TIFF SPECIAL: Inside the Soho House

Gemma Arterton and Dominic Cooper, last night at the Soho House. Photo courtesy of Grey Goose.

Story by Leanne Delap, one of Toronto’s top writers (fashion or otherwise), who will be covering all the glitz, glamour and Glowerers for The Style Notebook during TIFF. Today: Touring the ultra-exclusive Soho House pop-up space.

Some parties around town are lit by searchlights and paparazzi strobe, but the most exclusive lounge in town has a back alley entrance off Spadina and the only identification is a tiny brass plaque hidden on the loading dock that reads Soho House.

We’ve been colonized by the Brits again, this time for a splashy six-day stint: The London private members arts club (there is a branch with boutique hotel in New York and a recent West Hollywood club only) trucked its signature mismatched couches and lamps up from New York along with the club chef, Paul Gerard.

There is no guest list, as the doors are open only to the private club’s international movie mogul jetset members. The club has set up temporary shop in Cannes for some years now, and did a trial party here in Toronto last year before extending their commitment to most of the festival this year. “It just made sense, this is where our members are this week,” says the club’s plummy London-based publicist Izzy May.

The heaviest hitter, Harvey Weinstein, has brought in a stream of box office boffo, from Colin Firth (who was feted with a giant chocolate cake for his 50th birthday) to Javier Bardem, Marion Cotillard and Blake Lively.

Colin and Livia Firth. Photo courtesy of Grey Goose.

On a bare plywood floor, the design team has arranged intimate little seating arrangements. Safe within the club’s cocoon, the players all wander around chatting to each other. We often believe everyone famous must know each other, and here it does seem to be the case. Either that or movie people have a schmooze gene  the rest of us are missing.

Javier Bardem. Photo courtesy of Grey Goose.

The pretty faces have a schedule of places of a premiere night in which they present their bankable cheekbones for the cameras. But the green-light set have business to attend to. The club’s hours, 10:30 to 1 a.m., (very British that) mean that this is where they go to actually eat and have a drink.

To that end, Grey Goose has flown in Dimi Lezinska, its global brand ambassador (how cool does that job sound?) to create cocktails for the occasion. His liquid Parisian tones are the first thing guests hear at the welcome bar right by the door.

Dimi Lezinska. This photo, and all that follow, are by Brendan Adam Zwelling.

Chef Gerard did a quick run into town last week to source ingredients and has brought his brand of elegant family-style service comfort food to town.

And being around so much schmooze, so much networking and glad-handing, I do worry for my soul. Or at least my critical edge: Why am I so enthralled by a place I can’t even go to? Have I caught the rah-rah promotional logrolling disease? Am I loving this place up just so I can get back on the incredibly exclusive magic list?

Probably. But that is what the gold dust does to us all each September. It is in fact really nice inside this particular velvet rope, this secret hideaway in a loading dock.

What the stars are drinking

At the global ambassador level, mixology is quite a poetic pursuit. Aside from the cute names—the Canada Goose, the Torontonian and the Hollywood North—Lezinska has a backstory for all the ingredients.

The Hollywood North sounds dodgy—unsweetened organic soya milk?—but is actually silken and light. Served in small martini glasses, you must drink it relatively quickly as the lemon separates from the  milk. Lezinska is against  big gulp martini stemware, and when he says “Smaller is more decadent,” I totally buy it, mostly because of his accent. “People do not come here to over-indulge. A good cocktail should never taste strongly of liquor. Your goal is balance.”

The Hollywood North.

To that end he adds a dash of bitters and overtop of the creamy white drink he sprinkles edible gold dust he imports specially from San Francisco. For some reason, I’m compelled to swallow the gold. It doesn’t taste of anything, really, but the idea of eating gold seems very grand. “At Cannes last year we put a rim of gold dust on the champagne,” says Lezinska. “All the guests were walking around with gold lips.” Grand indeed.

The Torontonian is my favourite, a frothy green from the base of pressed cucumber juice (he leaves the skin on for colour and the bitter edge it adds), elderflower and a local gem Burch’s Gingerbeer.

The Torontonian.

The Canada Goose also sounds daunting to my taste (I’m against sweet drinks) but of course I’m wrong, it is light and delicious. A brilliant purply blue from the base of fresh pressed local blueberries, it is finished with maple syrup, our country’s most clichéd ingredient. “The sugar is only there to gel the ingredients,” he says, adding sweet vermouth to the pear Grey Goose.

The Canada Goose.

In the end if I were Marion Cotillard and hiding elegantly in a corner here I would drink this one. Wearing black of course: I can just see ruining a dress when Colin Firth knocks my arm.

What the stars eat at Soho House

Flying in to cook in a foreign city leaves a chef without his faithful sources. Paul Gerard hit the ground running: when he arrived to survey the space for his temporary kitchen he saw a fish truck driving down Spadina. He rang them up and was referred to a guy who knew a guy and he found the sashimi grade hamachi flown daily from Japan. The radishes he needed for an accompanying salad were tougher. He heard tell of a farm just outside the city, but their harvest had just shipped out. So the farmer called a neighbour who was willing to give Gerard the contents of her home garden. And I must say, I’ve never been so excited about a radish before: they were really good.

His best tip though is one we can all steal: he went to our west end and cleaned out Cheese Boutique of its truffles (apparently black is on its way out of season but, fear not, white is on its heels). He used both, mixed with morels and shitakes and cepes for his goat’s cheese slathered in mushroom toast. But not satisfied with the regular Pullman at Epi breads he talked them into doing his custom whole-wheat version.

The simple menu for dinners is supplemented by waiters passing trays of lobster rolls and spicy sliders. “People are coming in hungry; bouncing from party to party all night this is where they stop to eat.”

Want more TIFF 2010? Read Leanne Delap’s first TIFF column, and check out our picks for the fest’s hottest parties. Torontoist’s complete coverage of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is all right here.

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