The Drake Hotel is by and far one of our favourite spots in Toronto. The culinary program helmed by Chef Anthony Rose is always a hit, and the cocktails are perfectly mixed. It’s a hotspot to be sure: the bar/lounge on the ground level always has a great crowd on weekends, the rooftop patio is one of the best in the cities, and the Drake’s creativity never ceases to impress. Take for instance the latest stop on the Drake Hotel’s Dining Roadshow: Chinatown.
The first floor dining room has been completely redesigned, again – just a couple months ago it reminded us of varsity days with its Summer School incarnation and accompanying menu – this time as an homage to the great Chinese restaurants we used to frequent. Chef Anthony Rose drew upon his childhood memories of Sunday night dinners with the family surrounded by plates and take-out cartons awash with Chinese fare to conceive the menu. (He’s also previously spent time in San Francisco among some of the world’s best North American-style Chinese food.)
The room is adorned with waving cats and Szechuan ornaments; immediately the atmosphere is reminiscent of the Orient. Designed by the Drake Hotel’s in-house team led by Carlo Colacci, the space is a throwback to 1940s Chinatown in LA, with vintage decorations, gramophones turned into light shades, a koi pond mirror, and a collage installation by Winnipeg artist Paul Robles. Reclaimed materials abound, like the near-room length dining table made from a bowling alley lane. Take note: this an eclectic take on the traditional, with the Drake’s trademark whimsy and charm thrown in.
The menu – cleverly designed in take-out style – features dishes like Northern Woods Mushroom Chow Mein, Peking Duck Confit Crepes, Sesame and Ginger Cashew Chicken, and other outstanding updates of classic Chinese meals. Also available are dinners for two, four, and six, cheeky nods to tried-and-tested Chinese take-out ordering.
Of course, the Drake Hotel is renowned for its superb and expertly-crafted cocktails, and the Chinatown accompaniments are no exception. Mixologist Gord Hannah walked us through the inspiration, coming again from updating classics – like the Lotus Blossom served in fanciful glassware, a milky and citrusy take on a lychee martini – and reclaiming drinks that have become either passe or bastardized over the years and offering up a well-conceived incarnation.
The Drake Hotel’s mixology team has been heralded citywide (and countrywide, and even internationally) as one of the tops, and for good reason. Comprised of creative pourers, they all work together to craft the cocktails – a collaborative process we’re sure is trying, as mixing drinks and tasting them with friends is such a burden. (We’d add in a semi-colon and bracket here if it weren’t so darned unprofessional.) Gord is quick to tout the leadership of bar manager Jonathon Humphrey and the skill of fellow mixologist Simon Ho (the “posterboy for the Drake”) along with the talents of the rest of the team as the reason for the cocktail program’s success.
Other notable drinks to try are the Kiwi Basil Smash, a nice synergy of sweet with a hint of savoury with a clean finish, the Faye Dunaway (a nod to Polanski’s Chinatown) and the Rickety Rickshaw (if ordered in the Chinatown dining room a gong will ring.) There’s also the “Cold Teas,” which simply put is beer in a teapot, yet another inventive touch.
The Drake Hotel‘s Chinatown is on through November 19th, from 6pm to 10pm daily, and is definitely a must-see. Reservations can be made in advance (recommended). The Drake Hotel is located at 1150 Queen Street West.