CLOSED: Cafe Cancan (Toronto)

¯Can you, can you do the cancan?¯ That’s the song running through my mind after hearing Café Cancan replaces the former Harbord Room. I’m half expecting to see a raised bar looking like a stage flanked with velvet curtains and the staff wearing hot pants with fishnets. The reality couldn’t be further - clean cut white furniture and a pastel motif that feels familiar, similar to a host of Italian restaurants opening over the last two years.  

Their menu is fittingly French and filled with the classics including a small foie gras selection and baked escargot. With the cold weather, I start with a hearty French onion soup ($16). Café Cancan’s version tastes surprisingly light even though it incorporates pieces of pulled beef shank and plenty of gruyere, thanks to healthy dose of sherry and vinegar. While it was satisfying, I would have liked the broth to incorporate more onion as I found it predominantly tasted like slightly sour beef soup.

The duck confit ($24) was great, the skin crispy and glistening while the meat fork tender and flavourful. It was smart of the chef to keep the accompanying farro porridge less salty (since confit always has quite a bit of seasoning); the risotto-like side was flavoured with duck jus with a hint of creaminess from the gruyere.

While the size of the tenderloin used in the steak au poivre ($34) is pretty small, the thicker cut allows the beef to stay medium rare. The velvety peppercorn sauce was what you’d expect with the dish and the hot frites nice and crispy.

Café Cancan’s beef cheek bourguigon ($26) is delicious and hearty thanks to thick cuts of pork belly included in the dish. With two fair-sized chunks of beef cheek, you’ll be full afterwards. The sauce did seem a little light on the red wine, but could be due to all the other rich ingredients overpowering it, including the buttery pommes puree.

Only the skate wing a la meuniére ($25) remained unfinished at the end of the meal. Perhaps there was too much going on with the sauce: a tremendous amount of lemon, but then also grapes, apples, and hazelnuts. Moreover, being a thinner fish with distinctive gelatinous muscle layers, the texture can be weird - decreasing the sauce would help with the consistency, allowing the fish to remain crispy. 

Unlike restaurants that are trimming down dessert menus to less than a handful, Café Cancan has plenty of choose from.  If you’re in a rush, put in an order for the Northern spy apple tart for two ($18) earlier as it takes fifteen minutes to prepare. The extra time is well worth it as you’ll be treated to a hot cinnamon apple dessert with relatively crispy pastry. While it’s not nearly as good as Chabrol’s version (there's not enough pastry and the crème anglais is a bit thick), it’s nonetheless satisfying.

The opera cake ($12) also arrives doused in a silky coffee sauce, which I wish was more bitter to help balance out the sweetness of the chocolate and cream layered cake. Regardless, it was still a good dessert, just not a great option for those who don’t like rich sweet items.  

It’s great to see Toronto’s French bistro scene continue to expand. While Café Cancan’s aesthetically looks modern, their menu is refreshingly traditional and for the most part, well executed. It’s not the greatest option for vegetarians or those who want a healthy meal, but is that really what French cuisine is known for? Give me the molten cheese topped soup! I'm eating for winter.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

How To Find Them
 Location: Toronto, Canada
 Address: 89 Harbord Street

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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!

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