Libertine (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 1307 Dundas Street West
Type of Meal: Dinner

If you’re going to visit Libertine, make sure you know what to look the restaurant has no signage.  Instead, you’ll see a neon rectangle “tarot cards palm reading” sign over the doorway and likely see a group of older men smoking outside at the billiard’s place beside it.  It’s situated in the basement of the building and along the way down you’ll see a small room behind a beaded curtain where the fortune teller resides (when we visited on a Friday they weren’t there, but readings range from $25-$45).

The lounge/dining room is open and spacious, making you forget about the narrow door and stairway you just descended.  There are plenty of horseshoe shaped booths, long barstool tables for large groups and a fair sized bar.  The mythological fortune teller theme continues with the art adorning the walls and wheel of fortune at the back. 

The menu changes depending on ingredient availability, but generally offers a fair number of vegetarian and vegan options.  Libertine is another “small plates” format restaurant where dishes are meant to be shared around the table.  During our visit we tried a total of five dishes;   in general, they were decent but some a bit confusing with the addition of elements that didn’t go at all.  Normally, I like dishes with varying flavours and textures, but there has to be some cohesion or at the very least have complementary ingredients for the concoction to be successful.  

The pierogies ($14) was an example of such a dish. Included in the dish were pan fried pierogies with a piece of pork belly.  But, then sprinkled over everything were flakes of sweet freeze dried (?) milk that stuck to your teeth (an ingredient our table would have happily had eliminated from the dish). Aside from the milk flakes, the dish consisted of three mediocre pierogies and a small piece of chewy pork belly.  The pierogies’ potato and cheese filling (cheddar and gruyere in Libertine’s case) was tasty but could be a bit saltier as it really didn’t hold up to the dough.  I’ve had much better ones at Pravda.  The pork belly was also lackluster with none of the richness you’d expect. When seeing it on the menu, this was the one I was most excited about but ended up disappointed with.

Another mishmash dish was the poached prawn ($14).  The prawns were well cooked and when combined with the sprinkles of chorizo added a great salty essence to everything. The edamame pods were also good and brought a nice fresh crunchy aspect to everything.  But, then there were cubes of potatoes and guacamole piped into shrimp chips; although good on their own, didn’t seem to go with the poached prawns.

But, there were some good dishes such as fried tofu ($11).  Delicate pieces of silken egg tofu were freshly deep fried and combined with a flavourful dashi broth and aromatic shallots.  Some small pieces of broiled (?) cauliflower were also included to contrast the soft tofu.  Sprinkles of nori strips and edible flowers topped the dish giving it a beautiful presentation.  This is an excellent example of a dish that does have a lot of flavours and ingredients but they worked.

Another one was the fried chicken ($16), but it’s pretty hard to mess up crunchy chicken.  The pieces were tender and still had a crispy savoury crust. Small pieces of bibb lettuce and pickled carrots accompanied the chicken to give it a bo ssam feel (although it’s weird that there are six pieces of chicken but only four pieces of lettuce).  But then again, the dish appeared to be torn between being Korean or Southern as it also had coleslaw and ketchup included with it that didn’t really go well with the bo ssam theme.

Lastly, the pasta fritta ($7), reminding me of a cross between a pita puff and garlic knots was split between our table.  I found it to be fairly flavourful with the coating of black garlic and parmesan making it a good snack to accompany beers.  But, another guest detested it and found its oiliness off putting compared to the other menu items.

Libertine only offers one dessert nightly, which for us was a panna cotta ($8).  I didn’t actually have any but appeared to be enjoyed by the other guests.

Instead, I opted for the Miss Shirley cocktail ($11.50; even though the menu states all cocktails are $13).  It took a long time for it to arrive and when it did looked as if someone had already drank from it (the enclosed picture is actually how it full the cocktail was at arrival). Who knows, perhaps that’s why they didn’t charge full price for it. Nonetheless, the cocktail had an interesting herby taste that I enjoy from the basil added to the gin and strawberry puree.  Although it looks sweet and girly, the dash of white balsamic Libertine adds to it actually cuts the sweetness.

A libertine is described on Wikipedia as “one devoid of most moral restraints … especially one who ignores or even spurns accepted morals and forms of behaviour sanctified by the larger society”.  During our visit, the patrons didn’t seem to be libertines at all; rather, most were quiet with only one person dared to spin the wheel of fortune, capturing everyone’s attention for a brief moment.

We left the restaurant at about 10:30 on a Friday and even at that point it was still relatively empty and the lounge vibe didn’t start yet.  In the end, Libertine appears to be trying to become another supper club but in my opinion hasn’t mastered either yet.   

Overall mark - 6.5 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!