Instead of our usual upscale birthday dinner, I decided to substitute an upscale birthday brunch. The Sunday brunch in the Empire Ballroom at Hotel MacDonald, priced at $48 per person, is undoubtedly the most expensive in the city, a seeming extravagance even in times of excess. I had heard positive things about the buffet from others, however, and decided it was worth the experimental splurge.
Mack and I embraced the opportunity to dress up, though I suspected we might be overdressed. I was right – some patrons were in their weekend finery, while others were clean casual at best, in faded jeans and shorts. While I respect that patrons can choose their level of formality, it just seemed more fitting for this particular setting to aim for elegance. The ballroom, flush with natural light, had an inherent grandness to it, with high, detailed ceilings and numerous chandeliers. I loved the quiet ambiance and the reflective history of the space, acknowledging that the venue has served many significant guests throughout its time.
Our tableside view
When we arrived, we were greeted by a very professional hostess, who gave us a tour of the food selections before showing us to our seat – a mix of hot and cold breakfast and lunch options were available, including carving and omelette stations. A dessert bar was situated in the ballroom itself.
Pastries and salad bar
Cold seafood selections
Soon after sitting down, our server immediately offered us a cocktail of champagne and fresh orange juice. Much to my surprise, our drink was continually filled up throughout our stay, instead of a one-glass offering, which is what I was expecting. The mimosa was actually quite refreshing, in a way that urged us on to fill up just “one more plate”.
I resisted the urge to try everything (a mistake I often make at buffets, usually too late to enjoy the quality entrees), and instead was initially selective with what I chose. We skipped over the salads and the soup, but were swayed by the flaky pastries to start. The hot breakfast entrees also made an appearance on our first plates, which included corned beef hash, maple sausage, bacon, pancakes and eggs benedict. Our conclusion: it was darn good bacon, and the cinnamon pastry wasn’t bad either.
Mack’s first helping of bacon
Mack’s plate #1
My plate #1
Our second helpings involved a mixture of breakfast and lunch entrees, though Mack focused more on the former, a traditionalist when it comes to his first meal of the day. Of the lunch entrees, which included pasta, chicken, roast beef, lamb and halibut, the oven-roasted halibut was the standout, enveloped in a creamy sauce. The charcuterie and cheese plates were nice additions as well.
Mack’s plate #2
My plate #2
A custom omelette formed our third course, where anything from shrimp, ham, tomatoes, bell peppers, mushroom and cheese could be thrown in. While the omelettes were good, it was the novelty of selecting ingredients and watching the dish be prepared that made it special.
My mushroom, ham, bell pepper and cheese omelette
Dessert finished us off. It was tough not to take one of each off the dessert table, which appealed to the eyes first. There were warm crepes and chocolate fondue in addition to an array of cold desserts, including sliced fruit, cheesecakes, mousse, and slightly out of place, rainbow Jell-O. Mack tried a slice of the chocolate cheesecake, but found it too rich for his liking. He instead preferred (yes), the martini glass of cubed Jello-O. I had some fruit dipped in the chocolate fondue, but my favourite dessert had to be the maple and white chocolate mousse – light and almost frothy, the mousse just melted in my mouth.
The meal had occurred at such a leisurely pace that, filled to the brim, we were taken aback that two hours had somehow passed. The service was exceptional throughout; unlike some buffets where drink orders and refills are sporadic and inconsistent, the wait staff checked on us continuously, without seeming intrusive or redundant. When we needed an extra hand to help us take a photograph, our server didn’t hesitate to accompany us outside for a quick snapshot on the patio either.
During our meal, we had seen numerous parties take advantage of the glorious day by wandering the grounds just outside the ballroom. We followed in their footsteps, and took in the view of the river valley, as well as the impressive angle of the hotel from behind.
Me and Mack
We both agreed that while neither of us consumed $48 worth of food that day, we had paid for a quality meal offering countless choices, a fair share of pampering, and a setting fit for royalty. We may not do it again, but it was a great venue to celebrate an occasion with a loved one.