Located in the heart of West Queen West, Prime Seafood Palace (PSP) is a culinary escape from the bustling streets of Canada’s most populated city, Toronto. PSP was imagined as a light-filled wood cathedral, lining an otherwise inconspicuous existing brick-clad building that blends into the city’s urban fabric. This was an exercise in taking the refinement of Omar Gandhi Architect’s (OGA) residential work and carrying that rigor through to this commercial project.
The principal goal was to create a timeless space, free of trends, with local, natural materials that develop a patina and continue to enrich the restaurant over me. Designing with wood and light was the starting point for the design. The neutral material palette, comprised primarily of white maple and brass, creates a backdrop for the main act – the unpretentious but exceptional food of cherished Canadian chef May Matheson. PSP’s design was also inspired by May’s East Coast roots and admiration for both Japanese and Scandinavian architecture. May’s career began at Le Select, a celebrated French Bistro in Toronto, which helped inform his appreciation for the world of food.
PSP finds May returning to the kitchen fundamentals that he first honed at Le Select – the restaurant’s menu reflects a reverence for classic steakhouse principles presented with extraordinary restraint. The restaurant’s sourcing, techniques, and menu demonstrate the intentional manner in which they look to elevate the classic steakhouse concept in which the product is treated with the same esteem as the meat and seafood. This is executed through cooking with cherry wood coals from local farms, sourcing produces from May’s own Blue Goose Farm, beef from Ontario, and seafood from the Atlantic. In short, the freshness and quality of the food are the star of the show – presented in a straightforward manner.
PSP is unexpected – a space to truly experience in person. The main entry is located in a quiet courtyard, drawing patrons away from the humming urban activity of Queen Street West. Upon entry into the main dining space, patrons are presented with a two-story wood slat vault suspended from the roof above. A wood-clad cloud runs the length of the restaurant and filters indirect natural light, creating a so glow in the interior. Vertical brass screens filter activity from the street to provide privacy and intimacy while maintaining a subdued connection to the streetscape beyond.
PSP is elegant, yet warm and welcoming. Natural leather upholstered booths wrap two walls of the main dining space, drawing cues from traditional diners, including May’s grandfather’s Blue Goose Restaurant on Prince Edward Island. A cantilevered canopy hovers over the bar and semi-private dining area. Carefully curated music adds to the full sensory experience. A state-of-the-art lighting control system incorporates astronomical ming that responds to exterior light levels and automatically adjusts interior light levels. These considerations underscore the restaurant’s attention to detail in the customer experience – taking care of the customer from ambiance to intuitive service and stimulating food and drink.
OGA collaborated with Coolican & Company on custom furniture, including the large booth tables with a concealed drawer for the restaurant’s Perceval steak knives from Thiers, France. Coolican’s special edition maple “Edwin Chair” incorporated brass spindles to reference the brass screens throughout the main dining space.
May and his team worked closely with OGA on the design of the space, development of details, and selection of products and finishes. This collaborative process included visits to the millworker’s shop to review full-scale mock-ups of the vault and booths and to Coolican’s studio to test custom-made furniture.
The oak flooring in the main dining space extends up the gentle ramp towards the open concept kitchen, providing a glimpse into the inner workings of the talented culinary team cooking over the open wood-burning hearth.
The open concept kitchen showcases thoughtful food that reflects the abundance of locally and globally ingredients. The menu rotates with the seasons and ingredients available at that me, utilizing each ingredient to its fullest potential. The transparency of the menu and the source of its ingredients are reflected in this kitchen space that is visible to customers.
The double-height accessible restroom lined with textured Bianco Carrara bamboo le is washed in natural light from the skylight above. The design of Brandon Gore’s custom concrete sink is inspired by a hydrological map of Lake Erie and incorporates a recessed brass marker indicating May’s farm in Fort Erie.
In contrast to the main dining space, the white-washed pine interior and wood-burning stove of the rear addition are reminiscent of Ontario’s cottage country. Three pairs of steel and glass doors open the space to the exterior courtyard that fills with warm evening light in the summer months.
Architects: Omar Gandhi Architect
Design Team : Omar Gandhi, Stephanie Hosein, Jeff Walker, John Gray Thomson, Chad Jamieson, Lauren McCrimmon, Kristi MacDonald, Liam Thornewell
Restaurant Team : Matty Matheson, Gary Quinto, Coulson Armstrong, and Our House Hospitality Company
Photographs :Adrian Ozimek Final, doublespace photography
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