b Espresso Bar (Bloor St.)
The folks inside the new b Espresso Bar are a classy bunch. Many of them are wearing stylish black outfits, for example. Many of them have really nice hair. They speak in clear, confident voices so we can't help but make out well-enunciated conversations across the aisle. Turns out pretty much everyone is discussing music related things, no surprise since we're having lunch inside the Telus Centre at The Royal Conservatory of Music on Bloor street, where a second b Espresso location opened about a month ago.
I brought us here because I know b Espresso makes good eats, and because I thought we'd get a kick out of the new venue. Maybe I thought we'd hear students practicing, which in retrospect makes little sense because of course the walls are soundproof. But at least there's quiet classical music coming from behind the counter, enough to quell that disillusionment.
The décor is simple and chilly, with plastic white chairs and tables spread out against the brick exterior of the conservatory. The walls and ceiling are all window, flooding the place with natural light. Musical kids jaunt through the place with guitars and drum sticks while proud, waiting parents sit back with an espresso. The service is fantastic. Everyone who works here is very neat and obliging. They field my food questions with calming voices, in tones that suggest I'm slightly adorable for asking. Bagels are from Gryfe's and coffee is Illy. The scones, muffins and sandwiches are made at the Queen and Jarvis location, brought in fresh every day.
Each sandwich is about eight bucks, potentially troubling with no side or garnish, but I suppose mine is stuffed with nearly eight bucks worth of meat. I've chosen the portanone. It's straight up barbequed pulled pork - no other toppings get in the way. It's tender, very tasty and a bit sweet. The bread is nice, gently warmed. Alyssa's catullo is grilled chicken and zucchini, havarti and pesto on crusty Italian multi-grain. It's an intense sandwich. Some side greens would be killer. Both sandwiches are quality, delicious, but I'm sad to see they lack the outstanding presentation of the Queen street b.
The dessert options are a bit meagre. There are plenty of biscotti, a couple of chocolate truffles and some sort of pre-bagged chocolate baked good. In addition, there is a sign offering frozen yogurt and fruit. Only the yogurt appeals to me, but the sandwiches took all my cash so we make do with a couple of those Illy coffees, a brand that b espresso feels passionately about. I wish Queen and Jarvis had shipped more of their desserts out here. I guess a second location can't have everything that the glorious first location does, at least not a month into business.
"How does a coffee shop get into The Royal Conservatory of Music?" Alyssa asks, sipping the Illy. She makes it sound like b Espresso had to audition to become a student here or something. I imagine a coffee shop gets into the conservatory by being calm and classy, like the piano. A solid first location is probably an asset too.
That, or it needs a name that visually resembles a backwards music note?
Update: Please note that this cafe no longer serves Illy coffee
Photos by Alyssa Bistonath