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Anyone been to Cluny in the Distillery yet?

Supposed to head to Cluny (http://www.clunybistro.com/) with a few other couples for dinner on Saturday. There hasn't been any mention of the place yet on this board. Has anyone been? Any general reviews? Any specific dish recommendations/cautions?

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  1. Yes, SO and I checked it out this past Saturday. Kids tucked away with the babysitter, we headed there for 7:45PM and even though they had only been open for 12 days, the place was jam packed (we had a res). The vibe is very white on white, be achy california vibe if that makes any sense. Our server was very attentive and she was so keen on making sure that we were enjoying ourselves (too keen probably) we ordered a couple of their signature cocktails and they weren't for us (foamy egg white style) but that was our bad for not realizing how much we just don't like sweet cocktails with eggwhites. Then we moved onto wine and their sommelier gave us a recommendation that I would never have considered to be honest but we LOVED it, it was a pinot gris from Oregon. Food was top notch, we started with oysters, kingfish crudo dish, and a spicy salmon tartar. All really great. then we had the BBQ sea bass with a side of asparagus frites (yummy) and the duck salad (with pickled rhubarb) very tasty. We tend to order too much as we like to try stuff. All in all, we would not hesitate to go back and once their patio is ready (end of the month) it will be even better I'm sure! The one snag was that the washrooms for the women ran out of towels and only one stall had TP. My SO figured that this was a growing pain thing for a new restaurant but it was still a pain.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Foodiesmith

      The Cuban Libre event was on this past weekend (sponsored by Bacardi) which I think brought even more people than usual down to the area. Cluny was booked "solid" when we inquired (I did take a quick walk in and it did look nice).

      A friend went she she said they have great frites.

    2. Have been there twice now. Loved it. Try the grilled cheese app. the duck poutine, scallop ceviche, burger (tuna and steak) and soufflé. They are all incredible. if you like sweet cocktails, there is one with sorbet that is outstanding.

      1. Thanks for the info guys. Now I'm really looking forward to the place. Both urban spoon and yelp had unanimously positive reviews but I'm always skeptical of restos that have just opened and get glowing buzz - I think a lot of the time it's friends and families hitting various social media vehicles to bolster business. Glad to hear Cluny is the real deal!

        3 Replies
        1. re: elkerette

          So you think everyone on Yelp is a friend or family, but that Chowhounders are unbiased reviews? So many of us on here are in the business, etc….

          1. re: canadianbeaver

            ie. First post for sparkyandginger

            1. re: canadianbeaver

              Touché, canadianbeaver and dlw88. It's true that chowhounders can also be biased but, while I have been burned by early Yelp and Urbanspoon user reviews in the past, chowhound has thus far never led me astray. I'll let you all know what this 'hound (who swears she has no connection to the resto or its management) thinks of the place this weekend!

          2. Glad to hear this sounds promising. We're holding back on visiting because I heard it's run by the same people as El Catrin which also looks beautiful but had mediocre and very expensive food both times we visited. I'm concerned Cluny might be similar, but perhaps they're destined for something better....

            4 Replies
            1. re: Gary

              I actually think that it isn't run by the same ppl. I got the head chef's card for the distillery group of restos this weekend and Cluny isn't on it but El Catrin is. Maybe it is just an old card but I didn't get the impression from him that they are running Cluny.

              1. re: JennaBean

                According to this article/interview it is owned by the same people that run a bunch of the other Distillery District spots -


                "With four successful restaurants under their belts, owners Mathew Rosenblatt and John Berman (El Catrin, The Boiler House, Pure Spirits and Archeo) decided to open a fifth that fuses French cuisine and international flavours."

                I assume they are accurate since they interviewed the owner but then again they said that "Boiler House" is one of their restaurants but that is the spot that got replaced with the Mexican spot.

                1. re: ylsf

                  Must be the last of his old cards then and it makes me sad. I've had ZERO luck at any of the places owned by this group. All show, no substance.

                  1. re: JennaBean

                    Agreed. Boiler House was one of the worst meals I've had in Toronto and El Catrin a few weeks ago wasn't much better.

                    Until I hear some great things from some of my more trusted posters here, this is a pass.

                    Also, that bone-in meatball dish is yanked from Joe Beef.

