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Complicated old-fashioned French cuisine in GTA or beyond

A recent trip Down Under got me thinking that Aussies do French better than Canadians. Big statement, but true. In Australia, one can find French restaurants that actually serve complex, traditional French food: savoury soufflé, bouillabaisse, cassoulet, sauces, regional specialties, frog legs, foie gras, escargots, rabbit, squab, you name it. Here, our French restaurants seem to rely on bistro fare, steak frites, and lots of fusion. Maybe that's the authentic way people eat in France these days, but I'm not looking for modern French, I'm looking for the France of Julia Child nostalgia. A dream, perhaps.

Is there a truly traditional French restaurant for a sit-down meal in the GTA or beyond? Disclaimer: I've still never eaten at Auberge du Pommier or Celestin or Ici or Tati Bistro, but after Didier and the original Thuet closed down, I'm not sure if anything else matches up. I have been to all the usual suspects and I suppose Le Select Bistro comes close but is still quite simple. My experiences at Edulis and Scaramouche didn't match what I'm looking for.

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  1. Ici is very good, and several classic French dishes are always on the menu. They have a couple dessert souffles on their menu. I'd think Ici would be your best bet.

    I haven't been to Tati or Loire, but I get the impression they serve food that is on the simple side compared to the food at Ici.

    I used to love Celestin about 7-8 years ago, but the food had slipped after a change in ownership, and I haven't been in several years.

    You might also want to consider Left Bank Bistro, Mogette, Le Paradis and L'Avenue.

    I'm not sure what the food at Le Trou Normand in Yorkville might be like. Looks old-fashioned, but I've never heard anything about the food.

    By the way, juno started a cassoulet thread last year.

    6 Replies
    1. re: prima

      I have eaten at Le Paradis over the years and it comes across as "simpler" though it is amazing value for money and pretty consistent. Thank you for the extensive helpful reply! Ici looks promising: http://www.jpco.ca/menu.html

      1. re: Food Tourist

        My pleasure.
        By the way, most of the dishes you mention are served at Le Trou Normand. Hopefully a Chowhound who has dined there can let you know if it's worth visiting for classic dishes. http://www.letrounormand.ca/
        La Palette serves frogs' legs:

        1. re: prima

          La Palette's quack & track - forgot about that! ;) They also have cassoulet. Hmm, may be time for a visit.

          1. re: prima

            Trou Normand menu looks dodgy. Despite the calvados cream sauce dish and the bouillabaisse, the inclusion of pasta and caesar salad, and lack of many of the dishes I mentioned (soufflé, etc.) worries me.

            1. re: Food Tourist

              I guess I don't hold it against a restaurant if they serve Caesar salad and pasta, or haven't put time/effort/money/much thought into their website. I'm guessing Le Trou isn't a hiddden gem (despite its name), but it has managed to survive 40 years, so there must be some sort of secret to its longevity,when many of its restaurant neighbours in Yorkville have typically had a relatively short life span. Maybe the pasta and Caesars have helped keep them in business. The Coffee Mill also serves Caesar salad alongside its goulash ,schnitzel and palascinta, as does ll Posto, so the Caesar Salad might be a piece of the Yorkville restaurant survival puzzle. :)

              Does Jacques serve a Caesar salad? Their Nicoise is pretty good.

        2. You can check out Batifole as well?! Used to be very good but haven't been for a long while.
          Here's their current menu for your reference:


          5 Replies
          1. re: Charles Yu

            Me too. I used to go years ago. They also had quite simple dishes (executed very well) for low prices. Now that I see their updated menu, I would give them another shot. Not to mention they are enticing me with Paris brest and tarte tatin.

            1. re: Charles Yu

              You liked Batifole in the past? We stopped going after 3 visits as it was obvious that many of the main dishes we were served where heated in a microwave, most likely from frozen. Frozen or not, I didn't find the food enjoyable and none of our friends liked it also. We have not been there since around 2006. I just looked at the website and see that it has been sold to the former chef de cuisine. Maybe it's time to re-visit it.

              1. re: foodyDudey

                Curious if you ended up gong to Batifole recently? Or if anyone else has gone since Pascal Geffroy took over ownership.

                1. re: ylsf

                  I just saw this today... No I have not been. I often pass by it, and am wondering if it is worth a visit. Has anyone else been?

              2. re: Charles Yu

                From the menu.
                "Paris Breast. Choux Pastry with a Praline Flavoured Cream"
                I prefer the leg.

              3. Great chef, well executed classics, outstanding professional table side service, overseen by attentive management ? Yeah, well, sorry, no.

                Pack your best suit, and book a flight to NY or Paris.

                BTW - Read Pierre Franey's memoir "A Chef's Tale" and be motivated to cook...

