Restaurant review: Laissez Faire

Michelin-trained chef Zachary Barnes is bringing upscale dining in a laid-back setting at King West's new French-inspired restaurant.

What's the vibe:

This King West spot has laid dormant for just a few months, but it's already hard to remember the dive bar (Home of the Brave) that formerly occupied this space on the second floor.

Laissez Faire, the sophisticated older sister of Locals Only which it sits above, has been transformed into a French-inspired restaurant that feels like you wandered into the living room of the world's coolest grandma. With floral wallpaper and antique mirrors dotted around a little nook near the entrance, you'll half expect to find a family album tucked under the seat.

The beautifully tiled bar gives off chic apothecary vibes with its brass pipe shelves lined with booze and foliage. Grab a stool and order a cocktail underneath romantic candelabra-like fixtures. With a narrow space to work with, the goal at Laissez Faire was to draw the bar back all the way to the kitchen. Seating for two lines the wall adjacent to the bar, offering guests more chances to snag a table.

Another way they're drawing people towards the back of the restaurant is with a chef's table in front of the pass – a rotating, seasonal tasting menu ($80) with drink pairings that will give Michelin-trained chef Zachary Barnes a chance to flex his fine dining muscles.

What to drink:

Laissez Faire's bar programme includes a roster of cocktails, including four house options. The watermelon picanté is a baby pink creation that blends its namesake fruit juice with tequila, lime and a jalapeño kicker, served like all of their libations in a beautiful antique glass. All juices are made in house – something that'll be very apparent if you order their beetroot mule, a stunning raspberry coloured concoction made from vodka, beet juice and fresh ginger.

If classic cocktails are more your scene, there's a healthy selection on the menu – and sipping a Negroni, paper plane or French 75 certainly befits the rustic, exposed-brick vibes here. Take your pick from local and international beers and wine by the glass or bottle, plus buck-an-ounce prosecco is available between 5 and 8 pm every day.

What to eat:

As the name might suggest, Laissez Faire serves French food in a laid-back atmosphere. Though chef Barnes has worked in some of the world's best kitchens (Alo, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, and DANIEL in NYC), creating upscale food in an unstuffy environment might be his biggest challenge to date. Classic dishes have been given the benefit of Barnes' formal training and experience – but his twists on the traditional have resulted in healthy portions of colourful sharing plates packed full of flavour.

Arancini has been given the all-star treatment with the addition of porcini mushroom, truffle and a deliciously sweet tomato sauce. The squid ink tagliatelle, with clams, mussels and shrimp, is perfectly balanced with some sourdough crumb for a little extra texture, while the pork belly transcends the ordinary with a caramelized sherry sauce and pomegranate dressing.

While meat and fish is most definitely on the table at Laissez Faire (duck confit, wagyu beef and a sesame-crusted albacore tuna to name but a few), there are plenty of plant-based options. The tartare Toronto-staple has been reimagined as a beetroot tower with horseradish creme fraiche and pickled fennel accompaniments, while their cauliflower steak, doused in romanesco and pine nuts is dripping with flavour all the way through to the centre.

Dinner and drinks for two; around $100

589 King St W., 647-508-5088;