My thoughts on Colborne Lane
Well, I'll have to sadly say that my thoughts about Colborne Lane are not as great as some of the previous posts on chowhound about the restaurant.
By no means a thorough review of it, just some of my thoughts.
So being from Vancouver, I went on this board and found many great experiences at Colborne Lane with a great price point, so I decided to give it a try. So our party of four arrived about 10 minutes late (Thursday night)...we had a reservation for 7pm. They didn't seem to mind at all and were very welcoming.
We sat down, and two of us ordered some drinks (a coke and some warm water). The drinks took a ridiculous amount of time to come, considering they weren't that busy and they were nothing difficult to prepare. They finally came after 10 minutes or so.
We then ordered our food and at this time we also decided to get a couple of glasses of wine. The service was great, they let us sample the wines, gave some recommendations, etc. before settling on what we wanted. We ordered 12 dishes (3 dishes per person). Throughout the meal, the dishes came every 30 minutes (too long for me - 20 minutes would be ideal). However, we complained about this, and they came much quicker (20 minutes)...shows they are accommodating, which is great. They also checked on us often (but not in an intruding way) and ask us if everything was fine. One complaint though, throughout the whole sitting, they wouldn't refill my water till I asked.
So now comes the food part...I'll give a quick run down of what I sampled. I'm gonna give scores because I don't want to write huge long descriptions about them. Overall, portions were a bit small (you won't be full ordering less than 3 dishes and dessert):
Lobster Seviche: This was good, ample portion. 4/5
Raw Tuna: Quite good, flavors were nice and the tuna was of good quality. 3.5/5
Wokked Fried Squid: This was probably the best and most interesting dish. The mix of ingredients are definitely a bit on the abnormal side, but they mixed very well. It was something that was more surprising compared to the other dishes. 4.5/5
Lobster Bisque: I didn't try this one, but from what I heard, it was quite "normal".
Tea smoked squab: I didn't try the squab, but I did try the foie gras accompanying it, and also the sauces. The chocolate sauce wasnt anything to call home about, but the foie gras was just very good (and I usually dont like them that much). However, the dish was of a very small portion. 3.5/5 from what I tasted.
Pork Tenderloin: Not sure why this is so special. The pineapple jelly/black bean sauce just doesn't mix well. The supposedly 36-hour process of cooking the pork gave out nothing special at all. There was nothing in the whole dish that stood out. 2.5/5
Lamb: Didn't try this one, but from what I heard, nothing too much out of the ordinary.
Chocolate Fondue: Ok, nothing to call home about. 3/5
Lemon Tart: This was ok, but again, nothing spectacular. 3.5/5
About the ambience: It was very noisy. I don't mind it that much, but I'd wish it was quieter. However, the restaurant is fairly well designed and is pleasing to eat at. Music was great as well.
So with 12 dishes, 3 desserts, couple glasses of wine, tea, coke, etc, the bill came out to 335 after tax before tips. Not bad, but I could get better food at a similar price point in Vancouver.
Wow, I thought I was alone in feeling that the onslaught of raving reviews about this restaurant on here are a little bit much.
I personally found the ambience cold and the overall volume of the room so noisy that it took away a good portion of the enjoyment of my meal. By the second course I had given up being able to hear what others in my party were saying, or being able to hear the waiter describe the ingredients in the dishes. I just ended up smiling and nodding a lot. As far as I know, my hearing is fine, by the way, and this was a first for me.
We were in a party of five, which I feel was probably a mistake. There seems to be only one table large enough to accommodate us, and it was very, very large. I later read that this table is used as a "communal" table for singles or couples who arrive without reservations.
The seats at this table were placed very far apart and we were very centrally located in the restaurant. We could feel the eyes of those sitting at the bar staring at us throughout the meal, probably willing us to finish so they could have our table. The chairs at that table were different than the others, too -- large and metal, with extremely deep seats. Being fairly short, I felt unable to sit comfortably in the chair and felt like a small child. This all made it difficult to relax.
In terms of food, I thoroughly enjoyed two of my four courses, and felt the other two were only average considering the cost.
I seem to be alone in enjoying the pork tenderloin and squab dishes the most. Perhaps I was just in a mood for some protein that night? I really enjoyed the pork done both ways. Maybe I'm not as jaded as some, but I found the chocolate sauces with the squab to be surprising and different, and I thought it worked well.
The lobster seviche, which everyone else seems to love (including others in my party who ordered it) just didn't do much for me. I'm used to raw fish in sushi form, and I enjoy regular fish seviche, but to me the lobster had no flavour at all. All it had was a chewy texture followed by... nothing. I don't understand the fuss here.
For dessert I had the lemon tart. Again, I found little special about this tart in comparison to others I've had. At first I was happy that it was not very sweet (I'm not a fan of desserts that are too rich) but by the end, the sourness started to become somewhat overwhelming. Strangely the accompanyments to the tart all seemed to also have strong tart citrus flavours, so there was no contrast.
In all, it was an okay experience, and I certainly don't have anything really bad to say about the place. But it didn't live up to the hype. Perhaps my experience would have been better at a smaller more cozier table, like some I saw towards the back, and if I'd worn a hearing aid of some sort.
I went a week ago and would score it almost the same, except maybe a bit lower in the value dept. I found the portions very small (we each ordered 3 dishes), and I am known to have a very small appetite. It is extremely rare that I have room left for dessert when I go out (my loss, I know!), but even after dessert at Colborne, I could have kept going. And that's a sad thing when you are enjoying the food...
