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Omar Gandhi Architect’s Lady Marmalade is Our Restaurant of the Year

How an old row house became the airy new digs of a cult Leslieville brunch spot

By Gregory Furgala
Photography by Bob Gundu and Janet Kimber

After nearly a decade in Leslieville, Lady Marmalade’s owners commissioned Omar Gandhi Architect (OGA), in collaboration with SvN Architects + Planners, to transform a boarded-up East Chinatown row house into the new home of their popular brunch destination. To say this was a tall order is something of an understatement.

“It was tough to see how this could become a bright, airy brunch spot,” says Omar Gandhi, principal of OGA, about the narrow site. “It was a reductive, or subtractive, method of sculpting, where we really just took things away.”

And so out went large sections of floor plate. In went rear windows and skylights, then every wall, beam and ceiling was clad in blond-hued Baltic birch, pushing the aesthetic limits of what’s possible within Toronto’s characteristically narrow architectural footprint.

From the street, only cedar cladding, a large storefront window and understated sans-serif lettering signal the massive shift inside, where the triple-height entryway now provides a common feature from the ground level up through the mezzanine. Every bit materially consistent, birch banquettes and Wegneresque furniture run the length of the dining spaces on the first two storeys, as does flora that provides both sound baffling and an unstructured contrast to the clean, rectangular panelling and slate grey tile.

The space is sunny, warm and unostentatious; a complete design U-turn. But with hearty favourites like the Huevos Migas – a vibrant scramble of eggs, sausage, black beans and pico de gallo – still on the menu, long-time regulars will be pleased to know that, despite the new surroundings, not everything at Lady Marmalade has changed. OMARGANDHI.COM; SVN-AP.COM; LADYMARMALADE.CA