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Colborne Lane over-rated?

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tacotete May 2, 2009 11:06 AM

Does anyone else think that Colborne Lane is over-rated? I certainly don't think it warrants being rated on of the best restaurants in the En Route magazine! After waiting almost 4 hours for a tasting menu of 10 tiny dishes, I left there feeling very hungry and not satisfied at all. My partner waited 2.5 hours to receive her halibut. Granted timing the a la carte order with my tasting menu was a bit tricky but 2.5 hours???!!! And all the freeze dried powders accompanying the dishes was not at all interesting. As far as I am concerned, freeze dried food should be left for camping....
Not to be entirely negative, the restaurant was warm and had great interior decor. The mushroom soup was divine but serving sizes were really not adequate for the price you pay. I'd be interested in what others think of this trendy place.....

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  1. t
    tjr RE: tacotete May 2, 2009 11:24 AM

    Personally, I'm not fond of Colborne Lane. I think it's a decent restaurant, but not great. I don't have problems with the food portions, but I do find the food uninventive for a restaurant that is supposed to be inventive, and many of the more inventive dishes fall flat. I haven't had bad service though.

    1. d
      DrewStar RE: tacotete May 2, 2009 12:44 PM

      My wife and I went to Colborne Lane over a year ago. I had made a reservation but we still ended up at a cramped deuce where a piece of wall jutted out into my side of the table. Made getting in and out of my seat akward and was not a great start to a meal where I knew I was going to drop serious cash.

      I guess during the height of the molecular gastronomy craze I was expecting to be dazzled, but found the food underwhelming. Presentation was very good but portions were small. Molecular techniques, even back then, were a bit ho-hum. Of course now it could be argued that MG has played out as a fad, especially with the advent of tough economic times and people looking for well-valued comfort food (spare me the foam and spheres, just hook me up with the mac and cheese).

      Surprisingly, a gentleman at the table next to us leaned over at one point and asked me what I thought of the food. He was peeved that his lamb entree consisted of only one lamb chop and some lamb sausage. So in reference to portion size, this guy was definitely not pleased. He actually started waving the solo lamb chop around and making a bit of a spectacle.

      The room looked good -- dark, minimalist, nice edge to the ambience. I recall jars of peanut butter on a shelf, a la Susur's Colonel Sanders dolls. Not sure why restaurateurs try so hard to display their sense of irony.

      1. OnDaGo RE: tacotete May 2, 2009 03:48 PM

        So your partner had ala carte and you had a ten course tasting menu? silly, silly... how do you expect them to time your 10 courses with someone who orders 3 courses and not have them sitting there with no food for 3/4 of the time.. it is not the restaurants fault teasting menus always take longer by the shear fact of the number of courses it is meant to be leasurly.. I would expect at least 3.5 hours for that many courses.

        3 Replies
        1. re: OnDaGo
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          lister RE: OnDaGo May 2, 2009 04:49 PM

          Splendido did the timing quite nicely when my girlfriend ordered the tasting menu and I ordered a-la carte though I had four dishes rather than three. It also didn't take over 3.5 hours either. Points to Splendido for even allowing us to order like we did.

          We went to Colbourne Lane four months ahead of Splendido and they wouldn't allow us to do that despite my reassurance that I'd be fine with the gaps in my meal. The place wasn't even slammed at the time due to our early eating time and foul winter weather outside. In the end the girlfriend had to order a-la carte as it would be a waste of money for me to have the tasting menu as many of the tastes and textures are unpleasant for me to consume.

          Comparing the two the girlfriend, a former chef, thought that many of the different textures and tastes in the CL dishes didn't work well together while just about everything at Splendido worked marvelously despite not quite having the same flare of presentation as CL.

          1. re: lister
            OnDaGo RE: lister May 2, 2009 11:27 PM

            10 courses in 3 hours = 1 course every 18 minutes unless you want you food pre-made that is not a lot of time between courses to clear your setting, cook the food, reset you new setting deliver an explain the dish..

            1. re: OnDaGo
              syoung RE: OnDaGo May 5, 2009 10:29 AM

              We just returned from a recent trip that included dinner at Daniel Patterson's highly rated Coi Restaurant in San Francisco and ordered their 11-course tasting menu. We (as well as other tables around us who ordered the same) finished well within 3 hours and at no time did anyone felt rushed; nor did we feel the courses came too quickly or slow. It felt just right. And with the bill running to $600 (including wine) for 2, the food definitely wasn't pre-cooked. So a 10+ tasting menu within 3 hours can be done and done well.

              As well, I agree with lister that if a restaurant allows that not everyone at the table order the tasting menu, then they ought to do it right.

        2. n
          Negaduck RE: tacotete May 2, 2009 03:52 PM

          I don't think it's anything special or that the food is the best you can get at that price either. The few times I've been there I've always felt less than amazed by the dishes. I have no qualms about the portions though.

          1. t
            tjr RE: Squeakycheese May 2, 2009 10:05 PM

            Okay, I think people are being a little harsh, which isn't fair. CL does what they do well for Toronto. This is a restaurant that has reasonably priced food considering what you're getting. While the portions may be small, this is true of any fine dining restaurant. If you aren't prepared for this, of course you'll be shocked.

            I'm not a fan of the food, but this is because I've seen what CL is doing, and better, elsewhere in the world, numerous times. It's not that CL is bad. It's not a bad restaurant. The food is consistent (though some dishes are consistently bad), and the service is good. If you order the dishes that work, you'll probably have a good meal. If you want to feel like you just ate 10kg of food, maybe you should go to a buffet?

            Honestly, the portion sizes are in line with what you should expect. The food isn't terrible. Claiming that they're serving dogshit is, well, inaccurate at best, absurd at worst. CL is in the top few percentile of Toronto restaurants. It isn't a good restaurant if you consider the whole world, but for Toronto, it's something that deserves at least a bit of praise.

            The negative opinions in this thread don't accurately reflect the restaurant, regardless of whether or not I like it.

            1 Reply
            1. re: tjr
              n
              Negaduck RE: tjr May 2, 2009 11:40 PM

              I don't know... Squeakycheese has a pretty compelling argument.

              If so many other places in the world can do it better, why should we have to settle for this?

              Even if we have to compare with Toronto standards, I'd still say it's mediocre at best and there are better ways of spending your money in this city. Then again, higher-end dining in this city is seriously lacking compared to other major cities.

            2. f
              foodiesnorth RE: tacotete May 3, 2009 10:37 AM

              Could not disagree more. FIrst, having an a la carte and a tasting menu concurrently (if I can use that term an avoid the irony)is asking for trouble, for you and for the kitchen. It is for good reason that some restos prohibit it. Second, your commetn about the freeze dried food suggests to me you were in the wrong place with the wrong expectations. If you feel freeze dried foods are best left for camping...don't go to an MG restaurant. Makes me think of a vegan going to steak house. My wife and I went to CL last year. We throughly enjoyed it. CL is a good restaurant, it is not the Fat Duck or El Bulli but it does not pretend to be. I can imagine your dinner party at the Fat Duck wondering why Heston Blumenthal is offering freeze dried, mint spheres and other "scientific" courses. I would love for Edmonton to have CL or its kin. As an aside I understand El Bulli is closing later year signalling an acknowldgement that MG has run its course. In the meantime, enjoy and don't judge new food on old food standards. It seems entirely unfair to be critisizing a resto for doing exactly what it says it will.

              4 Replies
              1. re: foodiesnorth
                c
                CBlake RE: foodiesnorth May 3, 2009 11:10 AM

                I am curious, where are Fat Duck and El Bulli located?

                1. re: CBlake
                  Full tummy RE: CBlake May 3, 2009 12:45 PM

                  Fat Duck is in England; El Bulli is in Spain.

                  http://www.fatduck.co.uk/

                  http://www.elbulli.com/

                2. re: foodiesnorth
                  Charles Yu RE: foodiesnorth May 3, 2009 03:54 PM

                  Well put tjr and foodiesnorth! Totally in agreement with both your comments!!

                  I have had similar feedback pertaining to one of the world's greatest restaurant - Alinea. IMO. top notch 'enjoyable' molecular creations. However, guests attending the same meal hated it so much that they decided to head out to China town for some soya chicken and noodles afterwards!!

                  As an aside as well, Pierre Gagnaire is currently presenting a US$500/person multi-course molecular tasting menu in his Hong Kong outpost, using mostly chemicals, phenolics and artificial flavourings!! Like it or hate it there's a waiting list for the chemistry show!

                  1. re: Charles Yu
                    t
                    tjr RE: Charles Yu May 3, 2009 05:21 PM

                    Pierre Gagnaire's restaurants can be a costly mistake for those who aren't prepared or don't end up enjoying the meal. I find that the food definitely polarizes the opinions of the diners, and you either love or hate the food.

                    CL plays it fairly safe. This is actually one of the benefits of CL as opposed to many of the other top MG destinations. CL leaves most of their food in the realm of the "already been done" whereas top MG restaurants must be inventive or fail. I find a lot of the dishes at CL are safe, which is one of the reasons I don't really enjoy it that much. The only problem is that the more inventive dishes tend to fall flat...

                    CL does more traditional dishes as well, which are okay, but not mind-blowing.

                3. y
                  Yum2MyTum RE: tacotete May 3, 2009 01:50 PM

                  I think that Colborne Lane is overrated. I think I posted about t his but I can't find my previous post...

