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Paul Benallick on What to Expect at French Bistro Cluny

[All photos: Jason Finestone]

Cluny Bistro & Boulangerie is the latest addition to the growing portfolio of Distillery Events. They're the same guys who've commanded the attention of local palates by launching El Catrin, Pure Spirits, and Archeo— so listen up, because Cluny may be the new king.

The ornamented 11,000 square foot space is decidedly Parisian. Designed by Munge Leung, there is space for 170 diners amidst globed lights, floor to ceiling china cabinets, checked banquettes, and painted glass windows that peer into the kitchen. The front café features a long marble bar, Victorian bench seating, antique mirrors, and exposed brick. There's also a 90-seat patio, and private rooms will accommodate 70 to 80 by the end of the year. All of the patisseries and breads are baked on site and can be picked up at the boulangerie Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Executive chef Paul Benallick (formerly of Stock and Jump, amongst others) heads up the restaurant and hopes to bring something evolutionary and exciting to French cuisine in Toronto. Hong Kong native Chris Kwok is the man behind the pastry counter. "Call it , modern French, whatever— I'd like to put out plates that Julia [Child] would be proud of," Benallick says. "Think of us like a seat at your grandmother's table, if your grandmother was on speed."

Here, chef Benallick talks more about his approach to progressive French cuisine and his vision for the future of Cluny.

Explain the concept behind Cluny.
It's simple: Cluny is a modern French bistro. Fun and delicious.

Tell us about your culinary background.
I have been cooking for about 20 years. I've worked in several top Toronto restaurants, partnered in a small restaurant in England, and taught at George Brown College.

How does Cluny differ from your roles at STOCK and Jump?
Cluny is certainly a very different restaurant. It caters to a different clientele than downtown restaurants do. We are more relaxed and fun, and my role here is more all-encompassing. We have more seats and a more diverse business centre: café, restaurant, bar, private dining, and a large patio.

How does Cluny define itself compared to its sister restaurants?
I think that all restaurants start with a vision and then start to take on a life of their own. We are a modern French bistro, baking our own bread and pastries. I think that we are still in the infancy and have not defined our true identity. However, like the other restaurants, we are a large operation designed to cater to a diverse clientele.

What has the reception been like since opening?
We have been very fortunate for our opening. The space is beautiful, and our approach to food has been well received.

What should every diner at Cluny know about the menu?
Have fun with it. The small plates are designed for sharing. Come in, try new things, and experiment with what we've got.

Will the menu change or stay static?
My goal is to change the menu regularly, perhaps one or two items every three to five weeks. I want it fresh and evolving.

What can diners expect for the future of Cluny?
Guests can expect a fresh, evolving, exciting menu. We've opened the café and the patio, and started brunch service— Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Private dining will start at the end of the year.
—Jason Finestone
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