Le Neuf Cafe
Le Neuf Cafe is a serene little cafe and patisserie in a busy area of downtown Toronto.
Though I generally like to think I'm quite familiar with the city's downtown core, I have to admit I've never noticed Clarence Square. But just west of the SoHo Metropolitan Hotel is a roundabout road with a charming row of towns, which, granted, is probably old news for those who live and work in the area.
But for the only-occasional King and Spadina visitor such as myself, Clarence Square is a secret (?) downtown stretch that offer a break from the congestion and, now, a little Parisian-inspired style.
Le Neuf Cafe just opened in the ninth townhome spot, offering French baked goods and pastries, coffee, tea, and come springtime, a patio. "Lovely" is pretty much the only word to describe the scene, which includes hanging teardrop light fixtures, gorgeous arched molding, and a mix-and-match of old victorian armchairs, custom created tables, and raised communal seating for a great window view.
Most often you'll find Fouzia directing traffic behind the bar (usually in French) equipped with knowledge from her years operating a bar back in Paris. After getting married and moving to Toronto about four years ago, Fouzia made it her mission to bring a little bit of Paris with her to the downtown Toronto scene.
"For me, a lot of this has been about atmosphere," she says. "I really wanted Le Neuf to feel like Paris."
She also wanted its offerings to taste like Paris, of course, so she's hired a baker from France to make the pain au chocolat, tartelettes, quiche, crepes, macarons and more. Le Neuf also offers a daily selection of soups, sandwiches, and salads, with brunches of galettes, crepes, and omelettes on the roster every weekend.
While I'll concede that I never actually have been to Paris (yet), the atmosphere does seem decidedly different from the typical King West hustle and bustle. Granted, I'm sure the Francophone chatter over the cafe au lait ($3.25) in the corner probably has something to do with it, but I think it's the relative quietness that really prevails. Le Neuf has a couple of actual doors — not hinged glass — plus steps and a patio separating it from the sidewalk, and even then, Clarence Square doesn't come with the streetcar rattle and incessant honking of a block or two north. The effect is a pleasant one and definitely a downtown change — perfect for escaping with a cappuccino ($3.00) and Le Neuf's signature pain au chocolate ($2.75).
Speaking of, I can't help but indulge. The pain au chocolat is divine in terms of buttery flavours and soft texture, but could use a little bit more in the realm of "chocolat." For chocolate fiends such as myself the tartelette is, perhaps, the better option, but with tied curtains, lots of sweets, and relative quiet most of all, it really seems hard to go wrong with an afternoon at Le Neuf.
UPDATE: Le Neuf Cafe is now open for dinner.
Photos by Morris Lum