by HOLLY CRAWFORD
WHAT WAS ONCE the Gooderham mansion is now home to Maison Selby, the latest offering from Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants (O&B).
Built in 1883 by one of the city’s most wealthy families – the Gooderhams – this grand old Victorian has had a colourful past. It was for a time an all-girls school, and then – as The Selby Hotel – home to Ernest Hemingway while he worked in Toronto as a foreign correspondent. During the ’80s it became a gay night club, hosting countless dance parties for the next 20 years. In the late ’90s, the party stopped when new owners converted the building into a Howard Johnson Hotel.
The 136-year-old building was actually moved closer to Sherbourne Street a few years ago in order to become part of a new building project. It now stands at the base of a purpose-built luxury, rental apartment building.
The folks at O&B (Leña, Canoe, Jump, Auberge du Pommier, Biff’s Bistro, Luma) kept the original features that remained – moulding, stained glass, original fireplaces and 12-foot ceilings – while renovating the building into a unique restaurant space that retains the charms of a heritage building.
The restaurant is spread over four rooms on the main floor, each with its own unique character. In décor terms, this could be a love it or hate it kind of place: bold hand-painted murals and custom wallpapers differentiate each of the restaurant’s four rooms. Rich velvets, brass and antique accents fill every corner.
For me, it’s absolute love. I’ll take a sumptuous interior with monkey wallpaper (technically mandrills, I think) over Swedish discount chairs and barn board accents any day.
The menu reads like a list of French classics, dishes that feel both casual (Beef Chuck Burger with Frites, $21) and right for a special occasion indulgence (Tournedos Rossini, $78).
From the appetizer menu (or Hors d’Oeuvres as per Maison Selby) the Escargot de Bourgogne is a classic dish, served in a fresh, herbal, vermouth sauce. It’s slightly garlicky, not overpowering. We’re only left wishing there were more toasted baguette to sop up every last drop of the verdant green sauce. Seared Foie Gras is a lovely, balanced dish brightened by very seasonally appropriate rhubarb compote. The Salt Cod Brandade (a classic whipped spread with olive oil) is served with potato crisps and radishes. The texture is sublimely velvet, but slightly flavourless – we find all the flavour is coming from the salty chip.
On the entrees side of the menu, I could seriously find something to order here night after night. Mussels and Frites come in a fairly generous serving (served in a Staub vessel) with a side of Frites. The mussels are swimming in a Pernod cream sauce – again crying for more of that toasty baguette for dipping.
Provencal Ratatouille is beautifully presented and bursting with flavour. Zucchini, tomato and olive tapenade top the dish sitting atop a bed of saffron couscous. It’s warm, comforting and doesn’t leave you missing meat on your plate.
The highlight: Boeuf Bourguignon. Absolutely succulent, tender beef with rich potato puree, crowned with crispy onions. We could have licked the plate but do try to remember our manners while dining in public. If you are looking for a richly flavoured, delicious, satisfying in every way dish, order this.
Aside from the very nicely curated list of craft cocktails – some featuring the Maison Selby line of products by Dillon’s Distillery – on the bar menu, you can check out Sous Sol, an “underground speakeasy” and cocktail bar tucked into the lower level.
Maison Selby is also open for breakfast and weekend brunch.
LOCATION: 592 Sherbourne Street, just south of Bloor
FOOD: Modern French
DRINKS: List of 35 hand crafted cocktails + a downstairs speak easy
DÉCOR: Victorian charm with a dash of granny chic
OWNER: Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants
CHEF: Corporate Executive Chef Anthony Walsh and District Executive Chef John Horne