Inside Bacchanal, a swanky modern bistro off Queen West

Campagnolo and Alo alumni take over the former home of Recess


Bacchanal (60 Sudbury, at Dovercourt, 416-586-1188, bacchanal.ca) is a modern bistro from Luke Donato, formerly of Campagnolo, and Lachlan Dennis, previously the director of wine at Le Select.

That’s a heck of a pedigree — one boosted further by the rest of the core staff, which come from spots like Alo, Ortolan, and Montreal’s Maison Boulud.

Between those names and the presence of French anything, you may expect white-napkin, ivory-tower fine dining, but the spot – located in the the former home of the epically short-lived Recess – is more geared toward the middle ground between refinement and approachability.

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Natalia Manzocco

“We’re not trying to be aloof. That’s what appeals to us about a bistro. We want everyone to feel welcome,” Dennis explains. “We wanted people to feel like they could come in from upstairs, from the condos or nearby and just pull up for a steak frites or a couple of hors d’oeuvres, couple glasses of wine, and have a very simple and frequent interaction with the restaurant.”

Inside a striking 100-seat interior done up with touches of velvet, marble, tweed and brass, Bacchanal offers a broad menu that spans from under-$10 starters to a $150 carte blanche chef’s table option complete with wine pairings.

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“It’s a bistro for everybody, regardless of price,” Donato says, adding he was inspired by hotel menus from the last century, an era when hotel restaurants were hot spots for both regular folks and the rich and powerful.

“There’s nothing that says those (out-of-fashion) dishes aren’t good food, right? But it was just a style of eating that I think was lost. They were very popular in the rise of the middle class, and as we got more into the era of Michelin, (trendy) food became more unapproachable. I wanted to build exactly that environment.”

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“That’s the best part of a bistro – it’s tight, it’s boisterous. You could be bumping elbows with the who’s who of Toronto, or not – but regardless, you’re all eating the same food.”

Here’s a closer look at the menu and drinks.

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“One of the things Luke is passionate about is the idea of hors d’oeuvres and its place within a French meal. People have sort of forgotten that some of the original small plates are French food,” Dennis says. “They make more sense when you order several. So in a sense, you might be composing your hors d’oeuvre platter to start the meal.” 

A few choice picks include leeks vinaigrette, galantine and oeufs Pépin. “Jacques Pépin is a big deal for me – I managed to attend his school,” Donato says. The dish involves hard-boiled egg topped with sauce Marie Rose, “which between you and me, is essentially mayonnaise and ketchup – but a little upscale trash is good every once in a while.”

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Natalia Manzocco

Agnolotti are a nod to Donato’s time at Campagnolo, but with a French twist: The cocoa-tinged mushroom agnolotti (“not to taste like chocolate, just to push earthy flavors”) come flanked with escargots, as well as hen-of-the-woods mushrooms. “This is us doing a snail dish without buying the funny little plates,” Donato says.

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Ocean trout comes flanked with sorrel sauce and steamed cucumber. “It’s essentially the pig of the sea – it’s super fatty with these tiny little fins and just floats around eating krill and shrimp,” Donato says. “Jealous, really.” The fish gets a long, slow rendering on the plancha that crisps the skin but leaves the inside rare.

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Steak frites offers an eight-ounce flatiron steak topped with a disc of Café de Paris butter, plus a pile of frites, for $24. “We’re still a bistro,” Donato says. “You’re new to the city, and you just need that spot at the bar to feel welcome, and you get a steak frites, a glass of wine, and you’re out of here for $35 – there’s not much more I can offer after that.”

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Magret de canard showcases three ingredients: seared duck, seared and puréed parsnip and sous vide plums.

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Desserts from pastry chef and Alo alum Cori Murphy change frequently. One recent option: a white wine custard with roasted, frozen and fresh grapes, brandy, raisins, financiers and walnuts.

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Wines by the glass are a big focus here, with an impressive 25-plus selection, and an absinthe program is also in the works. On the cocktail side, bar manager Jason Griffin has created a series of classic cocktails, splashed up with French liqueurs, that are fanciful without being too fussy.

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The Dali, which Griffin describes as “definitely our most whimsical cocktail,” includes London Dry gin, crème de violette, homemade herbes de Provence syrup, lemon juice and aquafaba (a vegan substitute for egg whites). Butterfly pea tincture and herb oil add colour.

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Natalia Manzocco

Bacchanal’s version of a tiki cocktail – Le Landemer, which takes its name from a beachside hotel in Normandy – includes Calvados, Agricol rum, pineapple juice, homemade orgeat, bitters, lime and star anise-infused Lillet.

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Natalia Manzocco

Be sure to check out the custom toile wallpaper featuring Toronto scenes.

food@nowtoronto.com | @nataliamanzocco

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