Bacchanal – The neo-French bistro that Toronto will fall in love with
|Location||60 Sudbury Street|
|Dinner for two with drinks||$180|
A French girl can never say “non” to an occasion that involves the finest in cuisine française. Owners Luke Donato (Campagnolo) and Lachlan Dennis (Le Sélect Bistro) have come together to create Bacchanal, Toronto’s new wave French bistro in the West Queen West neighbourhood.
After a long week, I was ready to unwind and enjoy a night out. Honestly, I was little irked walking into Bacchanal because the hostess left not one, but two voicemails to confirm my booking. This is one of my biggest restaurant pet peeves. If I need to make changes to my reservation, I’ll let you know. If you don’t hear from me, assume this b*tch will be there. End rant.
We arrived at a beautiful space that was once home to short-lived Recess Diner. From an initial glance, it was like no French bistro I’d seen. The large, high-ceilinged space was surprisingly even more inviting than quaint La Banane. True to its name, Bacchanal’s ambiance evokes revelry and sex (complete with hedonistic wallpaper in the bathrooms designed by Elyse Saunders). The dining room’s décor was a unique mélange of copper, sapphire and gold. Velvety textures and leather banquettes made the space feel a little more sensual, too. We were led to our quiet table with a view of the bar and pastry counter where pastry chef Cori Murphy (Alo) was working her magic.
A lovely server named Kiri greeted us and explained the drinks menu. The creative concoctions piqued my curiosity more than any cocktail list in recent memory. I was particularly drawn to the Green Fairy, an absinthe-based drink that arrived with an absolutely perfect ribbon of lemon rind was affixed with a miniature clothespin. Très mignon! Apparently there’s a secret absinthe menu too, which I’ll try la prochaine fois.
When it came to the food, co-owner and executive chef Luke Donato and sous chef Damon Clements curated a mouth-watering selection of French bistro classics and new dishes. While the one-page menu was easy to navigate, it was impossible to choose our dishes because everything sounded delectable. There was a raw seafood bar as well as a “carte blanche” option, leaving your choices to the chef for $150 per head.
While sipping our cocktails, our server delivered a homemade baguette with churned butter that we polished off before placing our order. From the hors d’oeuvres—a section of small cold plates—we chose the leeks vinaigrette ($7). The custardy sabayon coated all the braised leeks’ surfaces and had the perfect sheen, much like a hollandaise. I was expecting a sweeter sabayon and was pleasantly surprised by the dish’s acid notes.
No French cuisine would be complete without classic dishes such as oeufs en meurette ($15), poached to perfection in Marchand de Vin and just begging to be punctured. The deep orange yolk oozed into the shallow bowl, covering the fatty bacon, earthy mushrooms and sweet pearl onions. The brioche at the bottom was helped to sop up all its goodness. Some may call this a breakfast dish, but it’s one worth having at any time of the day.
Greens hardly take precedence in a French menu. The salade verte ($13), a combination of curly-leafed Lollo Rosso and a Parmesan-like French cheese, mimolette, was perfectly dressed in a champagne vinaigrette. The delicate leaves were so fresh they looked as if they had been picked seconds before they were plated. La salade était tellement fraîche.
Then it was time for the universally appealing steak frites ($24). When the eight-ounce flatiron arrived with a side of amber-gold frites, it was proof that the old classic didn’t need to be reinvented. Besides, when does a good steak ever need an update? The frites had been double fried, evidenced by the crisp exterior and meltingly soft interior. As for l’entrecôte, the flavour was robust. I suspected that it wasn’t given enough time to rest, preventing the juices from redistributing and yielding a lukewarm interior. The accompanying café de Paris sauce, on the other hand, was proof that the saucier was technically adept.
Sole meunière ($43) was another French-to-the-core dish that I had my heart set on ordering. But when our server informed us that it was skate wing meunière, we were even more excited. The generous portion of perfectly cooked bone-on skate wing arrived piping hot. Its mild, sweet flesh was elevated with lemon juice, capers and cauliflower. While the beurre noisette’s flavor was highly addictive, the fish was practically drowning in a sea of butter.
We also shared the artistically plated ratatouille ($8)—a medley of colourful nightshades that were fanned out in a shallow ramekin and cooked perfectly in a light tomato sauce. This dish was like a bad blind date…beautiful to look at, but lacking substance. The kitchen failed to salt it properly, leaving much flavour to be desired.
French bistros aren’t known for their desserts, but the chocolate délice changed my outlook. It was impossible to take just one forkful of the smooth, dark and decadent slice. Subtle notes of coffee and cacao kept me coming back until there was no more. I would have added some tart cherries to the plate for a textural component and a pop of colour, mais c’est tout.
From the ambiance to the near-perfect food and Michelin-star quality service, Bacchanal is the best dining experience I’ve had in recent memory. Bacchannal is the updated version of the French bistro that Torontonians dream of finding in their own city. And they’ll most certainly be back for more.
Mme M. xoxo
Le rubrique de Madame Marie
1 étoile – Run. Before you get the runs.
2 étoiles – Mediocre, but nothing you couldn’t make at home.
3 étoiles – C’est bon, with some standout qualities.
4 étoiles – Many memorable qualities and excellent execution. Compliments to the chef.
5 étoiles – Formidable! Michelin Star quality. Book a reservation immediately.