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About
Le Kensington Bistro and Rotisserie is a moderately priced casual Bistro restaurant located by College St and Augusta Ave in the Kensington Market area of Downtown Toronto. Le Kensington specializes in Bistro cuisine and features a patio, brunch, casual dining, group functions, local foods in a casual atmosphere
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Le Kensington Bistro and Rotisserie The Menu
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Review: Ups and downs at LKB

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on October 13, 2011
 

When Caffe La Gaffe burned down eons ago that was the end of great bistro fare in Kensington Market. I can still taste that signature salad, spinach with a la minute sautéed lardons drizzled over every leaf. This sorely missed hole-in-the-wall oozed with as much charm as this bowl oozed with melted Gruyere on perfectly toasted baguette. That was 1985.

More than 25 years later, Kensington Market is still more a hotbed of vintage clothing finds, cheap eats and inexpensive produce than it is a finer dining destination - not to mention some of the best coffee and empanadas in town.

And with the opening of Le Kensington Bistro, a teensy weensy boite on Augusta, formerly La Palette, owners Jean-Charles Dupoire, chef, and Sylvain Brissonnet, sommelier, aim to fill a void. At least that's the impression I get at first. Yes it's another hole-in-the-wall with all the dã cor savvy of your first college apartment. And for the area, it works just fine, especially the vintage photos of turn of the century Kensington.

What about the food? Digging into a hugely generous slab of foie gras ($19) begs the question: if this isn't the best French restaurant in town I don't know what is? Delicately seared outside, the mouth-watering molten interior spills onto a perfect peach compote strewn with blueberries. Offal-y wow.

After that opener, it's hard to resist not ordering everything on their handwritten chalkboard menu, some items changing daily. Just please ensure that the steak tartar ($12) is available every day. It's gobbled down so fast I get the hiccups.

But the hiccups stick around longer than they should, only this time they come from the kitchen. It's really hard to screw up the French classic moules marinière ($18), but while these mussels are beautifully plump and fresh, the broth has about as much dimension as dish water, the aroma of white wine and garlic missing. It's not even worth sopping up with sliced baguette that, too, is not worth the calories. And surely bohemian flair doesn't have to mean dollar-store rattan bread baskets. At least accompanying frites with a zesty mayo are a nice distraction.

When you advertise a specialty of the house, it had better be great. And LKB boasts some pretty fine rotisserie chicken. Brissonnet spent a lot of time and money getting the right oven into the tiny place so a warm and hearty melange of bird and beans is expected. Served a la table in an ovenproof casserole dish are an overcooked half chicken and a side of succotash ($16). The skin, though cooked, lacks the golden crispiness one demands from rotisserie cooking. As for the side, a nice mix of corn, brown beans and green beans lack depth as if they'd been thrown together at the last minute.

Now apprehensive about what's to follow, we try to think up some excuses to see if we can cancel the remaining dishes on order. It's too late, but what a relief. Moments later a plate of sweetbreads ($21) arrives; the gates open and angels sing. So fantastically flavourful, you could even get finicky teenagers to eat them, and have them believe they're eating chicken cutlets instead of thymus gland. The organ's crispy exterior gives way to a buoyant and moist interior, without extensive chew or jiggle, and encircle a huge hillock of sautéed sugar snap peas, Hen of the Woods mushrooms and sautéed romaine. Even an 8oz. AAA strip loin with frites ($22), although on the cool side, is delightfully cooked to a perfect medium rare.

So is it too much to end on a high note? A cherry clafouti ($10) sounds like the perfect closer to go along with some exceptional long decaf Americanos. And, as always, impressed we are by the fact that it is made in house. But how long has it been sitting in the fridge? What should have been a warm - we'd settle for room temperature - custardy cake is stone cold and so tough that even a metal fork has a challenge to cut into the filling.

Ebbs and flows are a common theme. Yet talent and know-how is clearly present in this kitchen. Now if only the owners, old friends since childhood in France's Loire Valley, would work on consistency, LKB might have a chance to merit being called a dining destination amid all the mod shops that Kensington Market is better known for. They have clearly made a success out of nearby Loire on Harbord. So I imagine in time these quirks will all be worked out so Brissonnet, who BTW has a wonderfully charming front-of-the-house persona, will have to spend less time bicycling between the two establishments.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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