Every serious restaurant is an expression of taste on the part of its chef and owners, a balance of principles and concessions in an effort to offer a brief but memorable experience to the patron.
The collection of stylish restaurants around the Covent Garden Market and Budweiser Gardens continues to expand with the opening of Le Rendez-Vous, and the more understated London Wine Bar which opened last fall beside Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium. Both businesses were initially held up by delays in building inspection during last year’s strike by the city’s inside workers.
Le Rendez-Vous (briefly The Dirty Martini — turns out to be a ubiquitous name with possible legal ramifications) is a lush supper club style restaurant with innovative modernist cuisine. It is located in the former bank building that was more recently the home of the micro-distillery Black Fly Beverage Co., and the Villa Resto-Lounge.
It is almost impossible to imagine a more urbane and sexy place to dine than the Le Rendez-Vous in London. We love the reel-to-reel sound system and the sultry jazz/rock stylings. In the evening the restaurant has a vibrant energy and attracts a social scene centered on the long granite bar. The lighting is sophisticated, and wherever you are seated the views are unobstructed.
The art deco premises at the corner of Talbot and Dundas have been refurbished and decorated with dark wood bookshelves, Venetian-style glass chandeliers and quilted white faux-leather banquette seating and matching ultra-modern chairs with chrome bases.
The long bar along the east wall with overhead mirrors is a dominant feature. The tapas/snack menu and the large windows that open to the street cater to the later-night target audience spilling out of Budweiser Gardens events. The windows provide visibility from inside and out.
The small plates/tapas offerings guarantee plenty of choices for the after-hours crowd. A large quenelle of beef tartare with sherry gel, brik pastry crackers, egg yolk, watercress, and smoked marrow was a success. We also loved the cod cakes and the confit of duck.
The formerly tiny kitchen has been extended and the cooking equipment upgraded with six burners, a convection oven, salamander, grill, heat lamps and a defined pass.
Chef Ashton Gillespie is a Fanshawe alumnus with a long stint at The Only on King and shorter stretches at North Moore Catering, and the now defunct Splendido in Toronto. Time spent at Yours Truly in Toronto gave Gillespie an insight into the Korean and Chinese culinary canon, evident when he fuses unexpected ingredients into his cooking.
On our first visit we were greeted warmly and professionally by both the owner Ridvan Dani and the front of house manager Luca Monti. The women sipping cocktails at the bar told us that the personable Monti is a big draw. Many of you may remember Monti’s hospitality from his years at the London Ale House. He is also a local actor and Artistic Producer of Iglesia Productions Theatre Company.
The service here is intelligent and friendly with waiters wearing crisp white shirts, red ties and long black aprons. The livery matches the ambience — it’s clean, professional and sophisticated.
Le Rendez-Vous features an inventive menu whose mantra is local, farm to table and organic. The restaurant management offers many incentives to get you through the door. We loved the $35.00 prix fixe menu.
We started with the blood orange and beet mousse with beet meringue, compressed blood orange and mounds of finely ground nuts, which the menu referred to as nut soil. The plate was a very modernist offering and far from the typical and ubiquitous beet salad paired with goat cheese that has replaced the tomato and mozzarella salad in popularity. Adding beetroot juice to the meringues makes them fluorescently pink and tends towards the bijou.
Octopus, immaculately grilled, was tender with a good bite, thanks to Chef’s deft touch. It was served with candied fennel, watercress purée, roasted squash and blood orange vinaigrette and a purple potato. The mix of colours made the dish pop and was visually stunning.
The strip loin was perfectly cooked, flavourful, tender, presented in an eye-catching manner. The grilled (cellared) leeks were robust and a nice counterpoint to the steak, complementing the meat nicely. All of the flavours harmonized well together. Butter poached radishes were a creative accompaniment, and the sweet potato was a welcome change from the standard offering. On the current menu there is an excellent rib-eye and delicious arctic char.
In the past year the city’s cocktail scene, whose revival has lagged behind those of Toronto and Stratford, has blossomed. The bar does not take a back seat to the kitchen. The cocktail menu pays homage to the martini. All the signature martinis are named after downtown London restaurants: Abruzzi, Che Resto Bar, Black Trumpet, Blu Duby, The Church Key, La Casa, Tasting Room and Waldo’s.
We are always happy to hear about a new wave of chefs shaking up the established food scene. Ashton Gillespie is among London’s latest up and coming chefs with big futures.
Le Rendez-Vous Dining and Cocktails
109 Dundas Street, London
Tuesday–Thursday: 5:00 pm–11:00 pm
Friday & Saturday: 5:00 pm–2:00 am