Lapinou – A fresh face in French cuisine
|Location||642 King Street West|
|Dinner for two with a bottle of wine||$200|
When my go-to French neo-bistro suddenly shut down earlier this year, I may have shed a tear — Bacchanal was truly a gem. So, when I heard about the opening of Lapinou, a contemporary French bistro by Scale Hospitality on bustling King West, I was curious to see if would meet my high standards — and perhaps top ma liste for French fare.
A stone’s throw from the intersection of King Street and Bathurst Street, Lapinou is in the heart of the Entertainment District. Oftentimes, I’m wary of dining at establishments along the King West strip. Pourquoi? Being une destination populaire for a great night out, there’s never a shortage of people and so, complacency can eventually set in.
I had dinner reservation one Saturday evening with une amie, just four weeks after its opening. A genuine greeting from the hostess and a cozy colour palette welcomed us as we entered. Our derrières were soon hugged by custom green velvet sofas, and dim lighting from vintage oil lamps and chandeliers cast a heavenly glow on my gorgeous date. Lapinou evoked a classic bistro feel but also had punches of contemporary accents, such as a stunning marble bar, placed at the centre of the 80-seat dining room.
Chef Jamie Ullrich (Nota Bene, Estia, Byblos North) is a household name when it comes to the Toronto dining scene. He’s worked at some of the city’s finest establishments, and at Lapinou he has resurrected elements from classic French bistro cuisine while injecting a kick of Canuck.
Like many restaurants aujourd’hui, Lapinou’s ethos is rooted in the locavore movement and Ullrich sources many of his ingredients from local artisans and farms — from the flour used in the sourdough to the trout from Kolapore Springs near Collingwood. On the menu, there wasn’t one dish that didn’t entice our taste buds. The foie gras parfait ($18) with preserved local strawberries, and the 24oz dry-aged côte de bœuf ($125) paid homage to classic French fare, while the crab from Fogo Island ($18) added une touche de Canadiana. After selecting some plats pour partager, we ordered a bottle of wine from the eclectic and French-forward list. The Cabernet Franc from Le Manoir de la Tête Rouge was quirky, uncomplicated and paired well with our selections. I was impressed with our server’s sommelier-level knowledge of not only the wine list, but the menu items, aussi. He was an absolute pleasure to chat with.
For starters, the house ham ($16) came highly recommended and we didn’t regret this indulgent dish one bit. Dusted with Comté cheese from Québec, generous black truffle shavings and celery remoulade, it was delightful solo or paired with the house-made sourdough bread ($6). Ullrich put his own stamp on this dish by using coppa, a cut of fatty neck muscle, instead of a pork leg, and then curing and brining it for four days before smoking it. If you’re not fond of ham, this dish will definitely change your mind.
C’était la même chose with the beets ($16), which highlighted simplicity instead of complexity. Roasted, ruby-red slices shone on a backdrop of thick, fresh cheese. If that wasn’t enough, blueberries and sunflower seeds provided some sweetness and texture to help balance the plate’s earthiness.
For our main course we both chose a fish entrée, which was making its menu debut that evening. Honnêtement, there’s never a been a preparation of salmon that’s “wowed” me. After all, it’s a dull fish that’s often presented in mediocre ways. The King Salmon ($30), however, made me rethink this notion. Its sweet, buttery texture paired well with wilted dinosaur kale, puffed rice and a creamy sauce with hints of mustard. What beautifully structured textures and flavours — magnifique!
Our final treat for the day was the dark chocolate tart, which featured a rich ganache made using 70 per cent dark chocolate. While indulgent, the slice was proportionally-perfect and not too sweet. Every so often, a flake of Maldon salt balanced the sweetness. An airy dollop of whipped cream infused with sesame juxtaposed the dense and rich texture of the ganache.
There are a few tried and true French restaurants in Toronto, and, after dining at Lapinou, I can confidently add it to my list. From the spectacular hospitality to the comforting atmosphère and the stellar fare — I loved it all. Lapinou is a place where you’ll want to become a regular.
Mme M. xoxo
La 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.