Drinking at lunch

Resident oenophile Matthew Sullivan contemplates rosy cheeks and inexpensive vintages at the Osgoode Hall Restaurant.
Resident oenophile Matthew Sullivan contemplates rosy cheeks and inexpensive vintages at the Osgoode Hall Restaurant.

I almost dropped out of law school, but since being called to the bar, I have come to appreciate the fringe benefits of being a lawyer. We can sign passports. When we threaten our neighbours, it seems to carry more weight. And we get lots of free magazines. These are invaluable perks, but the perkiest of them all is lunch at the Osgoode Hall Restaurant.

Since time immemorial, lunch at Osgoode meant only two things: butter-tarts and club sandwiches. However, almost two years ago, the excellent chef Adam Foley took the reins, and since then the cuisine has picked up speed. There’s a new menu every day. There are both indulgent lunches (steaks from Cumbrae Farms, one of the best butchers in Toronto), and lighter fare (dinner salads topped with salmon or duck). Eclecticism is the norm. For instance, Foley just purchased a French-style sous-vide slow cooker, which adds dishes like 48-hour short ribs to his arsenal. The food radiates a sense of fun, which is handy in a dining room bordered by shelves lined with Hansard.

But most importantly for me, Osgoode offers one of the best wine lists in Toronto. That is not to say it is long. Nor does it boast the astronomically expensive trophy wines that trendy establishments uncork for patrons with more money than sense. In fact, it is difficult to find a bottle that crosses the $100 mark. But that is precisely the point: Osgoode offers an unparalleled collection of inexpensive, hard-to-find, and delicious wines.

The curator of the list, waiter Michel Gron, has some inspired ideas. First, there’s a wide selection of half-bottles, which is useful if you’re on break from court. It is less fashionable than it used to be to return from the luncheon recess with stained teeth and rosacea.

Osgoode often takes the trouble to age bottles in its wine fridge for a few years before listing them. This is a rare treat even in fashionable wine-bars, and it really sets Osgoode apart. The wine list is stuffed with good bargains, especially from the south of France, which appears to be Gron’s forte. Maturing wines from southern regions like Chateauneuf du Pape and Bandol makes them complex, mellow, and full of the flavours of fallen leaves and wet earth.

Did I mention it’s cheap? You can thank yourself for that one: the restaurant is a not-for-profit arm of the Law Society. Who ever said that the $44 million that lawyers pay in annual dues isn’t money well spent?

Osgoode Hall Restaurant: 130 Queen St. West, 416.947.3361. Lunch served from Monday to Friday, 12 – 2 p.m.

Hidden Gems

Although the small wine list at Osgoode Hall is always changing, here’s what to look for:

  • Southern French Regions like Corbieres, Bandol, or Cahors make good wine but don’t have “name brand” prices.
  • Chateauneuf-du-Pape: I recently ordered a bottle of 2000 Domaine Duclaux in a half bottle. It was silky and intense, and the nose crackled with aromas of sage and dried flowers. Not to be missed.
  • Choice Ontario wines: I’ve spotted some Canadian treasures at Osgoode, such as the celebrated Le Clos Jordanne Chardonnay, and some less well-known (but no less splendid) bottles like Marynissen’s Cabernet-Merlot.
  • Sherries: Lustau is one of the finest sherry makers in Spain, and Osgoode offers a wide selection of them in every possible style. A great opportunity to experiment with something new.
  • Port: Nothing caps a meal like a drop of port, and Osgoode gives you the opportunity to sample decades-old vintages for $7. Incredible.

 Into the Short Cellar

Cline 2007 Syrah   

($8.95, Vintages Essential #733758, California) The thinking man’s Yellow Tail or Fuzion. Like these commonly available weekday wines, the Cline is fruity and cheap. But unlike its syrupy cousins, this Shiraz (aka Syrah) is silky and refreshing too. Look for a bright hit of blueberries and a hint of violets. No need to age.

 Julian Chivite 2003 Gran Feudo Reserva  

($16.95, Vintages Essential #479014, Spain) A great opportunity to buy a wine that has already reached a handsome middle age. The fruit and tannins are so yielding that they seem to crumble in your mouth. The nose has the typical Spanish aroma of wet leather and antique furniture. The mellow charm will deepen over the next couple of years.


 Matthew Sullivan is a civil litigator in Toronto. He writes a weekly blog entry here on lawandstyle.ca. Matthew can be reached at matthew@lawandstyle.beta-site.ca