                3 Replies
                1. re: PoppiYYZ

                  Honestly, I don't care about service or atmosphere. Just good food. And no, sadly, I don't have 3 days to create cassoulet nor time or cash to fly to Paris.

                  1. re: Food Tourist

                    "don't care about service or atmosphere" ? hmmm.

                    Check out the book. A great trip to excellent traditional french cuisine, and another era, without a plane ticket or a time machine.

                  2. re: PoppiYYZ

                    It isn't easy to find French restaurants serving well-executed, complicated old-fashioned classics with outstanding professional tableside service and attentive management in Paris or NYC, either.
                    Apart from La Grenouille, I can't think of too many French restaurants in NYC sticking with old-fashioned, formal French classics rather than bistro fare.

                  3. Tati's been closed for a while (and was more of a bistro when it was open.) +1 for ICI - their dishes are rich, but many are traditional, and all are perfect for a winter night!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Minnow

                      Cassoulet is back on the menu at Mogette, on Mount Pleasant Rd., which also has a few other classic French offerings - first-rate onion soup, escargots, that sort of thing. Mogette's cooking is a cut or two above that of a French bistro (as are its prices), but everything on the limited menu is very well executed. Not sure if the menu has the Julia Child-ish breadth that the OP is looking for, but it's sure good enough for me when I feel like going upscale from Le Paradis. BYOB on Tuesdays for $2.

                      1. re: juno

                        They do have escargots in vol au vent. Yum.

                    2. I like the very much under the radar Jacques Bistro du Parc on Cumberland, in Yorkville.

                      Delish poached salmon!

                      1 Reply
                      1. A recent trip to France (Lyon), where those traditional dishes are still widely available, left me with severe indigestion and a resolution to frequent the more modern approaches.
                        It seems I have changed, along with French cuisine, which is now lighter and simpler (that's the cuisine, not me!).

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: estufarian

                          What are your "go-to" French Bistro spots?

                          1. re: Apprentice

                            Having just said my tastes have changed from 'Traditional French' I'm not sure I'm the best source.
                            However, while French bistro style is an occasional jaunt, none would really qualify as "go-to".
                            But - here are my favourite (s).
                            Sadly Pastis closed last month - that was my favourite. Which leaves L'Avenue on Bayview as the current choice and the only one I've been to 3 times in the last 6 months (plus a lunch, so 4 times total).
                            I've enjoyed both Le Paradis and le Select in the past - but don't recall visiting either for over a year, so clearly definitely not "go-to".
                            Most other places that could qualify as 'bistros' are definitely NOT French but there may be a few French dishes scattered among the Cal and Ital offerings. E.G. I frequent Café Pleiade (Mount Pleasant) for liver & bacon and their asparagus appetizer - and although it is certainly 'bistro-like' - the chef is of Greek origin and uses greek seasonings (but it's by no means a Greek restaurant).
                            I also had a good meal recently at Bistrot 92 (see that thread) although I didn't rate it as highly as some others. But certainly qualifies - although currently more of a 'can't get to'!

                            1. re: estufarian

                              L'Avenue sounds good. http://www.lavenuebistro.com/dinner/
                              Beef bourguignon on top of a burger?

                              Bone marrow, zarzuela, and winter passionfruit pavlova sound good even if not what I was originally searching for.

                              1. re: estufarian

                                Thanks. I asked because you of your change of taste; I was curious to know what fits the bill of your "modern" taste preferences.

                                1. re: estufarian

                                  Access is not a problem. Bistrot92 is on Eglinton just west of Dufferin. Every street except Eglinton is fine- subway construction. Even Eglinton is good in the late evening. Ample convenient free or cheap parking.

                                  1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                    assuming one has a car... and one wants to drive after drinking at dinner... otherwise quite a distance to cab it...

                            2. How about Le Montmarte at Sheppard and the Allen? I've never been but this place has been here for a gazillion years so it must be doing something right.


                              1 Reply
                              1. re: barneyvernon

                                Despite their poor photos online, they do claim to serve frogs legs and duck a l'orange. And pasta.

                              2. French cooking is not what Toronto wants.
                                To say nothing of the ingredients. For example. Kidneys (rognons) are a regular part of a Montreal menu. When is the last time you saw rognons on the menu in Toronto? The first time?

                                But Bistrot92 is highly recommended. As if I am in Paris, but the (French) chef- owner is learning to accommodate himself to the fact that he is not in Paris.
                                See prior threads.
                                Valentine's Day at Bistrot92is a must.
                                Check the website

                                Do you speak French?

