Ever since Kate and William tied the knot last summer, everyone in North America has had a soft spot for all things English — fascinators, afternoon teas, rubber boots — but I like to think that I was hip to the hop long before the Royal Wedding. I like to think this because I have been eating with the Queen Mother for years.
Actually, I’ve been eating at the Queen Mother, but same thing, right?
I have a feeling the naming of the Queen Mother restaurant had more to do with its address than with England, as it is location at 208 Queen St. W in Toronto, but there is enough of a balance of regalia and boorishness in the restaurant that oozes out of all things English to make me second guess my intuition. The decor is stylish yet understated (Brit check #1), the waitstaff is not necessarily rude, but they are not always attentive either (Brit check #2), and the washroom ceiling height is only tolerable if you are a hobbit (Brit check #3), but the tin ceilings and interesting lamps are conversation pieces, the food is fit for an unpretentious royal family, and the chef’s salary is funded by taxpayers (the last one is a wee bit of British humour, obviously).
The menu is not what you’d expect from such an iconic name as it boasts a fusion of Thai, Indian, Japanese, French, and Italian recipes. About the only things English on the menu are the prices because they are competitive with neighbouring pubs. Pub prices without the pub food is fine with me.
As one of my long-standing favourites in Toronto, this restaurant is a must-try because of two words: Ping Gai ($16.95). You could easily share this with your dining partner as you get two very large servings of perfectly cooked, skin-on chicken, sliced for you as if you are five years old again and your mom is hiding in the kitchen somewhere, with a good amount of rice and salad, but the piece-de-resistance is the sauce that comes with it. A soy, ginger, sugar sauce coats every juicy piece of chicken making it a symphony of sweet and savoury, crunchy and succulent. You can also opt for the safe but consistently pleasing Pad Thai full of fresh veggies and lots of sauce($13.95).
There are a couple of other authentic Asian dishes that are worth a try (Bah Me Hang and Khao Soy Gai), but what makes Queen Mother a safe bet for your dining needs is it can please everyone in your party. The Classic French Stew ($18.95) is full of hearty vegetables and the smoked Chicken Paprika Supreme ($18.95) is a safe but edgy take on Chicken Supreme. The only dish to avoid would be the Flatiron Steak ($21.95). If you want good steak, go to a steakhouse, not the Queen Mother.
The appetizer menu is as versatile as the list of entrees with many exciting salads that are under $10.
After dinner, if you have room for dessert, there is a huge selection of cakes and pies on display for you to choose from.
Although some may see the menu as lacking focus, the variety is very attractive to me. Lack of focus sometimes means that a chef only cooks some dishes well. With the exception of the steak, chef Noy Phangnanouvong has selected dishes he knows how to execute successfully. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has Thai, Indian, Italian, French grandparents.
If your day in Toronto is already stretching your budget, but you want to finish off with a a better-than-good dinner or lunch, Queen Mother cafe will do the job. And not just as metonymy with a sense of history and order; they will actually do a job of feeding you real food. God save the Queen.
Five out of five forks.