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Jul 19, 2007 11:02 AM

Colborne Lane

Went last week, but was a bit aprehensive because of the previous posts about bad service, lack of value etc. We were pleasantly surprised. The service was nothing short of excellent. The food was good ( I wouldn't say amazing). I had the corn soup, wok fried squid, and the lamb. The lamb was my least favourite, but still ok. All of us in the group are fairly small eaters, but were were totally satisfied with 3 dishes each and a shared dessert (lemon tart).

Overall it was a good experience...but I'm not sure if the price tag matches the food. I would probably go again - but more likely if it was a corporate tab!

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  1. I agree with the service at CL. It is not the attentive type like Splendido but it is always there when you need it and prompt ! Servers are very friendly too in a more casual setting.

    I like the food there too in general, but that peking duck dish...the butternut squash flan is fun but I can never relate it to a peking duck.

    1. Had dinner at Colborne Lane on Saturday night (February, 2008). I'd been to CL for drinks and a snack when it first opened, but had never done the full meal deal. I was especially eager to give a go after all the superfluous press the place has won this year.

      We had a 9:30 reservation for three but they were having trouble turning the tables, so we were asked to hang out at the bar. Bar service was slow, and when we got some attention, Mr. Rabbit was disappointed to learn that they had no Crown Royal for his Manhattan. I ordered a glass of Spanish tempranillo only to be told that they had run out, so the Rabbit-sister and I ended up drinking an Italian Heba, which was OK. It was 10:00 before we were seated, and we were admittedly getting restless and feeling slightly unimpressed.

      The main dining room is fun (great lighting fixtures!), but remains quite elegant. Tables are nicely spaced, and even the communal table (where we did not sit) is cleverly arranged so that large bunches of flowers partition parties.

      Our affable server explained that CL's menu consists of two sizes of tasting plates (smaller and larger), and recommended 3 plates per person (before dessert). We were tempted by the tasting menu (in 7 and 10 course configurations), but decided that we did not want that much food at the later hour. We ended up ordering nine dishes altogether (including two desserts), and we were all well sated. We shared everything communally so we were able to sample quite a good part of the menu. Note that menu descriptions at CL can seem quite puzzlingly complex, with many ingredients and flavours all folding onto a single plate. But even the most rococo menu description translated onto the plate with surprising integrity. The kitchen here is having a lot of fun, but never at the expense of delicious. As for the food...

      Smaller plates:
      - Tuna tartare was presented on top of a small mound of tuna sashimi mixed with little cucumber balls and and accompanied by some frozen soy sauce (interesting food wizardry, but no real flavour advantage). Mr. Rabbit said this dish reminded him of Japan, very high praise since, being half-Japanese, he's (ironically) extremely snobby about Asian cuisine compromising its purity in fusion-y cooking.
      - Serrano ham stuffed with fruit and veg and resting on top of a fig-jellied crostini was the table favourite (wish we'd ordered two)
      - cheddar soup with apple and melon balls and jalapeno was rich but without being too-much
      - crispy wokked squid with peanut, pear, and Chinese sausage was one of my favourites, although the Rabbit-sister found it monochromatic.

      Bigger plates -
      - CL has a really fun take on steak and eggs with a supple piece of beef tenderloin plated with a Platonically perfect poached egg and some fantastically salty potatoes.
      - We continued the breakfast theme with squab and foie gras on vanilla french toast with sweet potato puree and blueberries. This is a main for those with a sweet tooth, which means that I liked it. It was very playful, cheeky even, although the squab was perhaps a little on the tough side.
      - We had a spice rubbed lamb rack with merguez sausage, gnocchi and some rather bizarre, slightly chicken-feed-ish (unfortunate) freeze dried corn. The meat was very well prepared and Mr. Rabbit went to town cleaning off the bones.

