H and I CRAVE Sunday brunches and buffets, and most especially for special occasions. For our anniversary this year, we decided to try the Essence of Unionville.
It has been a while since we visited the Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre & Spa, and we were pleasantly surprised by the changes since then. The hotel’s décor is modern, sleek, and minimalist, yet very welcoming.
I would like to point out that I had many questions while writing this review, and I was amazed at how responsive Genson Navaprajah, the General Manager was. I knew he was a busy man, but he took the time to answer all of my emails himself. I found this extremely refreshing, as I know firsthand that most executives have an assistant to take care of these matters. I can certainly see that Genson is very hands on in running this hotel, and passionate about customer feedback, whether positive or negative.
Upon arrival, Ruben, the Food & Beverage Outlets Manager; Aleena, the Food & Beverage Supervisor; Scott, the Executive Sous Chef and our amazing server Barbara, extended a warm welcome and congratulated us on our anniversary. Even though they were busy setting up for the brunch, he or she took the time to answer all our questions.
Let’s get to the buffet …. a smorgasbord of sweet and savory food, all made in house with super fresh and flavorful ingredients. Nathan, the hotel’s Pastry Chef, Scott and the rest of the culinary team really outdid themselves. I have to say, I saw Scott several times, working just as hard as the team, and not in the kitchen where I expected him to be.
H was immediately drawn to the crab legs and sushi – his favorites, while I was already looking at the dessert table. We were literally at opposite ends of the buffet!
I truly wish we had the time (and stomach) to sample everything, so we will definitely cover that in a return visit – stay tuned! All the food stations were visually appealing, and had an amazing array of succulent dishes.
Here were the brunch offerings on our visit:
Croissants, Fruit Danishes, Cinnamon Rolls, Muffins
H tells me this all the time – “Don’t fill up on the carbs!” As a home cook, passionate baker and dessert/pastry lover how can I not? Nevertheless, I have to be honest – I am a bit of a pastry snob. I had my hesitations because I have been to many buffets and have eaten some soggy, margarine or shortening based pastries. I could tell from just one bite that these were not the case. The croissants and danishes were flaky and buttery, no doubt, because Nathan uses only unsalted butter (no shortening here)! They were really scrumptious, and I had to stop at one each. Such regret …
I took one look at these super tall scones and thought, “Yes, it’s going on my plate,” despite H’s eye roll. I honestly wanted to eat a second one. Why you ask? It’s just a plain looking scone right? Nope, these were tender and fluffy, yet held up well to a smear of butter. The scones had just the right amount of raisins and on my first bite, I detected a bit of sweetness. Honestly, I can’t explain further – you will have to try them! I asked H repeatedly to take a bite, just one bite, but he was too focused on his crab and sushi!
Freshly Baked Olive Ciabatta Buns
Classic Eggs Benedict
Maple Sausages and Crispy Bacon
The maple sausages had just the right amount of sweetness. The bacon was exactly the way H and I like it – crispy!
Piccata Chicken Breast with Lime Cream Sauce
The chicken was tender, and the slight tang of lime lightened up the cream sauce.
Steamed Mussels with Thai Curry Coconut Sauce
This is where I draw a blank! Why did my plate only have three mussels? (See below for what’s on our plates). Well, other than the fact that I had other dishes to try, I really regret not going back for more! H and I love steamed mussels, but the Essence of Unionville’s version is absolutely delicious. The coconut curry sauce was mildly spicy and the mussels were succulent. H and I love Thai food, so we hope this dish makes another appearance on our next visit.
Alberta Prime Rib with Natural Pan Juices
The prime rib was perfectly cooked, medium rare to medium. I was surprised when the server cut our slices. I should say, “thick” slices. Have you ever been to a buffet where the roast beef was paper thin? Not here! The prime rib beef was seasoned with garlic, salt and pepper, so simple – nothing else was needed. Let’s talk texture, because I have had my share of tough and chewy beef. Our slices were so tender and juicy that we had seconds!
Cajun Roasted Potatoes, Vegetables
Trout with Teriyaki Sauce
Lamb Leg with Mustard Sauce
Cheese Tortellini with Tomato Sauce
Mixed Greens, Veggie Spirals and Cherry Tomatoes
Broccoli Mandarin Orange Salad, Pasta Salad, Quinoa Salad, Asian Noodles
H and I love crab! What a coincidence; the night before we were watching “Deadliest Catch,” and then we were eating crab!
Crab crackers were supplied, along with these cute compressed hand towels. Our sever Barbara was telling us a funny story about the first time she saw them. She thought the server was giving her mints. Why the heck was she given mints at the start of her meal? LOL!
