David Lee and Yannick Bigourdin, co-owners of Splendido, have thought of a way to keep themselves occupied this summer by colonizing the entertainment district. They’re taking over the vast, three-storey space of The Original Motorcycle Café on King Street West when it closes on May 31, sprucing up the interior and reopening a month later as King West. The idea was first suggested to them a year ago by someone who happens to be a silent partner at Splendido and TOMC, but neither Lee nor Bigourdin were prepared to let their attention waver from Splendido until now. “And of course that will always be our main priority,” says Bigourdin. “David will continue to cook at Splendido nearly every evening. But we will oversee King West. It’s exciting and scary at the same time.”
David Lee is already planning King West’s menu—which will be “approachable and inexpensive, but definitely NOT bistro and definitely NOT tapas,” continues Bigourdin. “Just simple and a bit French.” The main floor will be the restaurant, the 7,000 square foot upstairs storey will be a piano lounge and the top floor will be reserved for special events.
The lounge-club-restaurant hybrid is certainly in vogue these days, the notion creeping like mist through the downtown Toronto industry. People who prefer to see the world in black and white deplore such blurring of contrast but I’ve had some good times recently in the twilight realm. The idea of enhancing a serious restaurant experience with the best elements of clubland—good music, comfortable sofas, interesting drinks, wry or fantastical décor—has plenty to recommend it. The trick, of course, is to figure out how to please both the club and the restaurant clienteles—distinct crowds with very different agendas. Do you keep them apart, letting restaurant-goers dine in peace and then encouraging them to move to the lounge area? Or do you set tables in the bar and hope servers can push the throng with loaded plates in their hands? Do you emphasize dining early in the evening and then segue into a lounge scene, subtly cranking up the music, maybe even getting rid of tables to give more room to the drinkers?
Too many places end up satisfying nobody but some spots have figured it out—Ultra is currently firing on all cylinders, and I enjoyed the vibe at Doku 15, the hip little bar and restaurant in the Cosmopolitan hotel, put together by Zark Fatah, chef GQ Pan and the team from Blowfish. (Odd to call a restaurant Doku—the Japanese word for “poison”—but I guess it extends Blowfish’s deadly-fugu joke.)
Other restaurant pros are also wandering into the lounge area. Massimo Capra and Paolo Paolini of Mistura have been talking about doing a sophisticated piano lounge for the last five years. They hope, finally, to open Sopra in June, up above Mistura but quite separate from the restaurant. Munge//leung are designing the room with a fireplace, bar and deeply comfortable places to sit and Massimo is giving the place its own menu of suave little tapas and finger-foods. It’s always a pleasure to listen to him talk about food—he gets so passionate his voice drops another octave as he murmurs about kobe beef balls filled with foie gras or little empanadas of duck confit and french cheese.
Talking of finding the balance between lounge and restaurant, I was dismayed to hear that John Gay left Lobby a couple of weeks ago—something about not seeing eye-to-eye with the owners. Chef Robert Bragagnolo nipped back to Spain to see his family but promises to return to Lobby before the end of April. Having made much of the place in an earlier post, I hope he does. I’m interested to see how Toronto reacts to his molecular menu.