            2. I wonder if the person who designed Cluny also designed Weslodge. I was at Weslodge yesterday and the tiles looked very similar :)

              2 Replies
              1. re: ylsf

                Good eye, ylsf - google leads me to believe both spots were designed by the Munge Leung design firm. I just hope the food is better at Cluny than at Weslodge (which I was disappointed in when I visited last year).

                1. re: elkerette

                  Went on Saturday with my husband and two other couples. Like everyone has said, Cluny is spectacular looking. Lots of white and cream, with beautiful tiles. Kudos to the entire design team.

                  I had made a ressie on opentable and then called the restaurant on Saturday afternoon to confirm all the details. Despite this (and arriving right on time) we had to wait around for our table for about 10 minutes. One very timid apology the whole time we waited. Hostess station had about six people standing behind it, all of whom looked frantic and super stressed. I overheard one man checking in, explaining that he had a reservation, and the hostess explaining that he would have to sit at the bar because they didn't have any available tables in the dining room. He echoed my sentiments of "um... doesn't a reservation typically mean reserving a table?!?" Hopefully it’s just opening kinks… but really – three weeks after opening you’d think they would be able to figure something as basic as a reservation schedule out.

                  We were pleasantly surprised to be seated at a round table right opposite the bread and seafood stations. Why don’t more restaurants do round tables? They are so great for encouraging conversation – no one feels left out.

                  We all had cocktails which were universally well received. My “brise d’ete” was delicious – very sweet with a hint of tartness and very cold. The cocktail menu did seem to veer towards the sweet end of the spectrum. Not sure if that’s a temporary summer plan – I can’t imagine wanting most of what was on the list in the depths of winter. We also ordered a couple bottles of an Argentine malbec to share, and several folks also had a few beers each (they drank blanche de Chambly, and I believe they also had Maudite on tap).

                  Onto food. The bread basket was lovely and included a variety of different types of crusty selections. The piece of olive bread I tried had what I consider to be overly large pieces of olives in in (I prefer them to be smaller and more evenly scattered throughout a loaf). Butter served alongside was the right temperature and perfectly spreadable (I hate it when you get cold butter that tears up your bread).

                  We split a bunch of appetizers. Two dozen oysters (kumamatos and kushis) disappeared quickly (nothing special, but well shucked!) Ginger frogs’ legs were a definite highlight – the best quasi-chicken wings ever with a really nice spice level. The “kimchi” served alongside was pretty watery and unforgettable though. The beef tartare came in a beautiful cast iron pot and had a raw egg on top, which was mixed in tableside. Nothing spectacular, but a good all-around beef tartare. Wish it came with more crostinis on the side. Figs with Roquefort and honey were really good and simple (and the figs were absolutely huge and sweet – very nice!) The duck poutine was very disappointing. We all assumed it would use the same thin frites that we saw passing through the dining hall on other tables’ plates. Instead, the kitchen used big steakhouse fries which disintegrated into the gravy and cheese until the dish looked more like a plate of mashed potatoes with gravy and cheese. A definite pass.

                  Mains were all over the place. A friend’s tomahawk meatball was deemed the best of the bunch – it looked very cool with a big bone handle, had good flavor and texture and came with a nice side of parisien gnocchi. Two people had the lamb dish which they liked but said that they wished the portion was larger (the portions varied a LOT from dish to dish). The basque chicken was deemed “fine” and not worthy of much more comment. My duck and rhubarb salad was disappointing – overly big hunks of rhubarb and mushy duck with a strange, large cube of plain puff pastry perched on top. NOT good.

                  We all chose to forego dessert except for one friend who decided to splurge on the macaron ice cream sandwiches which she loved. Messy to eat, but they looked great and were devoured quickly. Coffee came in individual French presses which was a nice touch.

                  Ladies washroom ran out of toilet paper in all three stalls AND of hand towels. That’s just poor management – when the place in full, you have to think of these kinds of things.

                  Total bill for six appetizers, six mains, 1 dessert, cocktails, wine and beer came to around $650 before tax and tip. Not terrible price wise.

                  Will I be going back? Maybe for drinks and apps before a show at the Young Centre, probably not for a full dinner out. Cluny is, sadly, the French version of Weslodge – a beautiful room, good cocktails, food only okay.

