experienced victory, the day was used to symbolize unity and perseverance of the underdog. What a great representation!

Since the LCBO led event was my first time observing Cinco De Mayo I didn’t know what to expect, other than being warned there’d be PLENTY of tequila! We arrived early and were treated to delicious cocktails including a guided DIY citrusy Paloma and a scrumptious professionally created mango margarita.

The sit down Hornitos tequila tasting was eye opening: I sampled the mixer friendly Plata, sipping quality Reposado and the Black Barrel, which was oaky and fragrant – if you enjoy Scotch or whiskey this is the tequila with the peatiness you’d enjoy.

Hornito's Black Barrel tequila

Luckily, Valdez was also preparing a number of Latin eats to balance the alcohol. The empanadas were a highlight, its crispy fluffy corn meal crust stuffed with plenty of spiced minced beef studded with potato.

Valdez: empanadas

On every table were bowls of chips with creamy guacamole and salsa, the typical tortilla chips expanded to include crispy plantain, yucca, taro, corn and potato varieties.

Valdez: chips, guacamole, salsa, mango margaritas

It was difficult, but we nabbed the fragrant seared beef skewers we saw circulating the restaurant. It was worth loitering around the open kitchen, the sticks of meat flavourful, piping hot and juicy.

Valdez: grilled beef skewers

There were other eats: messy spicy hot chicken wings in a slightly sweet BBQ sauce and salty chorizo tacos topped with peppers, onions, goat cheese and chipotle mayo. All doing their magic to keep the tequila at bay.  

Valdez: chorizo tacosValdez: BBQ chicken wings

Little did I know this event would be my last chance to eat at Valdez’s starter restaurant. Shortly after the event, the 606 King West location was shuttered as the restaurant moves to a larger four-floor space down the block. The food was good, I could definitely be convinced to return.  

At the end of the evening, participants left with a loot bag filled with Paloma mix (that I swiftly used that weekend), a comfy Hornitos skull t-shirt, cool sphere ice cube molds, and a recipe booklet, all in a trusty LCBO bottle separating carrier bag.

Thank you Hornitos and Sauza for introducing me the holiday’s traditions. Until next year, Feliz Cinco De Mayo!

Disclaimer: I attended the event on a complimentary basis. Rest assured, as noted in my mission statement, I will provide an honest opinion. 

How To Find Them
 Location: Valdez in Toronto, Canada
 Address: 606 King Street West

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Valdez Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Shinobu Revisited (Toronto)

Finding a Japanese restaurant that serves reasonably priced sushi but is also feels authentic makes me happy. The fact that Shinobu is relatively close to my house makes things even better! I love introducing people to the place, so when two friends had a hankering for sushi, the small cozy restaurant came to mind.

Having had a great experience previously with their maki rolls, they had to be ordered again: you can read all about the double shrimp cannon ($9.80) and volcano rainbow roll ($10.90) in my first dinner post about Shinobu.

Another favourite that’ll have me coming back is the hotate dream roll ($10.50), a spicy salmon roll covered with thinly sliced scallop sushi and salmon roe. If sushi rolls could be a pillowy cloud the hotate is close, the scallop soft and creamy then topped with popping salmon roe and micro greens for interest.

Hotate dream roll

Plenty of avocado was layered over the green dragon ($9.90), the roll filled with BBQ eel and cucumber for an umami filled crunch. Their spicy tuna ($6.90) is the type I enjoy, where the fish isn’t pulverized instead left in small cubes and tossed with spicy mayonnaise.

Green dragon rollSpicy tuna roll

Yet, you should branch out and try their izakaya eats, which were also impressive. The takoyaki ($6.90) is five soft glutinous mashed potato like balls of dough, fried so there’s a crispy coating and each containing a piece of grilled octopus. It’s one of the better versions in the city.


The nasu dengaku ($6.90) was surprisingly delicious despite being a relatively simple dish. A Japanese eggplant is lightly fried, slit open and filled with a rich sweet dengaku miso sauce; since the longer Asian eggplant is not as seedy, it combines to become a creamy texture.

Nasu dengaku

Strangely, the green tea cheesecake ($5.50) is more ice cream than cake - the first thing you see is the large sphere of black sesame ice cream, on the side is the thinnest slice of cake I’ve seen, really just a garnish. The cake itself is pretty good, velvety with a deep matcha flavour, too bad it becomes lost in the ice cream.

Black sesame ice cream with green tea cheesecake

Oh well, it’s a small miss compared to all the hits at the restaurant. There’s no doubt I’ll be returning and welcome you to try this great find in the neighbourhood. 

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 3403 Yonge Street

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Is That It? I Want More!

Other Gastro World posts similar to this:

Shinobu Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato