L’Ouvrier is a peculiar place. The cuisine, the crowd, the décor – it’s a quirky joint that is worth exploring. Nestled amongst the growing list of culinary heavyweights on Dundas West, L’Ouvrier is here to offer the abstract dining experience. It’s minimalist, spontaneous and, quite frankly, it’s a bit bizarre.
Previously housing an after-hours nightclub, the current tenants seem to have little desire to fill the industrial space. The front door is scarcely labelled, the white walls are primarily bare, and the high ceilings impart feelings of emptiness and abandonment. Tables of mismatched sizes and shapes (the odd one painted psychedelic pink) are oddly placed around the room. Then there is the art – sure to be a table topic. With one wall sparsely covered by Ziploc bags filled with odds and ends (one with hot pink yarn, another with construction bolts), and another with electrical wiring twisted into words, art at L’Ouvrier will be random to some but genius to others. It’s quiet here. White noise tranquility is the dominating sound.
It’s a Friday evening. Surprisingly, there is only bar seating available but there is no sense that the place is crowded. Perhaps it is the haphazard table layout that ensures the room never feels full. The first impressive quality is the cocktail list, delivered on a ripped piece of corrugated cardboard and held together with paperclips. It’s diverse yet simple with a wide range of flavours represented from fruity pineapple and citrus accents to a light, refreshing lavender. Each one is prepared expertly and proportionately – witnessing their creation was just as interesting as experiencing the flavours. The entire list is well thought-out and the uniqueness of the blends is complementary to the art on the walls. While a lengthy list of wine, bubbly and beer are also options, the spirits are the true star.
The food menu juxtaposes the décor. While the room is industrial and cold, the menu is filled with comfort food and warmth – a smattering of fashionable dishes. The options are schizophrenic: oysters, kohlrabi slaw or ravioli with Brussels sprouts. No limits, no theme. It seems like anything goes at L’Ouvrier.
The food is prepared well and portions are sizable, but something is left to be desired. The pig cheek and perogie entree – touted as the best item on the menu by our server – had a saltiness that simply left us wanting for more diversity in flavours, despite the kale, mushroom and fried shallot accompaniments. Grilled shrimp on crab tortellini had strong potential, but swimming in a creamy bisque sauce, there was a buttery sameness across every bite. The grilled cheese appetizer was the highlight; the perfect amount of char, tomato chutney with a delightful, familiar sweetness, and a crisp cucumber to top it off. A generous helping of cheddar also helped seal the deal.
For young professionals looking for the best in dining, L’Ouvrier just doesn’t measure up to Dundas West’s current all-star lineup. The drinks, though, they’ll have us coming back again.
For a Business Meeting – 6/10. It’s quiet enough that you can actually conduct some business, but the emptiness just verges on daunting. Your more informed colleagues will wonder about your choice.
For a Group – 6/10. Groups are the norm at L’Ouvrier. The quiet gives you a feeling that everyone around you is listening to your conversation – especially if you’re the type of crowd to get a little rowdy.
For a Date – 7/10. Go for a quality cocktail and conversation before or after dinner. It’s nice, quiet and out of the way – you’ll be able to give her your undivided attention.
For a Business Meeting – 5/10. While the menu offers a variety of food options, the quality just does not impress. The overall vibe is also quite casual. Should you choose L’Ouvrier for professional purview, I’d limit the guest list to the scenesters who value uniqueness over quality.
For a Group – 7/10. The large tables scattered around the room offer comfortable seating for a group outing. Ask ahead about the tasting menu – always a crowd pleaser if you’re looking to make a night of it.
For a Date – 7/10. The bar offers a good perch and the eccentric vibe may reveal an impressive layer of your character.
His Last Word
Definitely go for the cocktails and give this place a chance. I’ll go back just for the Old Fashioned – you should too.
Her Last Word
If Phoebe Buffay opened a restaurant, it would be exactly like this. It can’t quite compete with the sharpest kids on the block, but the place is quirky, cute and you’ve got to love the authenticity.
Photos courtesy L’Ouvrier