                  In any event, I went with four girlfriends late last year. We ordered off the a la carte menu (I was told by some CHrs that if I really wanted to enjoy CL, I should have ordered the tasting menu. Not being made of money, we were restricted to a la carte and besides, if you can't do a la carte well, why offer it as an option?), and were not impressed by anything in particular. It wasn't a bad meal in any way, just not worth the steep price tag.

                  1. estufarian RE: tacotete May 4, 2009 08:52 AM

                    So many postings - don't have time to comment on them all.
                    Colborne Lane is the best 'of its style' in Toronto. If anyone disagrees, please tell me where I'll find better!
                    Most of the criticisms are coming from people who didn't understand what Colborne Lane represents. It aspires to somewhat leading-edge cuisine (but generally plays it safe) and most of its dishes are competently, sometimes excellently, prepared. I still think that 'taste' is sometimes sacrificed for the sake of 'complexity' but CL has grown over the past couple of years and is now probably better than it has ever been. I was a confirmed critic of the chef when he was at Senses (where the dishes made no sense) and CL certainly had teething problems when it opened. However the food has settled down and it's much more reliable - although I still don't like the room - especially the centre 'communal' table and the wine list has never impressed me (why don't they offer BYOB?).
                    Comparing to places overseas doesn't help the issue, although I'll tolerate a Gagnaire comparison as Claudio Aprile openly acknowledges him as an influence (although that may be Claudio's problem - I wasn't impressed with Gagnaire!).
                    If Toronto didn't have CL - it would a less-desirable destination.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: estufarian
                      t
                      tjr RE: estufarian May 4, 2009 09:17 AM

                      I agree entirely.

                      1. re: estufarian
                        Charles Yu RE: estufarian May 4, 2009 04:50 PM

                        I too agree entirely!!

                        1. re: Charles Yu
                          f
                          foodiesnorth RE: Charles Yu May 4, 2009 05:32 PM

                          here here

                          1. re: foodiesnorth
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                            jamesm RE: foodiesnorth May 5, 2009 06:26 AM

                            My girlfriend receieved a 250 dollar gift certificate to Colborne Lane. Any reccomendations on the best way to spend it there? We've never been before and understand dishes can be really hit and miss.

                            1. re: jamesm
                              Charles Yu RE: jamesm May 5, 2009 06:34 AM

                              Use it on the tasting menu! Enjoy!

                        2. re: estufarian
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                          syrahc2 RE: estufarian May 5, 2009 12:02 PM

                          Completely agree. Your expectations must be in check to understand and appreciate what Colborne Lane is doing.

                        3. m
                          markdsgraham RE: tacotete May 5, 2009 09:15 AM

                          Without replying to every post, I think it is possible for something to be both "over-rated" and "best of kind" at once. I really liked my meal at CL a few months ago and it was lots of fun. I like the room. The deconstructed lemon tart type thing I had for desert was the most exciting thing I had eaten in a while. I didn't have a problem with the portions, which were in line with what I expected. There were some interesting offerings and I left feeling like I'd had a tasty meal.

                          But some of the food to be pretty average. I often felt like taste was sacrificed to anything that would make the server's description sound better. It wasn't that the food was "unusual" but that they just tried to do too much at once and in many cases it obviously didn't work.

                          We also didn't get very good service. Entering from a sleet/rain storm, we were left to languish with our coats for probably five minutes. Our first bottle of wine was bad; when we let the waitress know she rolled her eyes and took it back reluctantly (I saw her pass a taste to someone sitting at the bar, who nearly spit it up all over her--we felt vindicated). I had called ahead because one member of our party had some dietary restrictions--I was assured there would be no problem. When there was a problem, we had to ask for a substitution of one cheese for another, or at least for the offending cheese to be left out. I normally agree with a no-amendment policy in a place like CL, but when you've promised someone that they will be able to eat and then they can't you should make an exception. They didn't. After these false starts, our server basically treated us with contempt the rest of the time.

                          Nonetheless, I had good company and so we had an excellent time. I'm definitely glad I tried CL and would go back if I had another opportunity. But I don't know if this is one of the best restaurants in Toronto. Certainly Toronto would be worse off without it. But Toronto would be worse off without its best Mexican restaurants, and yet surely we can all agree that they are not among the best restaurants in the city.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: markdsgraham
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                            alisonb RE: markdsgraham May 5, 2009 05:02 PM

                            just went there recently. thought the atmosphere was fabulous. our waiter recognized immediately that we were a 'difficult' table (typically a family foodie group of 8-10...big party with big expectations), and was completely on top of the situation. the food was great, maybe too much molecular emphasis, but i didn't particularly mind.....loved the razzle dazzle to it all; there're few places who can do that now, i think, without being overly haughty. my only issue was that it did take a loooonnnnggggg time....but i did enjoy the wine that strung the courses together! ;-)

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