underground restaurant toronto

How to dine at Toronto's secret underground restaurant

House of Commons is possibly Toronto's longest running underground restaurant. Since 2008, founder, Sarah Evans (formerly the GM of Rosedale's Le Petit Castor) has hosted diners in her home; supplying the select few (12 to 14 guests each night) with cryptic directions and passwords to get in.

The idea was inspired by the hospitality shown to her on a trip to Greece. Evans recalls how small talk with locals transpired from "my brother's out fishing" to "come back in an hour and we'll eat what he catches".

Here in Toronto, the dinners are often populated with strangers encouraged to converse in intimate quarters as they dine at the long but slender Italian-style common table. The style of service is chef driven and always in flux but sharing boards, family style presentations and plated entrees have all made appearances in the past.

Over the years House of Common has earned a reputation as an incubator for new restaurants as chefs have tested and templated new menus. Prior to launching, I'm told that Ursa operated out of Evan's residential kitchen for a week in preparation.

Content-driven dinners are becoming increasingly popular as well, giving the restaurant salon-like quality. Topical themes from an evening of abstract art to a focus on monogamy are recent examples woven through the menu and discussions at the table.

New this season (May to September), House of Commons is introducing weekend brunches, sometimes preceded by a yoga session other times cooked by Brad Kurtenbach of Thick Cut Brunch.

The price of each dinner is dictated by the chefs and menu but $85 is typical and includes a cocktail upon entry and at least one wine pairing. There's usually a cash bar too but Evans warns that if guests pass out on the couch (and they have), she'll automatically add $40 to their tab then supply a toothbrush and some eggs in the a.m. before calling a cab.

The summer season kicks off on May 12 when details are published online. Make reservations for dinner at mabelgrey.ca (named for Evans' bootlegging great grandma) and gain access to brunch (no reservations required) by texting the number posted on the site.

Photo by Jesse Milns

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