Inside the new Canoe, which just got a top-to-bottom makeover for its 25th anniversary
To celebrate hitting the quarter-century mark, Canoe’s dining room and kitchen got facelifts—and thanks to a new back-of-house setup, Bay Street’s favourite spot for haute Canadian cuisine can now deliver even more ambitious plates.
“Canoe is a restaurant that has really earned its place—though we’re sometimes forgotten about because we’re such a stalwart,” says Anthony Walsh, O&B’s corporate executive chef.
“We’re always searching for the ingredients no one else can get,” says executive chef John Horne, who has seen Canoe’s menu evolve in lock-step with Canadian suppliers. “The availability of Canadian ingredients is now ten-fold what it used to be, and we’re getting some really interesting products in like wild berries from the Northwest Territories, mushrooms from James Bay and turbot that’s caught by Baffin Island Inuit.”
Canoe isn’t toeing the typical 100-kilometer locavore line. “Local for us means across Canada,” says chef de cuisine Ron McKinlay. “We live in a very big country and we’re in a city that’s not near an ocean. We’re pushing the menu more and more to make it as Canadian possible.” For McKinlay, that means he’s always on the hunt for esoteric ingredients like green pine cones, chaga, and various mosses and seaweeds. Recently, a man popped into the dining room at 6 p.m. on a Friday (just about the worst time for a chef to meet a stranger with no appointment) looking to speak with McKinlay. Any annoyance McKinlay may have felt was quickly quelled when the visitor showed him an unparalleled selection of edible East Coast seaweeds. Now there’s an entire seaweed dessert on the menu.
Given the restaurant’s dizzying perch from 54 floors up, Solid Design Creative applied the theme of perspective to the redesign. Even the decorative tchotchkes—magnifying glasses, microscopes, periscopes—abide by the theme.
But even after the makeover, Canoe remains a shrine to Canadiana, with details like a black granite bar (a nod to the Canadian shield), and a pair of subtle caribou carved into the stone that frames it. Even the acoustic-dampening felt, is on theme: it’s been braided to look like a canoe seat, framed in a tungsten-hued light, and suspended over the dining room.
The outdated antler chandeliers have been replaced with ceiling-mounted, brass-framed mirrors that refract various reflections around the room—particularly as the sun goes down. “At night it’s really incredible,” says Horne. “During the day we have the amazing view, and at night it really comes alive.”