JK mk IV
The museum itself isn’t quite ready for prime time but Jamie Kennedy at the Gardiner is now open for lunch, for dinner on Friday and for special events. The space (on the third floor of the gorgeous new Gardiner Ceramic Museum) is effortlessly beautiful—clean, modern lines in slate grey and natural wood, open-plan, airy and full of light from floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights. I imagine it’s going to be a very popular rendezvous once the liquor licence is approved. Tables are widely spaced (for now, at least) and there are two or three out on the balcony in the open air; or you can eat at the black granite bar where the eight elegant stools look broad enough to accommodate almost any bottom.
Mike Dixon from JK HQ on Church Street is the chef de cuisine though JK himself has been putting in an appearance almost every day while the enterprise gets underway, frying hoppers at the open cooking station in the dining area. The waiters report that customers are thrilled to see him in person, in action, and sales of the curried spinach and yam hopper have been very vigorous, especially among the museum’s volunteer ladies.The menu changes daily but is resonantly Kennedyesque with every dish offering temptation. It covers a lot of ground, from a Gardiner Burger to the famous Fries, from smoked salmon sandwich to shellfish paella, from crisp-skinned lake trout with lemon butter sauce to roasted loin of pork with spiced prunes. Nothing costs more than $18 and each dish has a recommended wine pairing available in several sizes. Fans of the old JK ROM will experience a delightful feeling of déja mangé, as if they were six years younger again.
Service is key to a place like this and it’s already flawless. Bread comes quickly—Kennedy’s own densely textured, delectably crusty sourdough served with ramekins of butter and ratatouille spread. The charcuterie is excellent—a collation of shaved serrano ham; smoked duck breast prosciutto from Jamie’s farm in Prince Edward County, each garnet-coloured slice fringed with sweetly smokey white fat; a supersmooth, rich duck liver paté the colour of café au lait; some pieces of nippy cheddar and a Quebec sheep’s-milk cheese called Allegretto that tastes like a fresh pecorino; and a mound of the crunchy, lightly pickled vegetables (golden chanterelles, cauliflower, shallots, baby carots) that are a JK trademark. It all comes on a pillow of peppery arugula, its clean green flavour the essential antidote to all the opulent protein, and is plated on a tranche of wood cut from a tree—a wry little irony in a museum devoted to ceramics.
I also ate the shellfish paella, served piping hot in an individual cast iron pan—mussels and clams and a shrimp sharing their juices with a nicely crusted mixture of rice, peas, pimento and crumbled chorizo—quite salty but delicious.
One thing may have to be ironed out. It seems Victoria College next door were adamant that they didn’t want any rooftop extractor blowing restaurant cooties their way so a filtration system like a stainless steel wardrobe was installed in the kitchen to clean the air. It does a good job but makes a very loud noise and also vibrates. In the museum offices on the floor below, staff glance up to see priceless pots and figurines buzzing and trembling in their cabinets. Other than that, it looks like Kennedy has another smart, savvy, highly enjoyable hit on his hands.