Café Linnea adds a new facet to Duchess Bakery's culinary empire. Indeed, Linnea shares its Holland Plaza home with high-end cookware and baking-supply boutique Duchess Provisions and its sister baking school Duchess Atelier. However, at Café Linnea, there is nary a macaron in sight. Instead, Café Linnea's primary focus is brunch (they now also serve supper, though, but that is a story for another day).
The menu is billed as influenced by French and Scandinavian cuisine, though a quick read through Linnea's carte (heavy with standards such as galettes and oeufs-en-cocotte) reveals a bias to the Gallic end of the spectrum. Linnea's space, though, is distinctly Scandinavian. It could easily have been plucked from the Swedish countryside, for its blonde wooden planks, natural light, attractively functional furniture and minimalist shelves that balance tidy houseplants and a Swedish Dala horse figurine capture the Scandinavian penchant for unfussy practicality.
Linnea is packed on a weekend morning – be forewarned, since reservations are only accepted for groups of six or more. Staff will gladly take a mobile number and text when a table is available, if one is inclined to mosey around the neighbourhood and work up an appetite. After such a jaunt and, once our table is ready, our brunch sets in motion as animated conversation rises to the lofty ceiling. Various permutations of coffee are available, but cocktails deserve serious consideration as they go far beyond the usual offerings of mimosas. Linnea's Joyau ($12) stirs together Cinzano, Chartreuse, Maraschino and Akvavit. These are all assertive spirits, and though this drink is pleasant enough, it's almost too understated. Cocoa Bruno ($12) arrives in warm mug, and allures with rich layers of bittersweet chocolate and hints of herbal Chartreuse.
Mains are generous in both size and flavour. Smoked Pot Pie ($22) arrives cloaked in dramatic puff pastry that cradles a perfectly poached egg. One has the delightful task of nibbling through the pastry to access the bounty of smoked chicken and pork loin underneath. Oodles of carrots and peas, all dressed in a generous cream sauce, bring the entire dish together. Oeufs-en-Cocotte ($20) are cradled in a tiny cast-iron pot, with a pair of just-baked eggs resting atop a vibrant red pepper bed. Together, the eggs and peppers are intense and sunny, though the handful of house-made potato crisps on top could be omitted entirely.
Café Linnea's French influence shines in a Leek and Gribiche Galette ($19). Buckwheat flour imparts distinctive nuttiness to the crêpe, which is delightfully crisp around the edges. A poached egg rests in the centre, flanked by sections of charred leek and little puddles of sauce gribiche, rich with egg yolk and parsley. Two Fried Eggs ($19), as simple as it sounds, is anything but spartan. Yes, there are two fried eggs present, but they are crowned with a glorious tangle of creamed spinach, sidled up to a melange of sautéed wild mushrooms, all of which may be enjoyed (in various ratios) upon toasted brioche. It's all quite satisfying and, though the slices of raw portobello could be dispensed with, one is hard-pressed to find fault with such a harmonious platter. One is hard-pressed to find fault with Café Linnea at all, for this gem counters French extravagance with Scandinavian efficiency.