              2. Just bumping this up a bit to see if anyone has tried Cluny more recently than the July reviews in this thread? Once the summer tourist hordes die down in September we're thinking of giving it a shot, just making sure it's going to be worthwhile...

                5 Replies
                1. re: Gary

                  I went in July. I'd stick to steak if I return. I'd avoid the silly tuna tartar Nicoise- basically 3 tbsp of raw tuna with chopped green beans mixed in. I'd also avoid the asparagus frites. Beautiful space. I'll probably return for pre theatre or post theatre meals, but I'd recommend Le Select if you're looking for French food in a nice space.

                  1. re: prima

                    I went beginning of August had the Steak Frites, it was cooked well but WAY over salted as were the fries and no herbed butter like a good steak frites should have.. The girls loved the tartar and the asparagus fries (either the kitchen is inconsistent or our group had totally different taste then you...)

                    We ordered and sent back the pork belly we had a hard time cutting through it... was like a dried out truck stop pork chop the waiter came back and told us that is how the chef intended it to be...

                    And lastly the waiter brought the dessert "planks" without cutlery and just disappeared.. we had to scrounge forks and spoons that they forgot to take away from our dinner.

                    1. re: pourboi

                      Probably completely different tastes. Our server apparently loved the asparagus frites. The breading tasted like deep-fried sesame breadsticks to me. There's nothing wrong with that, but to anyone who grew up with sesame breadsticks in the pantry, it's not an exciting new dish. After a couple bites, I picked the rest of the breading off and ate the asparagus. I can see how some people would like it. I guess I don't see the point of reinventing French food.

                      I do like the bread at Cluny.

                    2. re: prima

                      I went a couple of weeks ago on a Monday night.

                      The place is GORGEOUS. Might be one of the prettiest in Toronto.

                      The service started out terrible, but then improved markedly.

                      I had the sesame asparagus app which was AMAZING and shareable. My main was the French Onion Soup. Very pricey but I can tell you that it was over the top delicious. And filling. I only had room for a shareable bean and asparagus side salad.

                      The bread is freshly baked and the butter is delish.

                      I WILL go back.

                      1. re: MeMeMe

                        Yes, we went early on a weeknight and the service was good, the room empty. When we left at 7:30, it was at 80%. No doubt it will succeed, as the smart receptionist confirmed they are doing 2 1/2 turns for weekend dinners.

                        The restaurant is very pretty, but the chairs are all terribly uncomfortable. We know, because we tried the various ones on the floor. That's poor design, unless it was a deliberate choice to turn tables. The only tolerable ones were at the oyster bar, and yes, the full menu is available there.

                        We two shared six dishes, all edible and unremarkable, with a tendency to be just a tad over-seasoned, or too heavily dressed or sauced, or too sweet. Even the soufflé managed to be just too sweet and too heavy, and the fried sweetbreads were ok, but dry (not creamy!) and lost in the coating and seasoning.

                        (Our third sweetbreads dish that week as we always order them when offered, both to encourage the restaurants to stock and make them and as an excellent test of a kitchen. This place is large and busy enough to be able to stock finicky items like sweetbreads, and seems to need no encouragement. What it needs is more attention to the prep. )

                        The best to eat was the kale / mushroom salad. It was messily heaped on the plate, but crunchy, original and tasty.

                        That said, we WILL go back. It is by far the best on offer in the area, with a broad menu that will appeal to a variety of tastes. Excellent for groups, as a utility before or after theatre, and for out of town summer guests who will also enjoy poking through the shops and studios.

                        And we will order the simplest items hereafter. Oysters, steaks frites, and maybe burgers.

