French Renaissance: Six of the city's best new bistros and brasseries

French Renaissance

Six of the city’s best new bistros and brasseries

By Jessica Huras| Photography by Daniel Neuhaus
| April 3, 2023

Parquet

1This Harbord Street spot may be the first hospitality venture for lawyers-­slash-restaurateurs Daniel Bernstein and Matt Cohen, but the pair have already mastered the art of vibes. With soft lighting, beautiful wood detailing and handsome brass accents, Parquet feels both elegant and inviting. Street-facing windows enhance the moodily lit marble bar with the sparkle of city lights at night, and carefully placed wall mirrors reflect and magnify the lively atmosphere.

French restaurants Toronto
Left to right: co-owners Cohen and Bernstein, chef Jeremy Dennis, and sommelier-manager Lexi Wolkowski
French restaurants Toronto

The restaurant’s good looks set the tone for the tasty takes on bistro hits that come out of the kitchen, courtesy of former Woodlot and Chantecler chef Jeremy Dennis. The menu showcases familiar favourites, like croquettes and steak frites, but Dennis elevates many of the classic recipes with Asian and Latin infusions. The cassoulet, for example, is made using a Japanese ramen–inspired broth that adds new dimensions of depth and flavour. The scallops, lounging in a punchy tiger milk base, bring a bit of Latin America to the table. This smattering of global influences combined with local ingredients gives the French menu a distinctly Toronto feel.

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto

Sommelier Lexi Wolkowski’s wine list caters to nerds and novices alike with a selection that ranges from old-world standards to adventurous, un­expected offerings like Domaine Mosse Overmars. True to the menu theme, the focus is on French bottles, but local darlings like Pearl Morissette also make appearances, adding a sense of place that ties the whole experience together. 97 Harbord St., 416-922-2345, restaurantparquet.com

Related: Six takes on steak frites you need to eat right now

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto

Maison T Bistro

2Husband-and-wife team Masayuki Tamaru and Carolina Avaria racked up decades of experience in the hospitality industry—Tamaru as a cook working under notable chefs including Jamie Kennedy and Didier Leroy, Avaria as head concierge at swish hotels like the Four Seasons—before opening their first restaurant together.

French restaurants Toronto

Tamaru’s two-part menu is an appealing union of French cooking and Japanese sensibilities, with twists on mainstays, like steak frites served with yuzu mayo, and rotating one-offs, recently seared sweetbreads in a brown butter sauce. Japan also makes an appearance on the wine list, which includes a handful of sakes alongside new- and old-world bottles—and Avaria adds a hint of her own heritage to the cocktail menu with a lip-­puckering Chilean-­style pisco sour made with ginger. 1071 Shaw St., 289-724-5817, maisontbistro.com

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto

Bouffe by Adjey

3After more than 30 years spent cooking and consulting in the city’s kitchens, appearing on shows like Restaurant Makeover, and founding erstwhile chain The Chickery, David Adjey took some time off from Toronto and spent a stint cooking in Bali for—get this—a member of the Saudi royal family. At this Trinity Bellwoods bistro, which he opened last May, he returns to his roots: back home, back behind the pass and back to basics, cooking the pillars of French cuisine.

French restaurants Toronto

In the restaurant’s petite kitchen, Adjey and his team prepare lobster bisque and bouillabaisse Marseillaise in a style that’s both exacting and earnest. Adjey’s offbeat plating—the charcuterie board is part balancing act—adds a touch of playfulness to every dish. And champagne-based cocktails, like a French 75 spiked with lavender syrup, bring an extra soupçon of French flair.

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto

Bouffe eschews the classic bistro aesthetic for a painted black ceiling and colourful abstract art, giving the room a grittiness that hints at its previous life as a dive bar. It’s a fitting home for the simultaneously intimate and boisterous vibe. 1173 Dundas St. W., 416-530-2522, bouffebyadjey.com

French restaurants Toronto
Adjey, centre, with his staff

J’s Steak Frites

4While many of Toronto’s French newcomers promise splurge-worthy food and wine, J’s approaches French fare through the lens of good value—which, especially in the current economy, is both endearing and appreciated. The un­pretentious Queen West kitchen is modelled after the entrecôte steakhouses of Paris, which serve a single main: steak frites.

French restaurants Toronto

The no-fuss strategy also allows Jad Sfeir and Tara Tang—partners in business and life—to channel their efforts into perfecting the restaurant’s signature dish. Their certified Angus beef New York striploin, sourced from a Guelph-area farm, is aged for 28 days and seasoned simply with salt and pepper. The $49 prix fixe menu also includes house-made bread and butter, a candied walnut salad, unlimited skinny frites cooked in beef fat and replenished regularly by servers, and a Béarnaise-­style sauce on the side.

French restaurants Toronto

The wine list emphasizes French reds that go well with steak, and cocktails include classics alongside a handful of signature concoctions. Ordering dessert is de rigueur at J’s, with Tang—a Le Cordon Bleu–trained pastry chef who previously ran an Ottawa-based bakery—presenting an ever-changing line-up of sweet treats, like pavlova topped with fresh cream or a slice of five-layer chocolate cake. 1198 Queen St. W., 437-995-9999, jssteakfrites.ca

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto
Business and life partners Jad Sfeir and Tara Tang

Taverne Tamblyn

5This new French bistro in the Danforth is a charmer. Details like the textured copper bar, deep-green wainscoting and pressed tin ceilings give the restaurant a timeless warmth that’s an easy match for the menu of deceptively simple dishes. After spending a dozen years running Olliffe Butcher Shop alongside his brother, owner Ben Gundy has returned to the kitchen to share his thoughtful but relaxed style of cooking.

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto
Photo by Daniel Neuhaus

Sparkling Crémant and funky traditional cider from Brittany accompany a tight food menu, an entire section of which is dedicated to PEI mussels. The creamy potted salmon and punchy steak tartare with salted egg yolk beg for extra wedges of toasted house-made bread to sop up every last bite. And the humble steak haché, a standout among the hot dishes, features an intensely flavourful beef patty stuffed with porcini mushrooms and served on challah (don’t skip the option to add raclette). 1426 Danforth Ave., 416-406-3121, tavernetamblyn.com

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto

Le Sélect Bistro

6Over its 40-plus-year run, Le Sélect garnered a faithful following for its classically French menu and dreamy dining room, which evoked the romance of old-world Europe in both service and style. After a brush with permanent closure during the pandemic, it was revived by former Keg CEO David Aisenstat, in partnership with Allied Properties and Scale Hospitality, who wisely recognized that it would be a faux pas to alter the restaurant’s tried-and-true formula.

French restaurants Toronto

It will therefore feel immediately familiar to anyone who commemorated an occasion at the original. With its zinc bar, burgundy banquettes and art deco accents, the restaurant’s decor has hardly been touched by the new owners. Chef Ted Corrado prepares French cuisine with a healthy respect for tradition, proving that time-honoured dishes like moules frites, duck confit and coq au vin don’t need to be redefined.

French restaurants Toronto
French restaurants Toronto

Unchanged as well is Le Sélect’s outstanding wine program, which features north of a thousand labels housed in one of Canada’s largest wine cellars. The primarily French collection includes something for oenophiles of all stripes, from those looking to splash out on a spendy bottle to those seeking a seamless by-the-glass pairing for their steak au poivre. 432 Wellington St. W., 416-626-6262, leselectbistro.com

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