      Dessert -
      - CL has a great cheeses plate (we had a soft French, English Stilton and a hard Spanish sheep's milk cheese). This plate was so good that we actually ignored our chocolate pick momentarily.
      - The chocolate bar with rooibos ice cream and caramelized banana is a beautiful presentation, with the bar wrapped in edible gold foil. And it's good enough that Mr. and sister had a slight squabble over the last banana.

      Food here is playful, imaginative and very thoughtful, but someone should turn their attention to the liquor offerings, which were thought were a disappoint. The reserve bottles are a short list of mostly California selects that are rather overpriced. The by-the-glass and bottle selects are limited (may 10ish red and slightly fewer white), and not particularly imaginative. There is no cocktail list (we were told that it is being re-worked), and the bar itself has a limited stock (note the aforementioned Crown Royal problem). A restaurant of this caliber really deserves a better wine list! (we ended up drinking the Heba and some off-listed Bordeaux which were OK.)

      So - 4 smaller plates, 3 bigger plates, 2 desserts, 5 glasses of wine, 2 dessert wines, coffee, tea... $325 (after tax, before tip). I'd like to come back to CL about twice a year to see what the kitchen is doing with new and seasonal ingredients. It's a fun and kind of cerebral dining experience, I think best enjoyed with people who like to talk about, share, and dissect their food. I'm looking forward to seeing what this kitchen does next...

      (some pictures posted... not great quality)

      18 Replies
      1. re: Rabbit

        Thanks Rabbit-great review!

        This place has been on my next-to-try list for a while now. Will do and will report back.

        1. re: Rabbit

          Great review. I too like the food (but not the communal table which I always seem to be seated at). It's always a challenge to serve people on opposite sides - do they reach over, or have two servers?
          But indeed the winelist is a farce. After my last visit, I planned to only return if I could bring my own wine. They basically replied 'not yet, but we're considering it'. Have called twice since, but they still won't let me bring wine in. So we now just order water!
          But at least I am returning.

          1. re: estufarian

            Thanks for the review, Rabbit. We are going tomorrow night, for the second time. The first time we went was within the week or 2 after it opened, so I'm interested to see if/how things have changed. We sat at the communal table and I quite enjoyed it -- we met some great people sitting beside us, and the 4 of us all got a tour of the kitchen and met chef etc.
            Estufarian -- water???? C'mon, the list cannot be so bad that you drink water!!!

            1. re: mickeyj

              Life is too short to drink bad wine (at ridiculous markups)!
              I'm happy to pay the corkage at Susur or Splendido ($40). Although the wine selection at Splendido is much better.

              1. re: estufarian

                Estuafarian, I assume you don't feel uncomfortable or worry about being perceived as "cheap" for only ordering water or BYOW (granted the wine you bring could be "better" than anything on the menu - but that's not the point). That's a good thing.

                1. re: Apprentice

                  If I'm paying $40 corkage, the restaurant is likely making enough to survive! Plus I'll return.
                  If they can't make money on 'food only' then there's something wrong with their pricing.
                  And I do tip generously when taking my own wine.

                  1. re: Apprentice

                    There is a certain etiquette to bringing your own wine -- you're supposed to bring wine that is better and rarer than what they have on offer. Bring in a bottle of Chateau Latour and no one will call you cheap (unless they already have Latour on their list); bring in a bottle of Baco Noir and everyone will know you're a jerk. It's also somewhat customary to offer a taste to your server and, if you have something really special, to offer some to the chef as well.

                    If the wine list sucks, as it does at Colborne Lane, I usually just drink cocktails.

                    1. re: Mr Rabbit

                      I don't drink cocktails (at all). But I do enjoy fine wine, especially Burgundy.

                      1. re: estufarian

                        Estufarian, you're welcome at the house for drinks anytime.

                        -Mr Rabbit

                        1. re: Rabbit

                          I also eschew cocktails and enjoy fine wines, especially pino noir and any type of good dry sparkly, but also Burgundy and 20-yr port (with good cheese) ;->

                          1. re: JamieK

                            Unfortunately all my ports are more than 20 years old!

                            1. re: estufarian

                              ha! I don't think that's so unfortunate! I was actually trying to wrangle an invitation to the Rabbits, jokingly of course (yet "many a true word said in jest")

                              To keep things on topic, I've been trying to learn/taste more about port recently. Had a nice port with our cheese course at the Gallery Grill this past week -- can't remember anything more than it was Warres and 20 years.

                              1. re: JamieK

                                Warres is always reliable. May cost a bit more, but worthwhile.

                      2. re: Mr Rabbit

                        So essentially a $50 bottle won't cut it? To me this is absurd. If those are the expectations then I'd expect a menu tailored around the wine I bring. Estufarian makes a fabulous point, they are getting on average $40 to uncork a bottle!

                    2. re: estufarian

                      I personally don't find the wine list at Splendido anything to write home about. There are some good selections, and the pairings are really something of beauty, but have you noticed some of the vintages? For a restaurant of that calibur, I expect much, much more. The best value and representation is from Canada.

                      1. re: Splendid Wine Snob

                        Isn't that a function of what one can source through the LCBO? Of course we would like more - but the ridiculous markup system and the need to pre-clear purchases through the LCBO is causing this problem.
                        I'm not sure exactly how the 'best' restaurant cellars in toronto are legally built.
                        A wine bought for $100 (at auction say to provide older vintages) attracts more than 100% in various duties/taxes, and if then marked up by 100% (which is low-end in Toronto restos) ends up at $400 (and there's no allowances in there for transportation, insurance and handling costs).
                        And that's the CHEAPEST legal route. Agents, brokers etc put their charges on as well! Not to ignore the taxes that are then added when it's on the restaurant bill.
                        At those prices very few patrons will choose that option, and many (most?) visitors from other countries will also pass on prices that are multiples of what they are used to at home.

                        1. re: estufarian

                          No, please investigate your facts, there are several legal ways for restaurants to source wine other than from the LCBO. And in terms of price point, the difference is playing the "smoke and mirror" game with well known, prestigious producers with crappy vintages and thinking the public won't notice. You can source some very good wines at decent prices if you're savvy enough. The question is if you want to make money (which all proprietors must) or unethically gouge the unwitting consumer.

                  2. re: estufarian

                    Hmmm, I thought that bringing-our-own might be a way to go with the wine next time around, but I guess that's a no go. Thanks for the tip, estufarian.

                    Very curious to hear the the Snob's take on the list!

                2. +

                  Colborne Lane
                  45 Colborne Street, Toronto, ON M5E 1P8, CA

                  1. Was at CL on Family Day for supper, and it actually impressed Dad. That's high praise! Service was generally excellent. Our server Oliver responded appropriately to a too-salty too-lukewarm cheddar soup by taking it off the bill immediately and promising to tell Chef (though just prior to this, the host wasn't as responsive to the complaint and dismissed the concern). Food was very good (tuna tartare, rock hen, arctic char, miso black cod, squid, etc.) though my uncle's triple seared beef was cooked slightly more than necessary to medium. Atmosphere was a little dark/quiet that night, but I enjoyed the retro 80s music (Duran Duran and Peter Gabriel). It was entertaining though surprising to have Oliver create our nitro ice cream instead of the chef. $17 seems a bit steep for ice cream tiramisu but we were glad we tried the experience.

                    My only minor complaint was the taste of Woolshed shiraz from Victoria, Australia...very few good wines emerge from the state of Victoria and this was no exception! (Yes, it was Dad's fault for ordering it in the first place!) Servers also didn't notice the copious amount of breadcrumbs at my end of the table, due in major part to the way-too-small bread plates provided! It also would have been nice to have the bread basket refilled once it was totally empty.

                    With the prices being so high, it would also have been a nice gesture for the chef to send out amuse, sorbet or other treats even if we were not having the tasting menu for $109.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Food Tourist

                      Some interesting discussion of wines from Victoria has been moved over to the Wine board at:

                      If you want to follow up on that conversation, please head on over there.