A French term of endearment for lovers, Lapinou directly translates to the word bunny but is better understood as a saccharine pet name. As the name references swooning lovers -- so too does the neo-bistro -- which seeks to captivate patrons in a whirlwind evening of romance. With teal velvet couches, flickering oil lamps and an ornate green marble bar -- it is hard not to feel swept up by the dreamy interiors.
Joining the assemblage of buzzy large-scale restaurants that have come to define the area, Lapinou manages to redefine expectations. King West’s scene has typically focused more so on creating an immersive atmosphere as a prelude to a night out -- rather than delivering exceptional food -- yet Lapinou has managed to successfully execute both.
Housed in a heritage building on King West, the restaurant was already graced with exposed brick walls and beamed ceilings. Design company Model Ctzn -- who also worked on the likes of Sweet Jesus and La Carnita -- wanted the nature of a neo-bistro to transpire through the decor. The brasserie harps back to an old Parisian era, while introducing playful contemporary embellishments.
With a selection of well-balanced cocktails and a wine list dominated by French produced bottles, general manager and sommelier Lauren Hall is there to guide you through some of the lesser known varietals.
The Liason Dangereuse ($15) is a mixture of vodka, St.Germain, ginger, grapefruit, lime and Angostura. It is dangerously refreshing and much too easy to drink.
The Peter Rabbit ($16) is a mixture of bourbon, calvados, chamomile-infused sweet vermouth, Strega and Angostura. A booze-forward drink, this is the perfect cocktail for old fashion lovers who enjoy a hint of smokiness.
The culinary team at Lapinou is headed by chef Jamie Ullrich. The Ontario native is no stranger to fine dining. Ullrich had stints at England’s Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social, as well as Australia’s acclaimed NOMAD. Upon returning home, Ullrich was found in the kitchen of Byblos North, Estia and Nota Bene.
Chef Ullrich verges on obsessive when it comes to sourcing quality Ontario ingredients. He insists on driving over an hour to his preferred farm to source cream for his house-churned butter, as the producer is too small to make deliveries. Cream from Jersey cows yields the most divine and velvety butter and is finished with a sprinkle of Maldon salt.
Bread ($5) is made in-house from a rye starter and spelt flour. The crumb is enviable to any seasoned bread maker -- with a chewy interior and dark crust --the smell of freshly baked bread wafts through the air.
Everyone must order the ham ($19), it will undeniably keep you screaming for more. Ullrich chooses to use coppa, a fattier cut of the pig’s neck, which again is sourced from a small Ontario farm. The morsels of ham are accompanied by comte cheese and celery remoulade. Finished with a generous amount of black truffle shavings, the flavour is subtle and does not overpower the smokiness of the ham.
The beef tartare is a refreshing take on an old french classic. Chanterelle, fennel and pickled blueberries are welcomed mix-ins. The blueberries have even been pickled in blueberry vinegar and offer a pleasant source of acidity. Served with lavash, an unleavened flatbread of Iranian and Armenian descent, the dish is revamped by the use of original accoutrements.
The crab on toast ($18) epitomizes decadent. Fogo island crab is piled high on top of a freshly made crumpet. Reminiscent of eggs benedict, the dish is finished with a generous spoonful of crab hollandaise and shavings of cured egg yolk.
The Parisian style gnocchi ($22) is made from choux-pastry instead of potato. Fermented carrots, artichokes, chanterelles and halved hazelnuts brighten up the dish with acidity and crunch. Finished with a vin jaune sauce, the dish is a staff favourite.
Muscovy duck ($28) is encrusted in wild rice, puffed buckwheat and coriander seed. Cooked to a perfectly pink-hue, the gaminess of the duck is paired nicely with a bed of swiss chard.
For dessert, an apple terrine ($10) with puff pastry and homemade brioche ice cream is worth saving room for. For chocolate lovers, a chocolate ganache tart made with 70% dark chocolate is paired with sesame infused cream and a sprinkling of Maldon salt.
Lapinou is a welcome addition to King West and an excellent example of creating refined French food with local ingredients that entices and excites us.