                  2. Here is my input for the brunch from last month
                    This is another addition to the mundane restaurants that line the distillery district.
                    The interior is striking to say the least so full marks there. The staff is well trained though is overly keen at times so full marks there as well. So if those two items are high on your criteria by all means visit this place.
                    I have had exposure to both the bakery and the restaurant so will rate them separately.
                    Bakery is kind of neat and the desserts look enticing. I ordered a apricot tart and my friend had the Bostock. The tart has a good shell. The filling was over powered by the almond extract IMO. Bostock was OK again over use of almond extract IMO.
                    The macarons look good so will give them a try though next time but with SOMA right across I think they have stiff competition already.
                    I dined here for brunch. Had already looked at the menu so knew exactly what to get.
                    Crab Benedict. Crab meat was forgetful and has that frozen taste to it. The eggs were poached well and the hollandaise was OK. Fries were shoestring and didn't do it for me.
                    French toast. Didn't try it as was having dessert later from the comments I was told it was way too sweet.
                    Merguez Sausages a surprisingly huge portion, was decent and I would recommend sharing it with a 3-4 people as an add on if you like this sausage.
                    The cafe latte was forgetful too apparently.
                    I would say 2.5 stars for food with a half star thrown in for ambiance.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: elvisahmed

                      The woman who cuts my hair is a total foodie. She's given me a number of successful recommendations (e.g. very grateful to her for telling me about 416Snack Bar, where I've had great meals).
                      She has recently been raving about Cluny, telling me how great it is, how she's been recommending it to everyone, everyone loves it, and that I had to go.

                      But I can't pull the trigger because of all the hot/cold or mediocre reviews.

                      1. re: MattHooper

                        My friend loves Cluny, and she's dined there at least a dozen times since it opened. She loves food, and loves many restaurants that are often recommended on this Board. She also likes atmosphere and scene (Cluny was packed many nights over the summer). I think the service style at Cluny, and menu also work for her. She likes the kale salad (she orders kale salad whenever it's offered, but she likes most kale salads), the chickpea stew, the burger and the passion fruit soufflé. I was surprised to see how much she likes it, and how much she wanted me to like it. She was disappointed I wasn't as enthusiastic as she was, but we've all got different tastes. She doesn't like several restaurants I really like. For me, I think Cluny is decent for a pre-theatre meal, and I'd order a salad, burger or maybe steak if I want a pre-theatre meal, but I'd recommend Chowhounds (who have similar likes/dislikes to me) lower their expectations so they won't be disappointed. While there are dozens of Toronto restaurants I prefer to Cluny, while dining in the Distillery District, I'd still probably rather eat at Cluny or El Catrin over Pure Spirits, Mill St Brewery or Archeo.

                        1. re: MattHooper

                          I guess it will be down to personal preference then. People here don't recommend Le Societe' but I enjoy myself there. If you trust your friend's food choices by all means go for it. Worse case you will have something to share with us :)
                          P.S. I didn't like 416 Snack bar so you and I don't have similar taste in food.

                          1. re: elvisahmed

                            Not necessarily. I like La Societe'too :-)

                            1. re: MattHooper

                              We have reached an impasse. You should try Cluny so we can compare notes :)

                      2. Looping back here since we've visited Cluny twice since I posted here asking about it back in July.

                        Our first visit was stellar. The server was great -- professional but personable -- and the decor is stunning. The place has an energetic (but not deafening) vibe. All four people in our party enjoyed our meals. We also shared a few apps, and augmented some things with fois gras. I had the steak frites and it was one of the nicest steaks I've had in years. We spent more at the bakery counter on the way out, picking up some nice croissants and delicious apple bread. The place wasn't cheap, but in general the experience was well above average and it felt unique in Toronto.

                        Our second visit a month later was more mediocre. They seated us at a really awkward table that stuck into the main entrance walkway, even though we'd made our reservations over a week in advance. Our server was friendly but a bit nervous and surprisingly blunt in his comments. We started with a few cocktails and they weren't the best. Our friend seemed to like her main, a giant ravioli. My wife's main (an escargot dish) started out fine but by the halfway point became so salty she couldn't finish it. I ordered poorly, the "crisp Erie perch" which I did not expect was going to be chopped into tiny chunks, battered, and fried like fish and chips. It tasted fine, if a bit Captain Highliner, but was also too heavily salted. This time, the very high final bill was a bit less fun to pay considering the experience was pretty mediocre overall. On leaving we again visited the bakery again and picked up some chocolate croissants, but these proved to be undercooked and very gluey on the inside when we ate them the next morning.

                        So in the end I'm torn on Cluny -- it can be great, but it's huge and permanently very busy with a huge staff, so I can imagine that consistency will be difficult to maintain over time. I will go again, but will probably order more cautiously, stick to a beer and some steak frites and maybe some oysters.