Pocket-sized, Russian-themed cocktail bar Kabinet has undergone a metamorphosis. Now a swanky French bistro channelling 1970s Paris, chef Jean-Michel Leblond (aka John Mike) says “things have gone very well” since reopening a few weeks ago.
Having absorbed an adjacent locale that previously contained a fur shop, Kabinet is now three times the size it once was — and more of a restaurant than a bar.
Leblond, the winner of Season 1 of wilderness survival cooking show Chefs des Bois and the creator of shuttered experimental Verdun restaurant Tripes & Caviar, says the owners of Kabinet and neighbouring nightclub Datcha (Patrick Gregoire and Adam Wilcox) approached him six months with the hope of bolstering their two-pronged Laurier Avenue offering with some food. “They wanted people to be able to come as of 4 p.m. and leave around 3 a.m. being fully satisfied. They have eaten, they have drunk, they have danced [at Datcha], and they’re very happy,” Leblond, who hosted his recurring wood-fired barbecue pop-up Espadon at the address four years ago, says.
From the menu, Leblond lists off a series of sharing plates, including garlic and brown butter escargots with a persillade, pressed foie gras with fennel, pear, and sea buckthorn mostarda, shrimp cocktail with “an insanely tasty sauce,” and a 90-day aged beef tartare brightened with sweet pickles, shallots, and a lacto-fermented habanero sauce. “I’m a big fan of old-school, French classics, and the idea here was to take the best that were ever made — and those were from the ’70s,” Leblond says.
Then, Kabinet’s caviar service gives diners the option between trout and salmon roe on the lower end ($41 and $49, respectively) and Polish sturgeon caviar on the top rung ($183). Either way, it’s served on a two-tier porcelain tower with two-week-aged crème fraîche, chives, shallots, chopped eggs, and blinis.
Before digging into the spread, Leblond invites diners to place a dollop of their selected caviar on the back of their hand and taste it without accoutrements “to really enjoy the texture of every single egg popping in your mouth,” he says. Though the so-called “caviar bump” has recently drawn attention as an NYC luxury flex, Leblond says, “It’s been the real and only way to [taste caviar] for decades now.”
Kabinet’s signature fringe light fixtures remain intact, but the team has imported a large crystal chandelier from Ukraine for the revamp. Otherwise, Montreal firm ADHOC Architectes has remade the space with tall archways reminiscent of Paris metro stations and plenty of dramatic jewel-toned velvets, marble-topped tables, and bistro-esque mosaic tiling.
Kabinet is open Monday to Friday, from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m., and Saturday and Sunday, from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., at 98 B Avenue Laurier Ouest.