When I plan a trip, my favourite part is looking up restaurants, must-try dishes and regional cuisine. Before going to France two years ago, I had looked up the french words for all kinds of tasty foods and was ready to order tarte Tatin, cassoulet and poitrine de canard. What I didn’t plan for was how much of an immersive experience it is to eat in the various French styles of dining. We fell in love with brasseries – the word translates directly to brewery, but has come to simply mean a place where you can enjoy classic dishes from all over France, lively conversations, casual yet professional service and very late hours. It wasn’t long after Royale Brasserie opened on 17th Ave that we rushed in there to give it a try. After enjoying a few flawless brunches of croque monsieur, quiche du jour and $5 mimosas, we decided last weekend that it was time to hit them up for a dinner date.
Walking into Royale is a treat – the blue banquettes, the beautiful tiled floors, the mirrored walls and the brassy glow of the bar all make it easy to forget you just stepped away from 17th Ave and its smell of hot dogs, diesel fumes and drunk hockey fans. The service is consistently fantastic as well and this dinner was no different. Warm greetings from the hostess were followed by an unpretentious server who didn’t even laugh at us when we weren’t sure how to pronounce the wine we wanted – truly a more Canadian than Parisian experience.
When our wine arrived, we were also welcomed with complimentary gougères – savoury puffs with cheese baked into the choux paste (the dough used to make cream puffs and éclairs). These had a sharp flavour from the cheese while the pastry itself was light, airy and eggy. Matt almost ruined my night by not letting me eat his as well, but I moved on quickly when the next course arrived.
That evening, the trio of cheeses ($18) that came out consisted of brie, comté and taleggio with a pear and onion compote and a few forkfuls of salad with a biting, refreshing vinaigrette. Do I really need to get into the brie much? It’s a well-loved favourite in Canada and it’s made beautifully here as well as in France. This brie was soft and creamy as expected. The taleggio was my favourite. It’s a semi-soft Italian cheese with a stronger aroma, but a mild taste. I tested some techniques out for the sake of science and can tell you now that it’s especially lovely when you crush it onto one of Royale’s fresh slices of baguette.
My fun fact about comté only works if you know about appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) or the French regulation ensuring that certain products are only called a particular name if they are produced in the region by that same name. A well-known example is the difference between Champagne wine from Champagne, France and other sparkling champagne-style white wines. Anyways, comté is a semi-firm, milder cheese under AOC and I learned in my Googling that it is the most heavily produced AOC cheese with about 64,000 tonnes made each year. I totally get why, because each bite makes me crave an entire pot of fondue.
We were both in the mood for red meat, so we ordered the least expensive syrah on the menu and got to work. My grilled lamb chops ($36) came out perfectly tender with a warm, light jus over a savoury mixture of brussel sprout leaves, asparagus and mushrooms. For my starch, I chose gratin. The lamb and vegetables were delicious, but the gratin was a show stopper. The crispy edges, browned cheese topping and tender, thin, creamy layers of potato were too good to be true. My mouth is watering while I write about it almost a week later.
We loved the way beef was prepared in France, so Matt ordered the beef striploin ($42) and chose béarnaise to pour over it. It was cooked perfectly to medium rare at his request and while it was a well-marbled, juicy steak, I still prefer a smaller piece of tenderloin over a large portion of striploin every time. For his starch, he opted for the pomme Dauphine, which is like a savoury mini donut made from choux paste and the smoothest mashed potatoes you will ever eat. They’re fried, lightly salted and devastatingly tasty. Why do deep fried foods seem so much fancier when you’re in a French restaurant?
The dessert options (listed just above an impressive and pricy cognac menu) were classics like crème brûlée, apple tart, lemon meringue and profiterole. We ended up sharing the chocolate mousse ($10) as that seemed like it would most easily fit into our already stuffed bodies. It was rich, milky and nicely presented, but didn’t particularly stand out after an otherwise knockout meal. We felt it was missing something extra to brighten the richness of the chocolate and the sweet, cool flavour of the cream.
The skylit dining room in Royale is a beautiful, calming place to share a meal with someone special or to catch up with some girlfriends. There is a coziness to the space that makes it hard to tear yourself from the booth when it’s time to leave – it’s either that, or the large portions and easily drinkable wine. I highly recommend Royale (730 17 Ave SW) for brunch or dinner and suggest you book yourself a seat on OpenTable at your next opportunity!