Owners Lachlan Dennis and chef Luke Donato are embracing their favourite elements of dining and injecting them into their Sudbury Street restaurant, Bacchanal.
Defining the culinary and cultural elements of the 106-seat space as “neo bistro”, it’s an ode to French technique of the past, modern cooking rooted in the present and culinary gratification that propels themselves, and hopefully their diners, into the future.
A contemporary aesthetic is evident immediately in the pastel blue bar and teal velvet upholstered chairs meet your eye upon entry. Kayla Pongrac of Iron △ Ivory Design incorporates lashes of brass in light fixtures, table edges, chair legs and cutlery. Amber leather banquettes and light Nordic wood finishes contrast the unfinished concrete pillars. And a toile of famous Toronto landmarks, illustrated by Donato’s friend Raymond Xu who animated for DreamWorks and now Sony Pictures, create a back wall to behold.
Class and edge combine at first on the floor of the restaurant and mirror the way in which the menu is designed as well. But at Bacchanal, there’s still space for a bit of the outré.
Step towards the rose-hued washrooms with floor to ceiling wallpaper imagined by local textile designer Elyse Saunders and you’ll understand that a bit of eccentricity does have its place.
“The Christian thought of what bacchanal is, is the orgy, debauchery, we try and skirt away from that idea, at least in the dining room,” Dennis explains.“ Bacchanal [the restaurant] is more revelry and wine and good times with your friends. And the washrooms are the other version – give them what they think it is.”
Though chef Donato spent the past couple years as sous-chef at Campagnolo, he trained at the French Culinary Institute in New York City and “really figured out [his] style” at the sadly befallen Ortolan. Dennis is a 12-year veteran of Le Sélect Bistro and their former wine director. French cuisine is where they find comfort and commonality.
“Luke’s vision for the menu and concept was really established,” says Dennis. “I love the fact that he’s gone for a more modern adaptation of traditional concepts.”
Dennis’ wine list will remain rotational, “steering away from obvious choices in every circumstance,” with many available by the glass. Dennis knows he’s some ways away from his million-dollar dream cellar, but his decades in wine sales and distribution (Small Winemakers) gives him the knowledge base and access to source some supreme old and new world vintages, and he’s more than happy to provide a test pour.
Bar manager Jason Griffin (Montreal’s Hotel William Gray, Maison Boulud) incorporates French spirits like Armagnac, absinthe, calvados and Dubonet into his cocktails, as well as playful themes. The Dali ($13) combines London Dry Gin with Crème de Violet, Herbes de Provence, lemon and butterfly pea flower for a bright purple hue.
The menu is also structured in a typical French style –hors d’oeuvres, starters, mains, sides and desserts, with a seafood-focused raw bar, and a carte blanche option for $150.
Hors d’oeuvres feature rich nods to les vedettes like Oueufs Pépin ($7), hard boiled eggs bathed in sauce marie-rose of blended tomatoes, mayo, Worcestershire, lemon and pepper and topped with briny anchovies, and Leeks Vinaigrette ($7). Rustic pork and duck liver pâté de grand-mère is served with gherkins, celeriac slaw and grainy mustard.
Stuffed agnolotti ($16) rest in a pool of vibrant green sauce iodine with snails and hen of the woods mushrooms.
Moscovy duck breast ($31) has sweet plums, parsnip and plump foie gras. And the opulence abounds in the blanquette de veau ($39) with sweetbreads and chanterelles.
Desserts are executed by pastry chef Cori Murphy (Alo), with chic dishes like baba au rum ($15) with pineapple, allspice and white chocolate mousse and airy Paris – Brest ($15), a choux pastry piped with hazelnut and praline cream.
“I think if you do anything too literal, you can lose the mark,” says chef Donato. “The idea is not to create a bistro that is like everybody else. I think the bistro can evolve. And the dining scene in Toronto has evolved quite a bit in the past few years. How do you give the people that love bistro the bistro and how do you give the people that don’t love bistro the bistro?”