I must say, Benny’s is looking a tad weary these days. A windowless backroom, it relies on the vibrancy of its walls for brightness and breeziness. But these days its signature crayon colours – orange, red and blue – could use a scrub, or a paint touch-up, or a bit of both.
Benny’s black and white checkered floors are also looking worn. With good reason, mind. Sensible people walk over them. Lunch at Benny’s Bistro is one of the best in town. Fresh, fun, seasonal, reasonably priced for the quality of the product, a return visit to Benny’s after four years away was an absolute treat.
In behind The French Baker on Murray Street, Benny’s is now in its 13th year. The team is solid. Chef Scott Adams left The Urban Pear nine years ago to run the open kitchen, and the amiable sommelier and maître d’hôtel, Yvon Foley (whom I remember from years ago, at the now departed L’Agaric Restaurant in Chelsea), has been running the front of this tucked-away house since 2001.
It was an early June lunch, and yet the day was blustery, cool, with horizontal rain squalls. Not a month for split pea soup, but absolutely a day for it. And what a soup! Perfectly balanced in texture, flavour and seasoning, and studded with quality smoked ham. Another day, another soup, another solid bowl, this one a silky purée of carrot and parsnip, thickened with a bit of coconut milk, swirled with chive oil and topped with chervil.
Devoted to local, seasonal, unhurried cooking, Adams’s lunch plates are still-life pleasures. He sources artisanal produce, then puts those good ingredients to good use in imaginative and technically sound ways. He pairs a mound of roasted mixed mushrooms – some delicate, some meaty, all clearly from Le Coprin Farms, all cooked just so – with open pouches of acorn-squash-stuffed ravioli, made in house and textured. He tops the pile with delicate organic greens in a truffled balsamic vinaigrette, matchstick raw beets – golden and red – and baby radish, and rings the plate with crème fraîche exotic with pickled spruce tips. The brilliant white of the creme picks up the white of the radish, and the earthy tones of the mushrooms, the vinaigrette, play against the vibrant red and yellow of the beets, the green of the arugula. Truly a splendid plate.
A sandwich of the day features salmon belly, the fish wet and unctuous, mixed with avocado, red Âonion, arugula and peppery house-made mayonnaise, all between slices of The French Baker’s seedy bread.
My favourite lunch dish thus far was a couple of summer rolls: rice paper bundles of pickled vegetables mixed with sweet and spicy soy-braised pork belly, the rolls perched on a salad of paper thin rounds of radish and cucumber, with shaved fennel and a chiffonade of lime leaves. Perched on top of the rolls and salad were five grilled B.C. spot prawns (wild, sustainable, trap-caught) in perfect condition.
For dessert, strawberry tarts with an inch of pastry cream, chocolate mousse, rich and dark and lovely; blueberry mousse with a roof of cream cheese mousse, topped with blueberries and silver leaf, and served with thick squiggles of blueberry sauce. Good espresso to end.
Look for a small selection of wine, or beer, or a Kir Royale to pair with lunch.
My first review of Benny’s – perhaps 10 years ago – was of its dinner service. Since 2003, Benny’s serves only breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch. I’ve closed past reviews of this place with an entreaty to consider a return to dinner service. Solidly good French restaurants are vanishing in this region at alarming rates, and Benny’s surely has an obligation to step up! So why stop now?