What’s the vibe

French cuisine is emerging from its stuffy, white tableclothed past and making a name for itself in Toronto’s trendy dining scene. Just look to Brandon Olsen’s La Banane, which has been garnering accolades and a miles-long reservation list since opening in the New Year. The latest chef to enter the fray is Victor Barry, who has taken over the much-loved Harbord Room space and transformed it into an impeccably stylish cafe inspired by a classic French bistro.

Unlike Barry's family-friendly pizza and pasta joint Piano Piano, which is just across the road, Café Cancan suits an elevated clientele – girlfriends catching up over bottles of bubbly, neighbourhood retirees enjoying an afternoon espresso with a pastry or couples tucking into a date night meal. The interior, designed by Tiffany Pratt, is full of detailed moulding, floral wallpaper and gilded decor accents. It’s a setup that's definitely pleasing to the eye.

What to drink

The light and dreamy mood extends to Café Cancan’s back patio which is a fitting location to enjoy the restaurant’s low-proof cocktail offerings. These beverages, made with lighter aperitifs and liqueurs, are ideal for sipping on a sunny summer afternoon when you want to enjoy a bit of booze without being knocked out. We tried the Pêche et Fleurs which is light and fruity with elderflower cordial and a peach liqueur called Rinquinquin. When you’re ready for something stronger, their proper cocktail menu won’t disappoint and bottles of rosé are definitely popular here.

What to eat

View on Instagram

In Café Cancan’s food menu, Barry approaches classic French dishes with a subtle, modern eye. French onion soup gets a hearty infusion with pieces of short roast beneath croutons and stringy gruyere. Duck confit is served atop pureed cauliflower and a bed of apple slices, grapes, hazelnut and endive for a twist on the classic Waldorf salad. There are also decent meat-free options on the menu, like the panisse frite chickpea fritters – a French and Middle Eastern polenta-like hybrid – topped with squeaky grilled halloumi.

Whatever you do, save room for Cafe Cancan’s éclairs. I thought it wise to split their lemon éclair with my guest but instantly regretted that decision upon first bite. It’s the kind of dessert that’s induces sighs with every forkful of the rich, creamy and slightly zesty pastry. We’re already scheming up ways to return just for it.

Dinner and drinks for two: around $120

89 Harbord St., 647-341-3100, cafecancan.com