Liberty Belle Bistro
Liberty Belle Bistro has recently opened with first-time restaurateur and head chef Aidan Pascoe at the helm. Having cut his teeth at Le Select and Le Gourmand, his humble, month-old King West eatery exudes Gallic charm while offering some seriously soulful takes on bistro classics. Liberty Belle's card is solid, franco-comfort food that you'd knock out yerself if only your kitchen wasn't a mere 10 square feet of your 450 square foot condo--and, well, you could cook.
Non-descript from the outside (save for the period-inspired signage), the snow covered patio facing Lamport Stadium'll definitely require a reservation once the weather warms and the folks from the surrounding condosphere flock to it for weekend brunches, or animators arrive post-work to suck back some sunshine, a few Quebecois microbrews, a few perfect G&Ts made with Hendricks and Fever Tree tonic, and an order of sous chef Rob Green's cherubically plump, delicious daily changing moules ($12 app w/bread and $16 as a main with frites-- in white wine cream on our visit, garnished with a tangle of sweet bell pepper and scallion threads).
While inside, the smaller tables in the modest space could maybe use some tablecloths to soften the edges of the room (red and white check for authenticity sake, natch), on the whole you can't help but feel your blood pressure drop after a few minutes soaking up the restaurant's easy-going vibe which combines French pop music and fin de siècle photographs with a few well-placed conversation pieces like the 70s era pachinko machine that I'm told they're in the process of repairing, and the repurposed fridge door adorning the men's bathroom stall (complete with plastic eggs and veg) which all conspire to create a warm playful ambience.
Oddly enough, none of these details feel forced, delighting simply because that's their purpose, purely there to be enjoyed. Likewise the food. It's casual and very familiar but executed with care and the odd thoughtful flourish.
The time-honored poached-egg-crowned frisée salad with lardon, roasted vine tomatoes and aged balsamic reduction ($10) skews slightly new world with the addition of ripe slices of avocado.
The tasty house take on tartare ($12), rife with sweet onion mince and briny capers, could use an extra crostini or two on which to shmear the remainder of the flavourful chopped steak, but by the end of each you'll feel like you've com across a chance meeting with an old friend that you wonder why you don't see more often.
The moist, flaky salmon fillet ($20) arrives anointed with housemade dill-spiked crème fraiche, accompanied by a generous heap of garlic mashed potatoes and warm brussel sprout/crispy lardon slaw tasty enough to make any fussy kid eat their greens.
Those same sides are the supporting cast to the requisite crispy skinned, fork-tender duck confit elevated by the addition of candied orange peel garnish.
Short work is made of the dependable steak frites ($22): 8 oz of strip loin done to perfect medium rare (as requested) sided with traditional shoestring double-cooked fries and anise-y house made ketchup.
Desertwise the satisfying crack gives way to pleasantly bitter brulee and sweet, thick crème in the brown sugar and bourbon creme brulee which is perfectly chased with a cup of te aro coffee or outstanding steeped and infused early grey.
Service, while initially shaky--we waited a while for our bottle of wine to arrive--soon steadies into a dependable rhythm both utterly charming and wholly unobtrusive, that affects far more élan than ennui from the table.
Liberty Belle, while finding its feet, is definitely on its way to solid ground and as local haunts go, you'll wish it haunted your hood. It's not Edith Piaf's smoky coo piped over the PA or the can-can girls flirting from each menu's backside that conjures a bistro vibe; Pascoe and company share a philosophy bent on giving the classics their due respect, being a little cheeky and being cool without trying too hard--all of which is very, very French.
photographs courtesy Aislinn Smith