The Old Laurel has just appeared on College Street (near Spadina) opening its doors for a Grand Opening Saturday with the understated cool, confidence & vision that proprietor Davy Love is known for. Here, he’s created through some delicious alchemy, a vision that always goes back to the basics: The food. The music (jukebox and live). The people. The mood. Appearing on this strip of College that’s lately been undergoing some welcome revitalization, the Old Laurel looks right at home. It sits kitty corner to Toronto institutions like Kensington Market and one of the many sprawling corners of U of T campus. It’s risen on the site of Rancho Relaxo, emerging in an understated fashion that no doubt embraces locals and regulars of the old venue as well as fans of the new, without the need to gut Toronto history or displace friendly shadows that cannot be bought. Upon entering the pub with only a few tables left on opening night, it feels like its always been here: a comfort that many overdone corporate pubs strive hard and yet regularly fail to do. Already a destination.
Davy Love, formerly of The Bristol Yard and The Bristol (West Queen West) has brought his signature real British pub fare (which could almost be called “New” for the scarcity of a real homemade pub pie in Greater Toronto in recent years) with a signature twist & wit and an authentic collage of British culture, music and food then (50’s, 60’s) and now: there’s a signature Jamaican flavour with contributions from Chef Gregory (hallelujah! Homemade, delicious Jamaican patties!) as well as authentic curries (three on offer, which range from “full flavoured” to “fiery hot” to Phall “the hottest curry there is”) which are sure to delight you curry fans, whose roots run wide and deep in this city.
Expecting the opening night to be rightly limited to pints, mixers, darts & music, we were happily surprised to find the brand new kitchen fully open, affording us to catch some Wild Mushroom Welsh Rarebit, a delightful light-enough-for-more-than-a-couple-pints grown up grilled cheese snack for sharing or a lighter supper for one (Welsh cheddar, a delicious mix of mushrooms, on a fresh, crumbly rye-ish bread). This starter is a must for your fall comfort food dining. We also had no choice but to sample the House Made Jamaican Beef Patty which lives up to the promise and rivals those recently sampled in three very different corners of Jamaica itself. Both were served with a side of greens with a light vinaigrette, making them a great value for $7-9.00.
The menu offers up a great selection of weekend brunch dishes (in an inspired twist these are named for musical heroes: The Otis Redding is cornbread with jalapenos, topped with pulled pork, poached eggs and smoky tomato cream sauce (with sweet potato/sweet corn hash & greens). Brunch is evolving in this brunch addicted city: it now includes Jerk pork by way of the Eggs of Brixton. Proper fry-ups are on offer including The Full Monty which has it all including bubble & squeak and a slice of black pudding (each dish $15) and a return trip is needed to try these waffles: “Harry’s” Chocolate Orange which is just as decadently perfect as you’re thinking it is ($13). Taps include Fullers ESB & Tetley’s to name a few (we expect some great guest taps will likely follow).
Love was spotted in his full chef uniform overseeing the opening night’s first food orders with his team, before joining the big crowd upstairs and down while the front of the house was casually but well run by a team of friendly staffers that included blogger Raymi (the Minx) on the bar that faced the biggest, best mural of The Clash in the newly opened up front area. A space on the main floor has been made for two Mod dart boards that flows perfectly with the space while allowing the non-coordinated (us) to watch from a safe distance. The juke was fed regularly with Stone Roses, New Order, and Morrissey, and the main floor quickly filled up despite the cold rainy weather.
Totally revitalizing the upstairs level in a way only clear to those who’d spent time in Rancho (a long time CMW and NXNE venue), the newly christened Red Card Room has been reborn as a live music space and as a home for big screen soccer viewing, with its own bar and handy washrooms on the same level. It’s cozy, decked out with lots of tables and chairs and is destined to be the home of some tense viewing with lucky scarves in abundance, as well as some future nights of great DJs and live bands (the opening night party had both: Detroit Rock & Roll Supergroup The Britemores, DJ Nico (of “With It” parties fame and CIUT) and legendary London, UK Soul DJ Allan Best.)
With live Britpop karaoke nights and live bands already booked (The Taste, Seraphic Lights, Cool Ghouls, The Toasters) and televised matches now airing in The Red Card Room, The Old Laurel has opened and settled in with an ease that, like all well-run endeavors, never lets the punters see the dedicated hard work and planning that goes into an effortless and easy pub night. Enjoy yourself now at The Old Laurel.
The Old Laurel: 300 College Street (at Spadina). (647) 707 – 4707. Open daily.
Words by Jacqueline Howell, photos by Dave MacIntyre