I don't often write reviews about restaurants but as a savvy food person not doing so would be criminal to those expecting something special. Most of us who follow the local food scene knows that the restaurant is run by former Lumiere chef Dale Mackay and staffed by former staff of Lumiere and DB Bistro. So you can see the expectation here of the food and service quality.
Okay, so here's how our adventure begins. We arrived at the restaurant on Friday evening without a reservation. It's something we do quite often to gauge a restaurants ability to provide quality service ad-hoc. We were greeted warmly by our hostesses and a high stool table was available at the back of the restaurant. We were seated and provided the menus. The menu items looked enticing enough to the eyes so we were quite excited with the offerings. The waitress greeted us and offered beverages. We ordered a bottle of sparkling water for $7.00.
For dinner we ordered the Spot prawns and the foie gras sundae for appetizers. The spot prawn appetizer came on a beautiful leaf style plate with 2 "canapé like" pieces each with 2 prawns. The prawns were not tasty at all. As a matter of fact they were mushy and i swear it seemed like they used frozen instead of fresh spot prawns. I don't get it. The month of May is spot prawn season. You can't honestly say that fresh spot prawns were not available. I was at Granville Island the week prior and picked up a pound easily. The shredded lettuce garnish made it taste even more watery. A cocktail sauce provided tasted more ketchupy than cocktail sauce. Now to the foie gras sundae. We were told this was a popular item at Lumiere. There was barely a taste of the foie gras and the brioche waffle, while whimsical, lacked the buttery flavor that should be in brioche. We were told to spoon everything down to the bottom to get the full flavors of the sundae. But The balsamic drizzle used to simulate chocolate sauce drowned out the rest of the flavors.
Main courses. We had the chicken done 2 ways - crispy and poached and the black cod in Thai broth. The poached chicken breast was a bit dry and lacked flavor. The crispy chicken "spring roll" was fine though the portion size was a bit small. The accompanying trumpet mushrooms were also over salted. The black cod in Thai broth was sublime though so you can't say we were out to get them!
Dessert was the best course. The raspberry souffle and chocolate fondant we ordered were delicious. Kudos to the pastry chef.
I understand that new restaurants need time to tweak things to get to perfection but there's an expectation that if you take the majority of a crew from one restaurant and drop them into the downtown core from West Broadway that there should be very little transition time. The food quality and portion expectations need to be better managed for what they pay, Ensemble is NOT Lumiere and the Relais Gourmand designation it had belonged to Rob Feenie and his crew that brought it to the table when it was his. You got to be passionate and bring it if you care to say that you were mentored by Ramsey and Boulud and ran Feenie's kitchen. In the meanwhile, we'll be hanging out at Les Faux Bourgeois. At least a great 3 course meal there for 2 people will cost less than $80 with tip!