This new French restaurant on King West is the most talked-about spot in the city

Tucked away on Portland Street, Café Renée is the latest hotspot to capture the attention of King Street’s worldly and adventurous crowd.

Inside the transformed townhouse awaits an oasis of Instagram-worthy moments from the French-Italian menu helmed by chef Nick Liu of DaiLo, to a dining space in a stunning glass atrium or discover the hidden gem upstairs: Charlemagne, the second secret cocktail bar.

According to general manager and operating partner Bianca Rossi, the glistening white tiles, tabletops reflecting light, and the panelling of windows at the back of the space is meant to inspire a “lived-in French bistro,” with focus on a lively, bustling atmosphere — not unlike that of the neighbourhood Café Renée now calls home. 

Though it has already caught the attention of the King Street crowd, Café Renée doesn’t need to make a name for itself, considering it accidentally borrowed from a Canadian icon—the Canadian icon herself, Celine Dion, who was born in the Quebec city of Charlemagne and whose late husband’s name was René.

“She’s a living legend so it’s a great homage,” Rossi says, noting that the partners chose the name without realizing the connection. “It was meant to be.”

The new addition could become the ultimate go-to spot for battling rising living costs without compromising on the taste of a decadent cocktail. With daily martini happy hours from 5 to 7 p.m., and rotating happy hours between martinis and spritz from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m., indulging in another drink won’t leave you feeling guilty or strain your wallet.

No King Street bar is complete without an espresso martini, and Café Renée offers a unique twist that’s truly unforgettable. Their crème brûlée version, made with maple and bruléed sugar, is a showstopper. Watching the creation process is an experience in itself, with the sweet smell of caramel filling the air and adding to the vibe of the bar.

Beverage director Angus Edmundson, previously from BarChef, brings his expertise to Café Renée, crafting cocktails that put a flavourful spin on classics. The Naya, reminiscent of a Margherita, features grapefruit liqueur and mushroom tincture, while the Binotto blends rye with Fernet Branca, strawberry syrup, and lemon juice. Despite its illusion of sweetness, the Binotto caters to those who prefer a less sugary option.

Bringing an Italian flair to Café Renée, the menu showcases freshly made pastas crafted by chef du cuisine Josh Ling, formerly from a Michelin-starred kitchen in Hong Kong. Indulge in carbonara, escargot ravioli and ricotta and spinach gnudi with green goddess butter sauce, combining the best of Italy with chef Liu’s signature touch. Additionally, the late-night menu offers highlights such as oysters, shrimp cocktail and steak tartare, ensuring there’s something to munch on until last call.

For a taste of Europe, venture upstairs to the speakeasy Charlemagne, a space that contrasts with the bright and lively ambiance of Café Renée. Here, you’ll find a dark and intimate setting complemented by the nostalgic sounds of the 40s, featuring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Sip on specialty cocktails like the Verona, a glistening pink gin, or indulge in a scotch espresso martini. The lighter cocktail menu, distinct from the offerings downstairs, is a well-kept secret waiting to be discovered.

Moving into warmer summer weather, Café Renée will be opening up seating in the back garden and adding a weekend brunch menu.

Café Renée and Charlamagne are open at 100 Portland Street.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO