12 of Toronto’s best bistros
Our favourite spots for tartare, duck confit and steak frites
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The reboot of O&B’s iconic bistro is every bit as polished as its former self, luring back loyal clientele for power lunches and prix fixes. The vibe is a little less fusty, as new British touches blend with the place’s Parisian traditions: burgundy leather banquettes, black-and-white photos, and London-born bar snacks (rarebit, fish and chips) that offer casual alternatives to duck confit and steak frites. Chef Bill Osborne turns each dish into an artful assemblage of bright veggies, Canadian-raised proteins and surprising hits of flavour. A tiny pitcher of green gazpacho arrives with a plate of delicate smoked sturgeon, asparagus, cucumber ribbons and lemony buttermilk curd for what may be summer’s freshest appetizer. Relatively simple mains, like cumin-dusted lamb with fluffy gnocchi and al dente green beans, dazzle for their drop-dead-perfect cooking.
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The ramshackle room, narrow as a railway car, remains its endearing self, with tight-packed tables and enough beards to meet Parkdale bylaws. Chef Jesse Mutch has replaced Jonathan Poon’s Asian experimentalism with a menu that wouldn’t look out of place on the Left Bank. Mutch is a dab hand at the classics: piping-hot cheese puffs, springy snails, salty rounds of roasted tomatoes bathed in a mushroom and chive broth, and succulent duck wrapped in crêpes with its own gravy. His double-fried frites, as golden as a Trump hotel and dusted with a concoction of salt, sugar, fenugreek and cinnamon, are a city-wide champ. For dessert, there’s a perfectly tempting baked Alaska—though you’d do just as well to end with a brandy and vermouth cocktail tasting of cherries and long nights, called (what else?) a Marcel Marceau.
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Anthony Rose, the boss behind some of Toronto’s trendiest restaurants, has opened another crowd-pleaser on Dupont. This time, it’s a bistro stacked with terrifically simple French staples designed for grazing alongside draft manhattans or bargain bordeaux. Classic steak tartare, popping with tangy capers and bright yolk, is just trashy enough when scooped onto house-made waffle chips. Portuguese salt-cod fritters, golden and dipped in lemony harissa mayo, deserve a second order, while a single serving of the foie gras with buttery toast soldiers is so rich that one plate of the stuff is enough for the whole table. The noisy room, decorated on the cheap with drawings of Rose’s nude lady lover and an ersatz Basquiat, evokes a dated brasserie in an unhip Paris arrondissement—in the best possible way.
In 2008, Toronto was clutched by a recession and diners were craving a good hole in the wall. Dundas West was a restaurant-less purgatory between Queen and College, and eating tongue or sweetbreads was semi-scandalous. The Hoof changed all that (except for the recession part). Dining there now, there’s still an illicit thrill in ordering the horse tartare. And you still get meat sided by meat, as in the perfectly cooked lamb saddle with a heavily salted merguez-style sausage, but nowadays it’s the lighter dishes that are most impressive: a dainty bowl of chilled scallops with pickled fennel that’s topped with dill and a mild scallop mousse; or al dente asparagus dotted with gently smoked queso and lemony sumac. The herbaceous Tea and Sympathy cocktail, made with earl grey–infused gin and cream sherry, almost rivals their famous $16 manhattan.
When Daniel Boulud opened an outpost at the new Toronto Four Seasons two years ago, he goofed by adapting his formula to trendy Canadiana, of which the city already had its fill. So last summer he bumped the chef de cuisine in favour of a Boulud-trained pro named Sylvain Assié, replaced the tacky, Dallas-esque decor with walnut panelling, a marble bar and modish leather banquettes, and reverted to what he does best: rustic yet meticulously executed bistro standards. There are a couple of pit stops in Southeast Asia to keep your tastebuds alert, like a hot pepper and kaffir lime sauce on airy calamari beignets, or a gingery pho-like beef broth with glass noodles. But otherwise the menu is resolutely Lyonnais—caramelized apple and onions with truffled boudin blanc, for instance, or crispy- skinned duck confit, for which the precise, attentive servers will happily replace sautéed potatoes with a copper bowl of thyme-flecked frites that are among the tastiest around. As part of the overhaul, they’ve installed a rotisserie on which Assié prepares whole poultry and fish as well as the pineapple that appears on the dessert list.
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There’s much toasting and petits bisous under the crystal chandeliers at Chabrol, Doug Penfold’s tiny new Yorkville bistro. It’s accessed via an alley and barely visible from the street: even an innocent lunch date acquires a whiff of discreet rendezvous. Penfold works at a couple of burners behind the bar, thriving under the constraints. He composes note-perfect pork liver mousse; chestnut soup fragrant with sorrel; a ballotine of chicken wrapped around roasted apples, with a jolt of herbaceousness from a watercress purée; and steaming side plates of celeriac and escarole gratin. He saves the best for last: made-to-order apple tart, with warm calvados sabayon slowly poured overtop.
This Thompson Hotel restaurant is ultra-polished, styled after an airy Riviera brasserie. It’s run by the Chase Hospitality Group and radiates—for better or worse, depending on your dining tastes—a corporate vibe. Chef Jennifer Dewasha’s food is expensive (inflated hotel prices are in full effect), conservative and mostly good. Duck magret is cooked to lush red in the centre and is served with vinegary rhubarb compote and a brown-buttery jerusalem artichoke purée—three different elements that burst with umami when forked together.
The pressed tin ceiling, cabaret posters and vintage Parisian photos demonstrate Coquine’s ardent commitment to Gallic tradition, and the Davisville dining set keeps the checkered floor well trafficked. The menu also sticks to the familiar. Escargots are sautéed in Pernod-splashed garlic butter and capped with a thick layer of bubbling gruyère. Cassoulet—braised white beans stewed with soft pork belly, spicy sausage and rich duck confit—reveals a kitchen in command of its ingredients. The warm maple-apple cake topped with vanilla gelato is just as comforting and sweet as it sounds.
Ratatouille from @gretasolomons. Zucchini, tomato, peppers, eggplant, olive tapenade, topped with a gooey poached egg #gretasolomons #leslieville #leslievillerestaurants #wherejessate_toronto #Torontofood #TOfood #TOfoodies #foodstagram #foodlove #instafood #instafoodie #queeneast #queenstreet #foodphotography #foodpics #foodblogger #TOfoodblogger #ratatouille #vegetarian #vegetariandish
Owner Darlene Mitchell hails from Newfoundland—home of cod tongues and flipper pie—but the food she and chef James Vigil (Pangaea) serve in this tiny Leslieville room is unmistakably French. A pan-seared sea scallop, sourced from neighbouring Hooked, is flanked by crispy bits of oxtail, radish slices, plump raisins, turnip purée and pickled cauliflower, and piping-hot swiss chard gratin with bacon is sauced with creamy mornay and topped with gruyère. Ontario beef tenderloin is served on fingerling confit potatoes, and spectacular morels—done up in duck fat and demi-glace—are dressed to impress in chive-studded béarnaise. The wine list is long and thoughtful for such a diminutive spot, and the desserts—like a deconstructed fruit tart wrapped in a shortbread collar with elderflower chantilly—equally so.
Duck Leg Confit – with sweet corn succotash, smashed fingerling potato and tomato gastrique. I wanted to like this, I really did. It was pretty and I tend to enjoy duck. This however, was fried in a way that made me think I was eating KFC. Yes, it was not dry which I did appreciate…but I just wasn't impressed. ~~ This restaurant seemed like it would be promising, but I also want to point out that I did not receive the best service. Our server asked us how things were but he just seemed disingenuous. When you go to a restaurant like this, you would expect better service (and my expectations are already considered low!). Overall…this is not somewhere I would try again. . . . . . #latergram #foodpics #foodstagram #foodie #tofoodie #datenight #date #love #happy #smiles #feedfeed #food #foodblogger #foodreview #instalike #instafood #instagood #instamood #igerstoronto #eeeeeats #whatiate #lovetoeat #fooddiary #picoftheday #torontofood #nomnom #yum #instadaily #instafoodie #frenchfood
Owner Otta Zapotocky managed some of Toronto’s most beloved restaurants (Nota Bene, Malena and L’Unità) before opening his affable Leaside restaurant. He recruited chef Jeremy Dyer to execute his textbook menu, and the results are mostly impressive. In his French onion soup, a caramelized raft of Gruyère- and Emmenthal-coated toast covers a soft onion-studded broth so rich and dense it could almost pass as gravy. A cumbersome Dubonnet sauce—so over-reduced it’s heavy—weighs down a phenomenally tender braised lamb shank, but no such density hampers the feather-light spaetzle with intensely fresh carrot pistou. The sweets, like the supple poached pear gently flavoured with vanilla, change with the seasons. The cordial, knowledgeable staff are well versed in all aspects of the compelling, French-leaning wine list.
This grand room is elegant and polished, with pressed tin ceiling tiles and a long zinc bar. On occasion, the cooking is sublime—smoked whitefish terrine is airy, cool and expertly seasoned. For the most part, though, the kitchen turns out comforting classics, like bright, acidic sauerkraut laden with fatty pork hock, belly and sausage. It needs just a dollop of the accompanying mustard to hit all the right notes. Bouillabaisse, deconstructed with a bland bisque poured overtop, is the only dish that fails to charm. The magnificent wine list reads like a scholarly treatise, and by-the-glass options are excellent. Chocolate mousse and lemon tart leave nothing to be desired.
Open since 2009, chef Teo Paul’s superb Ossington bistro maintains a base of loyal patrons who keep it buzzing but not overwhelmingly busy. The kitchen is committed to sourcing locally grown produce and ethically raised meat, which comes from nearby Côte de Boeuf, also owned by Paul. The menu skews French with some strong Canadian influences (like the exceptional elk sliders), and the portions are hearty. The sublime steak tartare, paired with a spicy habanero paste, grainy dijon mustard and bread-and-butter pickles, is a meal on its own. Desserts, like the maple bread pudding, are excellent, but a night here is best finished with an expertly made cocktail at the marble-topped bar.