Few activities engage our senses as completely as alfresco dining. In terms of taste and smell, research shows that the relaxation and stress relief associated with being outdoors enhances the flavours and aromas of food and drink. Warm sunshine and refreshing breezes tantalize our sense of touch, while our social instincts are stimulated by the sounds of conviviality. Last but not least, eye candy is especially sweet in rooftop dining rooms, such as the eight Canadian options explored below, where breathtaking panoramic views meet world-class culinary experiences.
Terrasse William Gray, William Gray Hotel, Montreal
Sprawling across the top floor of its namesake hotel in the Old Port of Montreal, Terrasse William Gray serves up superb views of buzzing Place Jacques-Cartier, the St. Lawrence River, and Canada’s largest observation Ferris wheel. Equipped with propane heaters and retractable awnings, the elegant space’s signature dishes include Tataki-style grilled tuna, and smoked Black Angus beef ribs coated in a Jack Daniels and maple syrup sauce — accompanied by duchess black truffle potatoes, of course. And for a taste of local spirits, the Lavender 75 signature cocktail combines Roméo’s Gin and sparkling wine with fresh lavender and lemon juice.
Set atop a turreted 19th-century building that once served as the home of Toronto’s most notorious strip club, and that now contains a 58-room boutique hotel, the Rooftop’s 360-degree glass facade makes panoramic views of the glittering skyline, the winding Don River, and the city’s leafy East End all the more accessible. The cuisine served on the expansive terrace focuses on locally sourced produce while reflecting Toronto’s ethnic diversity, with small plates spanning yellowfin tuna poke bowls and cornmeal crusted haddock tacos, and larger plates consisting of pork carnitas and a heaping banh mi platter.
Set on the third floor of its namesake restaurant and lounge, The Roof is said to be Vancouver’s largest rooftop dining spot. With fairy lights overhead and decorative fireplaces lining one wall it is also one of the city’s most eye-catching venues. The menu is suitably West Coast, with a sharable Chilled Seafood Platter combining king crab, kusshi oysters, prawn cocktail, lobster tails, ahi tuna sashimi, scallop ceviche and wakame salad in a red wine mignonette. The gem of the drinks menu is easily the Tea Party 15 cocktail, adding a touch of local honey to Earl Grey-infused Tito’s Handmade Vodka, triple sec, Malfy Rosa gin, marmalade, and grapefruit juice.
Another stylish hotel topper — in this case, atop the 12-storey 1 Hotel Toronto — Harriet’s Rooftop sets itself apart by enabling diners to admire the Toronto skyline’s reflection in a rooftop plunge pool. Harriet’s emulates its sister venues in Los Angeles and Manhattan with a reclaimed decor theme that speaks to the hotel’s sustainable approach, and with a raw and sushi bar that includes a Chili Crab Roll of cucumber, avocado, king crab, chili aioli, and scallions. Just remember that only hotel guests have access to the pool deck and waters.
Set above the dining room and lounge of its namesake ninth-floor restaurant, which in turn is nestled in the upscale Humaniti Hotel, Terrasse H3 is described as a “seaside destination” owing in part to fare ranging from grilled Gaspesian bluefin tuna to rock crab from Quebec’s Sainte-Madeleine islands. The long rectangular pool lining the terrace adds to the nautical vibe, with ships docked the nearby Old Port being just a short stroll away.
At the other end of the scenery spectrum, the second-floor patio atop this carnivores’ den offers stellar views of the iconic peaks surrounding the town of Banff. Steak is serious business at Chuck’s, where Alberta-raised Wagyu and Angus beef is dry-aged in house and grilled over hardwood and mesquite, then finished under an 1,800-degree broiler. The whisky and cocktail menus are similarly sublime, with a Balvenie DoubleWood 17-year-old scotch topping the former, and the Coal Miner’s Daughter blending activated charcoal with Park Alpine Dry Gin, lemon juice, lavender honey syrup, rosemary syrup and egg white.
The former Art Deco home of Postal Station K has been transformed into a veritable culinary temple, with a food market on the main floor, a Giannone Pettricone-designed bistro and bar spread across the second and third floors, and an expansive rooftop patio completing the 20,000-square-foot gastronomic package. With around 500 seats, the Stock Bar Patio is said to be the largest in Toronto’s affluent Yonge-Eglinton corridor, and as such serves a Sunday brunch of black truffle scrambled eggs, Boudin blanc pork sausage, and other elevated fare. Knock back a Palm Springs cocktail afterwards, and the combination of Tequila Jose Cuervo, Aperol, St. Germain, cucumber and fresh lime juice will help keep Monday at bay.
Perched on the top floor of Canada’s second W Hotel, which opened in July on Toronto’s upscale “Mink Mile” shopping strip, Skylight is pleasingly versatile. For alfresco aficionados, a sunset-facing patio is strewn with high-top tables and stylish cabanas affording prime views of the vertiginous downtown cityscape. Breeze through enormous glass doors, and a sultry Eastern Mediterranean-themed dining room awaits. While strolling directly from a luxe hotel suite to a glorious rooftop eatery is about as good as it gets, diners not staying in the 255-room W bypass the hotel by taking a glass-enclosed elevator directly from street level to Skylight. Wherever guests choose to dine, the share-style menu assembled by executive chef Keith Pears echoes the exotic decor in delicious fashion, with a Cauliflower & Chickpea Tagine blending saffron sultana rice, tomatoes, artichokes, tzatziki, and cilantro, and Seafood Towers taking oysters, clams, shrimp cocktail, escabeche, tuna and scallop crudos, king crab legs, lobster, and caviar to new heights.