Two decades ago, I stumbled upon Marche restaurant, located at 181 Bay Street, Toronto, inside Brookfield Place. It opened my eyes to a fresh way of exploring food. It impacted my taste for variety and with it, endowed me with a zest of adventure in eating.
Since opening in 1992, the contemporary Swiss market continues to be my oasis. Not always for the food (although often it’s very tasty) but for the memories it holds.
Fresh, healthy and fast is their guarantee. To me, it’s the holy grail of food frenzy-dom. The lively market atmosphere seats up to 600 guests. They do not accept reservations, unless you are a large booking. Sometimes, I’ve waited in line on a busy Saturday night. It was always worth it and never felt overcrowded.
The Marche Movenpick website claims it’s the largest Marche restaurant in the world. A landmark Toronto establishment, partly due to its size and location next to the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s a haunt for both locals and tourists. It has changed ownership throughout the years and sometimes closed its doors for renovations, but typically it’s open Monday – Thursday 7:30 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Friday through Sunday 7:30 a.m. – 1 a.m. every day, all year round.
Getting there is easy as the subway station is nearby. If you are driving, park at Brookfield garage, located right next door to Marche between Yonge and Bay Streets on Wellington. Marche will validate your parking if your bill is $30 dollars or more. It’s then free and you can leave your vehicle for the rest of the day while shopping around downtown.
Upon arrival, you are greeted and provided with a plastic card (somewhat like a credit card) to shop for your meal. The quirky, open concept restaurant is set up in tiny market cooking areas for you to choose from. Select a table in one of the many themed rooms. Each table has a sign for you to flip over to reserve your place and you are then free to discover. At the end of the night, present your little card and the person at the register will total up the cost of your meal and add a 12 per cent gratuity.
The food is cooked fresh in front of you, and a wide range of menu options are available including woodfire pizzas, pasta, seafood, steak, chicken, stuffed sandwiches, Thai soups, sushi, green salad and a host of other selections. Enjoy a wine or beer from the bar, which offers ample choices by the glass or bottle. Soft jazz or flamenco guitars can be heard in the background, softening the tone of the buzzing atmosphere of guests meandering about.
Save room for dessert. You will not be able to walk by the dessert bar, with its huge range of fresh baked goods and tasty choices from the ice cream market. The sweet smell of vanilla and sugar mixed with chocolate is a delight. My first taste of Tiramisu was here, and so began my long love affair with the dessert. Not to mention the coffee bar featuring espresso, filtered coffee, tea and hot chocolate with truffles to finish off the evening.
I have spent loads of time strolling the Marche markets. It’s my “go to” place. In fact, I recall a scramble one evening when my girlfriend and I double booked for two dates and the second was a late night wine and dessert at Marche. (Still makes me giggle.) I even brought my parents here to meet my future in-laws for the first time. Since then, I’ve brought my husband, my daughter and countless others to enjoy its offerings. Although, one night will go down in history as the best ever at Marche.
It was the early ’90s. I was living in Toronto and had a friend visiting. Marche had long become one of mine and my roommate’s favourite destinations. My visiting friend and I were long overdue to catch up and planned for a late night of talking, eating and dancing. On the way out, my roommate demanded that we bring her back a tiramisu dessert. Of course, I promised with a smile.
My friend had never been to Marche and, despite how often I frequented the restaurant, there still were many things I had not yet tried. We decided that night we would sample (almost) every type of food on offer. Dipping sushi into the green wasabi and noshing on pasta, salads, and meat, the courses seemed endless. We also drank with each selection, tasting wines and learning about their grape varieties. The explosion of flavors in my mouth was matched by laughter, and made for a good night. It’s probably the first time I truly appreciated the experience of eating. Instead of the old staples we permitted ourselves to explore and understand the importance of a discerning palate. Feeling tipsy and incredibly full, we could not depart without paying a rather large cheque and purchasing a takeaway Tiramisu.
Tiramisu is a tantalizing dessert of cake infused with a liquid such as coffee or rum, layered with a rich cheese filling and topped with grated chocolate. No two are alike. It has been a favorite since my first bite.
The night was not over. We still needed to stop for dancing. Late dinner followed by dancing was always warranted. However, what to do with the tiramisu? Interestingly enough, Tiramisu is an Italian dessert and in English means “pick me up”. It may have proven helpful for us single gals to cart the Tiramisu onto the dance floor and wave it about, but this was not practical, so I did what seemed logical (after many glasses of wine). I coat checked the Tiramisu! We had a number provided to us to recover it at the end of the night. But, can you really trust a coat jockey with chocolate rum filled dessert? We didn’t think so, so we took a photo to be sure we knew where to find him should the tiramisu go missing.
Marche holds many delicious memories. My palate has grown over the years, but I still frequent with family and friends. One thing is for certain, I never ever leave without the Tiramisu! If you have a foodie biz or restaurant location I should try email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow my blog LadyDinesalot.com