All you have to do is drop the compressed “mints” into the water and POOF, a hand towel appears. Did I say cute?
Peel & Eat Shrimp | Marinated Kiwi Mussels
The shrimp were jumbo sized, cleaned, and not water logged!
H is a sushi lover while I tend to stick with California rolls. H commented more than once on how thick the fish were sliced. I don’t know which he enjoyed more – the sushi, crabs or prime rib. I would say all three!
Assorted Deli Meats
What’s on our Plates
This review is long huh? Thanks for staying with me because I left the best for last … desserts!
Double Chocolate Dipped Strawberries
Don’t they look decadent? I ran into Scott on my second round and he asked if I was going to have one.
This was one of our favorite desserts. When I first saw the dessert section, I thought, “They’re so small!” I was wrong; they are the right size, especially when it comes to cheesecake. Besides, being a dessert lover smaller means I can sample more! Cheesecake is very rich and filling, you really can’t eat a huge slice of it. This Cointreau cheesecake was very creamy and on the light side, especially with layers of Joconde sponge, brushed with a Cointreau syrup for a hint of unexpected flavor. I had two!
Petite chocolate eclairs generously filled with a chocolate crème chiboust, and a light touch of Drambuie. They were delicate and mouthwatering. I said “they,” but in all sadness, I only had one.
Chocolate Mousse Infused with Kahlua
Chocolate mousse can be a bit boring, so a touch of Kahlua made all the difference. I did go back for another one …
Mango Mousse Infused with Brandy
If you love mangoes, this mousse is for you. Lusciously smooth and airy, and not too heavy.
Passion Fruit Cheesecake
Another winner! This cheesecake had layers of Dacquoise sponge cake. The cream cheese filling and passion fruit puree provided a burst of flavor. The blackberries added a nice tang. I think I had two, but who is counting?
Mini Blackberry Tarts
These mini tarts had a buttery (all butter, no shortening) and flaky crust, and were filled with a light pastry cream, topped with tart blackberries. I restrained myself and had only one.
Vanilla Sauce & Fresh Whipped Cream
Raspberry and Mango Sauce
Assorted Fresh Fruit
Swiss Apple Flan with Almond Cream and Bourbon
This was another one of my favorites. The addition of almond cream laced with Bourbon truly complimented the thinly sliced tart apples. I’m starting to repeat myself, but just looking at the pictures while typing this makes me CRAVE Nathan’s exceptional pastries.
A very light chocolate sponge cake layered with sweet mango mousse.
Chocolate Rum Cake
Can you see how light, moist and chocolaty this cake is? H can be picky when it comes to cake. He prefers cakes with a light texture and whipped cream. I took only one bite and wish I had my own slice. H finished the rest in record speed. He said it was his favorite cake, and really enjoyed the layers of chocolate sponge with a hint of rum, chocolate mousse, and chocolate Chantilly cream.
Since the Essence of Unionville offers all of these exquisite desserts for sale, I found a good choice for H’s upcoming birthday …. Shh!
What’s on our Plates – Part 2
6″ Hazelnut Milk Chocolate Cake
This cake totally surprised us! What a beautiful site (for a dessert lover!). We were so full from the buffet, so we took this home to enjoy. We love dark chocolate and it’s my preferred choice when baking. I thought milk chocolate would be overly sweet, but it wasn’t. The cake layers consisted of Joconde sponge, hazelnut praline coated with rice krispies and milk chocolate. The filling was velvety smooth, creamy, and over the top decadent.
I have to add that all the cakes were light and not cloyingly sweet. This is very reminiscent of Asian or European desserts. The cakes tend to be sponge based, and the frostings are not your typical buttercreams that consist of butter and icing sugar.
I cannot tell you how much we enjoyed this brunch. There were so many surprising aspects. Barbara was very efficient, always filling our juice or water glasses. Our empty plates were taken away without having to ask. In addition, what server is going to tell you to eat more and take your time? We never felt rushed to leave. Barbara wasn’t the only one, another server Victor, encouraged us to try more dishes and enjoy our brunch. Service was definitely on point, but not overly intrusive.
Stay tuned for a return visit so I can provide you with an update …
Hilton Toronto/Markham Suites Conference Centre & Spa
8500 Warden Avenue
Markham, Ontario L6G 1A5
Sunday Brunch Buffet: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
2 hours complimentary parking
Current price: $38.50/adult, $20.00/child
Includes juice, tea or coffee
Taxes and gratuity are separate
Reservations: 905-470-8500 ext. 2067
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