Bac­cha­nal Swank bistro from ex-Cam­pag­nolo chef is all about ac­ces­si­ble lux­ury

Cam­pag­nolo and Alo alumni do af­ford­able lux­ury — think steak frites, ab­sinthe and clas­sic hors d’oeu­vres — at new Queen West bistro

NOW Magazine - - CONTENTS - food@now­ | @na­tal­ia­man­zocco Story & Photos by NATALIA MANZOCCO

Bac­cha­nal (60 Sud­bury, at Dover­court, 416-586-1188, bac­cha­ 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.

“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.

“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 (outof-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.”

“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.”



“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.”

2 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. 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.


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.


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.” 5 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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