Nadge Nourian, a young French woman, and Morgan McHugh, her Canadian partner, arrived in Toronto from Europe one year ago with an ambition to sell the tastiest French pastries, made with the finest ingredients, at a reasonable price. Nourian is a fourth-generation pastry chef in a family of restaurateurs, having learned the art from her grandmother. She and McHugh searched the city for the right spot and found it at the corner of Queen Street West, where hipsters prowl, and the southeastern tip of Trinity Bellwoods park, one of the city’s nicest. Here, urban bustle rubs up against the shady grass of a large park with its sporting amenities and giant trees. Early in July, after six months of planning and construction, they opened the patisserie named after its chef.
Nelson Kwong Architects designed the interior space of Nadge; Red Box — a graphic design and branding firm — did the logo and packaging. Having worked in fine kitchens throughout France, Sweden and the U.K., Nourian insisted that the same level of craft given to the food would be evident in the branding and interior design. “She had a very clear sense of what she was after,” says Nelson Kwong, “and she trusted us to take the design where we thought would best suit her concept.” According to Nourian, the concept was “something very clean and very modern with the centrepiece being the food and kitchen.”
Constrained by a tight budget, McHugh, working basically alone, demolished what had been a photography studio for half a century, and realized Kwong’s design. Only the wood floors, excavated from under six layers of vinyl, are a visual reminder of the interior’s history. Everything else gives the impression of being one part gallery and one part patisserie, all of it surgically clean. The layout is guided by a simple honesty: see the food, buy the food, watch them make the food. As such, a feast of the most exquisite-looking pastries is laid out on a wide display case running the length of the room, with seating farther back and a big window at the rear looking into the kitchen. (The case is actually a custom-made fridge, constructed in a location the owners won’t reveal, which keeps precise control over moisture and temperature levels.)
The display and an adjacent coffee bar are wrapped in seamless white Corian panels, creating what looks like a continuous object with distinct areas for various functions — presentation, pick up, cash, coffee. A newly constructed bulkhead, suspended above the counter, acts as a visual device to connect the front and back while “giving the space a bit of variation,” as Kwong points out. Other than the charcoal grey ceiling and a bolt of magenta in the 16-foot logo recessed into the east wall, everything is arctic white, allowing the focus to remain on the beautifully crafted edible goods: cakes, macarons, sandwiches, buns, even marshmallows.
The store is gracious, with ample room to mill about while waiting for your order. A wide stair to the basement, where an old entrance used to be, is lit by a new floor-to-ceiling window. Outside, Crezon plywood boards painted in a white enamel (often used for signs and movie sets) cover the angled store entrance and part of the exterior brick around the corner.
Next summer, a patio along the side street is planned to replace a sliver of grass between the building and sidewalk. For now, though, the uninterrupted views of Queen West and Trinity Bellwoods — seen through the large picture windows preserved during the renovation — create a slight tension: do you stay in this wonderfully calm space eating your Alaskan crab and avocado sandwich on an herb bun, or go outside and stroll through the park nibbling on a clutch of macarons and a lemon violet cake? CI