The other factor was the service. I arranged for a 6:30 reservation, since my partner was arriving from out of town by bus, and the person on the phone mentioned that there was another seating by 8:00 so we would have to clear out, and I said fine, we could definitely leave by then. Nevertheless, they said, they better write it down on the reservation that I agreed I would leave at 8:00. Ok, whatever, we're signing a legal document here.
Later that evening, I dropped my parter off at the restaurant while I parked, where they proceeded to get a lecture about coming late (it was about 6:35 now), and informed that they would have to leave by 8:00. Ok, we get it already.
While the service during dinner was very attentive, it was a little too attentive, as in rushed, making us spend pretty much the whole dinner worrying about the clock, since we were being watched like hawks. And yes, we were out of there by 8 including dessert, which I didn't plan on having anyway, but since we had the time and I had the appetite...
So, I am not sure how it all adds up. Maybe they are still working on their vibe...it is hard to find the kind of relaxed, competent, professional service that makes the night gel.
Thank you for warning me about this place. Given the cost, it's definitely crossed out of my must-try places. Annoyingly, this has seemed to be the case of most of Toronto's more interesting restaurants, for example, Edward Levesque, Susur, Lee, and JKWB. It seems that the haute-cuisine Toronto locations are all hit and miss, and in my budget, a miss is not something I can risk. Are there any more expensive restaurants in the GTA who consistently offer spectacular, relaxed service and food? There seems to be no consensus, and if I'm shelling out $200+ for a meal, being a hound of lower income as a grad student, I need a guarantee that everything will be virtually flawless if I sally forth. I feel that I'm almost best off just saving my money and taking a trip down to Grand Case in St. Martin where not only can I enjoy spectacular beaches but the food is considerbaly cheaper and undeniably, flawlessly divine every time.
I'm of the opinion that if I eat out, it should be better than my own concoctions. I am a good cook, albeit with no formal training, but I don't think it's incredibly difficult to outdo me for someone who knows their way professionally around a kitchen. Sure, foie gras is delightful, but if you don't know how to properly use it, it's utterly wasted, and it almost strikes me that there are restaurants in this city that hide behind their incompetence to bring a sophisticated meal together in terms of service and quality with high class ingredients like foie gras and kobe beef.
I'm consistently frustrated by Toronto cuisine, having lived in Ottawa and Washington, DC. In both cities, if I did a little research, I was hard pressed to have a negative experience at a restaurant. Here in Toronto, even with extensive reading, I'm often finding myself uttering "meh" and wishing I'd spent the money on ingredients and simply cooked a spectacular SE Asian meal at home, which would offer much better value and flavour. Frankly, I feel that my safest bet is restaurants like Tokyo Grill, who offer good portions at cheap prices in a cuisine I have no interest in cooking, as the quality is consistent and given the cost, I'm never dissapointed. Is it just me, or is this city largely devoid of consistently good restaurants? For those that make it, the quality seems to slide almost immediately once the reputation is established.
I second with the recommendation of Splendido, probably the most consistently excellent place in Toronto to dine... our meals there have been flawless (food, service, ambiance) from start to finish. Expect to pay around $200 per head though so it is definitely at the top end of dining in the city pricewise as well.
I posted in this thread earlier but it looks like a bunch of responses were deleted for some reason. Anyways, we thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Colborne Lane and would definitely return. I also thought the prices were reasonable give the quality of the food, presentation/execution, and service. Don't let a few mixed reviews here prevent you from checking it out at least once. I certainly won't be crossing it off my list of places to return, I thought some of the dishes were the most interesting/original I've tried in the city in some time. There was much discussion on Colborne Lane back in Feb when it opened with many positive reviews (including my own), try a search.
As for a place that will be 'guaranteed flawless'... doesn't exist I'm afraid. If it did the reservation wait list would be 6 months long at least. :-)
The menu is posted complete with prices. You have to click on the enter plaque to the left of the doorway.
Also I was there not long ago with my husband and his mother for her birthday, and we had an amazing evening.
The food was very, very good, with the exception of a tough squab breast that was subsequently taken off our bill. I wouldn't say it was the best meal I've ever had, and would rank Susur and Perigee a notch above in that respect, but everything about it hit us in our sweet spot; we loved our server, Oliver, possibly the best server we've ever had; we loved the music they played; we loved the casually cool (unpretentious) atmosphere... We are looking forward to returning to see how the menu evolves and improves over time. After all - they have only just opened - and in my opinion they are off to a great start!
It seems to me that people look for different things when they go to a restaurant, especially one that opened with such fanfare. I took my wife out to Colborne Lane for her birthday last week. Very cordial welcome. Walk past a very cool bar to the room in the back. I liked the unique lighting. Table for 2 was actually quite big which, with the very loud room, made it difficult to talk.
As I said, people are looking for different things. Some favour presentation, some favour flavours and some expect to leave the restaurant full after paying $200 for dinner. I want all 3 and would say that Colborne Lane delivers most of the first, some of the second and very little of the third. All dishes came beautifully set out. An eclectic mix of ingredients and flavours are used for each dish which occasionally makes the main ingredient seem irrelevant. I don't want to use the word "overpowering" because it is too strong, but you get my drift. The real problem is size. You are told to order 3 dishes but they are so small that you just start to get into the dish and it is finished.
The positives were the service, which was attentive but not overbearing, the Cosmopolitans, which were very tasty and the celebratory glass of champagne presented by the restaurant.
Would I go back? I will not rush back but I will go again. I'll just have a late lunch.