Many people choose the Gallery Grill at Hart House as the ideal location for meaningful events in their lives ‒ weddings, graduations and reunions – because the exceptional service, first-in-class cuisine and neo-Gothic setting make for an unparalleled experience. We speak to four individuals for whom this restaurant has special meaning.
University College Professor Pia Kleber, at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, is perhaps the longest-running patron of the Gallery Grill, located on the second storey of Hart House. For decades she has been returning to this restaurant, which has an Open Table 4.9-star rating (out of 5) and Executive Chef and Culinary Operations Manager Chef Marco Tucci at the helm.
"I believe it has been nearly three decades that I’ve been coming to the Gallery Grill,” she says. “I love it!”
She appreciates the ambience, the stone fireplace and the expansive arches as much as the warm and personalized service. “It’s a very welcoming, relaxing place. The people are so nice, and they always have room for you, tucked in a corner or a cozy spot.”
For University College Professor Isabelle Cochelin, department of history, it was love at first sight. She first experienced the Gallery Grill when she was hired at the University of Toronto in 1997. She was invited to a women-only dinner. “They wanted me to feel welcome in the world,” as a female scholar in the then-male-dominated realm of academia.
More than 25 years later, the Gallery Grill is still Isabelle’s preferred restaurant in Toronto. “It’s a magical place because of the beauty of the architecture, the great service and the very good food.”
Professor Nouman Ashraf of the Rotman School of Management, a U of T alumnus, has been coming to the Gallery Grill since 1991 when he was a student. He explains, “Hart House has been part of my history because that’s where Muslim students, faculty and staff have been praying since 1964. It was only a matter of time before we finished prayers and started nosing around the building. We found the Gallery Grill … and discovered it was a fine dining establishment. It’s a really wonderful place.”
Alison David is another dedicated patron. “There’s no doubt about it: the Gallery Grill is a gem,” she says. “It has always been a treasured destination for our family. We’ve enjoyed meals there for at least 26 years. It’s a gorgeous, bright and airy setting.”
Isabelle emphasizes the superb, personalized service. Manager Jerry Horton, whom she describes as having “a lot of class and very committed,” and his staff always make her feel welcome. She notes that, back in the late 1990s, Jerry even changed the title of “entrée” to “main dishes” on the menu after Isabelle pointed out that in French entrée means starters. “This change really showed the care that they have about every detail regarding service and their customers’ comments,” she says.
She also appreciates the fact that most staff members have been working at the restaurant for many years, and they care deeply about customer service. They even know her favourite spot: the lounge area!
Alison also sings the praises of the staff: “The Gallery Grill has always delighted us with the warm and professional front of house staff, including the marvellous Gallery Grill manager Jerry Horton.”
Nouman concurs: “Jerry and the staff are amazing. They strike the right balance of being caring and observant but not being intrusive. They make sure you have what you need.”
International Visitors Wowed
Both Isabelle and Pia take particular delight in introducing international guests to the Gallery Grill. “When they’re in town, I always bring them. They absolutely love it,” says Pia.
Isabelle also makes a point of introducing special visitors from Europe to experience the restaurant at every opportunity.
Ideal Spot for Meaningful Life Events
Like many patrons, Isabelle has chosen the Gallery Grill as the backdrop for hugely meaningful life events. “When I adopted my daughter, it was my first outing all by myself with my daughter in her crib. We went to celebrate the fact that I had become a mother. The staff at the Gallery Grill took care of me. It was a very nice moment.”
Similarly, Alison’s family has celebrated at the Gallery Grill for a range of special occasions “from a family wedding there in 1997 to an awards event and lunch for our father in 2022, and countless birthday lunches and family brunches in between.” She adds that her family feels nostalgic about Hart House because her parents were married in the chapel 65 years ago.
Indeed, romance is in the air. When Nouman was a student, he would save up for a month to have lunch with one special person. In fact, he proposed to his late wife in the private dining area of the Gallery Grill. He jokes, “She kept me dangling for the weekend and then said yes!”
He believes that proposing at the Gallery Grill actually trumps getting married at Hart House because the private dining space is sequestered and intimate.
Today, he continues to bring his children to the Gallery Grill.
Tips on Favourite Dishes
Pia encourages all to come and partake in this one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Isabelle concurs, pointing out her favourite, not-to-be-missed dish: maple syrup crème brûlée.
This is also Alison’s favourite. “It gets honourable mention!” Other culinary highlights for her include the delicious soups, any of the fish dishes, the innovative salads and the ice creams.
The crème brûlée is one of Nouman’s favourite dishes too. He also enjoys the fish, which comes with a celery root mash. He even recalls an earlier dish that he loved, a pulled lamb sandwich with arugula. “It was halal lamb, and that was quite amazing. I thought it was the cat’s meow.”
Being in business and management, he adds a final marketing pitch: “Hart House is located very close to Bay Street, Queen’s Park and St. George … It’s a wonderful place for faculty, students, staff and nearby members of the decision- and policy-making communities to come together! I think it's an important place for that to happen. My aspiration might be to reimagine Hart House from being just a location to being a destination, with the Gallery Grill as its crown jewels.”
Book your table at the Gallery Grill today.