                                P.S. Here is the Valentine's day menu
                                Velouté de champignons sauvages en cappuccino d’huile de truffe
                                Cream of wild mushroom cappuccino with truffle oil

                                Complicité de foie gras, l’un au torchon et l’autre en terrine, chutney de rhubarbe, brioche toastée
                                Foie gras Duo (au torchon and pâté) Rhubarb Chutney, Toast Brioche
                                Superposition en noir et blanc / Black and white combinaison
                                Pétoncle géante saisi et boudin noir, mousseline de céleri rave aux éclats de truffes, émulsion vallée d’Auge.
                                Giant scallop and black pudding, mashed celeriac with pieces of truffle emulsion Valley d’Auge

                                Granité de pamplemousse ou Champagne Rosé/ Grapefruit Granita Champagne Rosé

                                Filet de bar poêlé, beurre blanc au vermouth et vanille de Madagascar, riz vénéré et pointes d’asperges croquantes
                                Seared Filet Sea Bass, beurre blanc vermouth, and Madagascar vanilla, black rice crunchy asparagus tips.
                                Pavé de biche en croute de noisette, mousseline de topinambours,
                                réduction de vin rouge aux épices douces et canneberges/ Deer Steak in a Hazelnut Crust,
                                Jerusalem artichoke Mousseline, Red wine Reduction with Sweet Spices and Cranberries.

                                Pour l’amour du chocolat/ For Chocolate Fans
                                Moelleux au chocolat noir de Tanzanie en Cœur blanc fondant
                                Chocolate Fondant of Tanzania Dark Chocolate in a Heart of White Fondant.

                                RSVP: 416 519-6050

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                  What is his wine list like? Valentine's needs wine...

                                  1. re: pourboi

                                    pourboi. That's right. Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.
                                    I saw Marcel Rethore in Bisitrot92 and I think that he supplies the place. MR used to have Marcel's and Quartier. He is now in the wine business and always had a pretty good sense of wine.

                                    1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                      So they have a license now? I missed that somehow...

                                  2. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                    Mais oui, Monsieur Vinnie.

                                    Merci beaucoup. $55 c'est vraiment pas cher.

                                    1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                      I have had devilled kidneys at the Queen & Beaver pub. Does that count?

                                      1. re: Food Tourist

                                        Food Tourist. Sure does and I am pleased to read.
                                        I have never seen kidneys on a Toronto menu except in a steak and kidney pie. I am waiting for Charles Yu to opine on the prevalence of kidney dishes on Toronto menus.

                                        About the French. To put it diplomatically, the chef-owner is much more comfortable speaking French rather then English. If he comes out, no no, I mean if he emerges from the kitchen, I suggest that you shift the conversation to French.

                                        BlackMambaSommelier. There is a nasty little secret in Toronto. What percentage of customers' orders do you think are for steak and salmon? Then add chicken breast.
                                        I would be interested in finding out what percentages of the orders are for kidneys and frog legs. I wonder if the items are on the menu for the sizzle that listing them provides; they do their job and then the customer orders steak.
                                        But it is good that they are on the menu. Every journey begins with a single hop.

                                        1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                          Steak, chicken breast, and salmon are clearly in the majority from my observations in restaurants. I feel obliged to order items such as liver, sweet breads and frog's legs just to encourage keeping them on menus.

                                      2. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                        HILARIOUS. Le Paradis currently has frog's legs, kidneys, etc... with prices to match Bistro92, and a fantastic reasonably priced wine list.

                                        You should do your research before posting.

                                        1. re: BlackMambaSommelier

                                          I did. Three visits to Le Paradis in one trip. Butt things do change.

                                          1. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                            Nothing has changed. Le Paradis has had kidneys consistently on their menu for over 20 years, up until last year or so when they go on the menu on a rotational basis. So please stop with your baseless remarks regarding these classic French dishes not being served in Toronto. Bistro92 hasn't invented the wheel with their menu nor their price point.

                                            1. re: BlackMambaSommelier

                                              +1 BMS. I have always loved their kidney, sweetbread, and rabbit dishes. And the wine list is sooooo unique, excellent and affordable it's not even funny.
                                              I get the support for a new place you like, but don't make it like they're the first, or only one doing it.
                                              P.S. I loved the horse at Batifole.

                                        2. re: Vinnie Vidimangi

                                          B92's Valentine's Day menu dates are FRI14 and SAT15FEB14 and, for those who have forgotten and need to get out of deep doo doo, also FRI21 and SAT22FEB14.

                                          julesrules. Yes, they are licensed.

                                        3. Le Paradis not only has great value for money but also a regularly updated website. Impressive. http://www.leparadis.com/Menus/Menu/t...
                                          They also take reservation seatings up to 11:00 pm. Unheard of! Late night dining!

                                          1. I just noticed the Winterlicious menu for Biff's Bistro.
                                            Although I haven't tried it, it does read as if they are trying to move a bit closer to the traditional style.