We're here . The taxi driver stops at a grungy laneway between two downtown warehouses. I know my guest is thinking, "for this I got dressed up?" And while some people might feel intimidated by the burly gatekeeper at the velvet rope, I simply smile and say good evening. secure in the knowledge that we have a reservation at The Fifth, the hottest, rooftop terrace in the GTA.
Half the fun is getting there. Our transportation comes in the form of a rickety freight elevator, circa 1902. Inching
upward, we're charmed by the decor: an oriental carpet, an antique table and some bowls of hard candy. The operator tells us that in its heyday, this building was a wooliery. The fire escape landing leads to the glorious terrace and, voila. If one were looking for a romantic evening under the stars, one would have scored, big time.
Gazebos hung with natural cotton shelter tables for two or four, and stretch over the outdoor grill kitchen. Tiny lights flicker in bowers of foliage coaxed to lushness by a hot summer, pretty lamps, clothed tables set with dark leather placemats and fresh white flowers create a glamorous scene that could double as a theatre set. It's as if some master electrician has created lighting that makes everyone look gorgeous-even though it comes from the flashing neon of surrounding buildings.
A number of the city's top French chefs have passed through The Fifth over the years. But when owner, Libell Geddes and chef Jean Pierre Challet connected, it was like a tennis ball hitting the sweet spot on the racket.
While the main courses are classics from the grill, Challet's inventive energy courses through the appetizers. His appetizer platters are a parade of spectaculars. Curry biscuits sprinkled with caraway, herbed grilled flatbread and fluffy kouglehopf to spread with zesty whips of eggplant caviar, savoury tomato jam and hummus with opal basil.
He does not compromise quality for dramatic eye appeal. Like an artist working with a small box of crayons, he teases us with flavor and style. Seared foie gras slides down the throat like velvet across a smooth back; sliced duck breast is moist and tender. It's difficult not to overstate the succulence of a lobster claw complimented by white corn salsa; delicate grilled scallops are set on tart/sweet tomato jam deep and rich as a daydream; white Scorpio fish on jalapeño laced avocado and thinly sliced green mango is an effortless palate tease. Perfection seems naturally easy. The coup de gras is a whimsical French touch. Luscious chanterelle raviolo, sits astride a leg and foot of squab, it's toes and nails elegantly curved, grasping a slice of duck. I am repeatedly charmed by Challets unexpected harmony of French/North American food cultures.
I like the way Kimberley, the sommelier, host and major domo of the terrace sets the rhythm and manner of service. Her wine pairings are sensitive not only to the food, but to our needs as well.
A civilian could leave now, totally fulfilled and happy, but not a foot soldier in the corps of those who eat for a living. Steak is rarely bewitched into something special, but dry aged 10 oz strip loin with grilled mushrooms and two rounds of that most respected flavored butter, Café de Paris melting over top, is an exceptional dish. Challet marinates his rack of lamb with herbs de Provence (accused of being an aphrodisiac) until the flavour permeates the delicate meat. Stripped of fat as if with a razor, it's beautifully done on the grill and served with heirloom tomatoes at their peak. Basic, uncomplicated, but terribly smart French cooking.
We could stay at the Easy and dance, but not tonight. The gate-keeper at the velvet rope has our taxi.