What’s the vibe
With lush velvet banquettes, low lighting and an abundance of exposed brick walls, you’ll feel Lapinou’s cozy, refined ambiance the moment you step in. Modern francophone music plays through the speakers as wine glasses clink around the central oval bar.
Located at King West and Bathurst, Lapinou bills itself as a “neo-bistro” serving updated French recipes inspired by Ontario’s best ingredients. The head chef here is Jamie Ullrich (Nota Bene, Estia, Byblos North) and he goes to lengths to source unusual ingredients – Canadian fife wheat for Lapinou's sourdough, Canadian canola oil for dipping and Jersey cow cream for the house-churned butter, for example.
The menu is printed on a single slip of paper but you might need a bit of help interpreting each item. Beef tenderloin was simply listed as “beef” with its accompaniments, but wait staff are happy to help explain each dish in greater detail. If you’re in the mood for sharing, head to the bottom of the menu for items like whole chicken, trout and côte de bœuf. Lapinou also serves a weekend brunch with a set menu and we’re looking forward to hopping back here to try it out.
What to drink
We’re told the wine list at Lapinou changes frequently as Lapinou’s general manager Lauren Hall, who also works as the restaurant’s sommelier, might purchase just a case of 12 bottles. On the day we visit, the wine list happens to be exclusively French, including a drinkable cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend and a flavourful chardonnay with a subtle oakiness.
The cocktail list here offers both boozy sippers and lower-ABV options but we went for the former. The Avignon was a flavourful take on a martini with a touch of salinity thanks to the addition of fino sherry. Take our word for it and sip this one slowly – it’s a cocktail that packs an alcoholic punch. A small selection of local beers and ciders, with a few French ales and sidres, rounds out the beverage offerings here.
What to eat
It may seem like a waste of stomach volume to order bread as an appetizer but you’d be remiss not to include this item as part of your meal at Lapinou. The sourdough, made in-house, comes from a starter that has apparently been generating delicious loaves for over four years. It’s a moist and luxurious loaf made all the better by its accompaniments (the aforementioned Canadian canola oil and house-churned butter from Jersey cow cream). Squash fritters were initially a brunch offering but made it to the dinner service as a demonstration of the menu’s adaptability.
For our first main, we went for the gnocchi parisienne which was a light, fluffy and eggy take on its Italian cousin, pan-fried for a bit of crunch and accompanied with pickled artichokes and carrot for a zingy flavour twist. The duck breast might have been the most typical French item on the menu but sunchoke chips and a sweet, tart sour cherry sauce gave this classic a fresh spin. Fennel fronds garnished our light yet satisfying dessert of panna cotta which sounds, and tastes, like an unusual addition upon first glance (and bite), but we grew to appreciate the depth of flavour it added.
Dinner and drinks for two: around $130
642 King Street W, 416- 479-4414; lapinoubistro.com