Walking along East Chinatown, you don't expect to find one of Toronto's most authentic French restaurants amid Pho Houses and Chinese Bakeries, but sure enough, there is Batifole. As you'd expect, stepping inside can be something of a culture shock, thanks to the restaurant's charmingly rustic Provençal atmosphere — light wooden cabinets that would be perfectly at home in a living room, basic wine racks tucked unpretentiously between one of the dining tables. Sure, there are a few odd touches (a leg lamp and highly modern light fixtures), but overall, the place has the welcome feel of an unassuming restaurant in rural France.
The service staff does an excellent job of building on that welcoming atmosphere. As my companion and I arrived, we received the attention of our incredibly polite server, who also demonstrated a phenomenal memory as she perfectly recited the three appetizer and five main course specials for the evening. She took our orders promptly, she timed our food perfectly to allow time between courses, and she always attended to our drinks. The service did slow down somewhat as the restaurant filled and we entered the dessert portion of the evening, but our experience was still a good one overall.
For our meals, my companion and I decided to split the white asparagus soup ($10), which came in a hearty, deep bowl. The soup was less creamy than I was expecting, but that was a welcome surprise since I feel many creamy soups can go overboard. I was happy to get all the rich white asparagus flavour without feeling like I was filling up too much before my main dish.
I will eat duck whenever I can, so not surprisingly, for my main, I chose the due de canard ($22), "duck two ways, confit leg & pan seared breast with Muscat grapes." Both the leg and breast were heavenly. Perfectly prepared, the breast was soft and juicy, and the leg succulent and crispy. But what really elevated the meal were the Muscat grapes, which added a wonderfully sweet punch that really enhanced the duck flavour.
My companion had Le Cassoulet Royal ($22), which offered "rustic baked white beans with Duck Confit, Sausages and Crispy Pork Belly." She loved the old-world France and farmer-style feel of the dish, and while she did enjoy the meal itself, she felt it was a little one-note in its flavours, and could have used a bit more texture.
We both finished with a crème brûlée ($7.50) each, which was good, if not so exceptional as to stand out from others we've had. My companion in particular wished the custard and sugar topping could have been a little thicker.
All in all, however, Batifole is great food for a worthy price. In fact, Batifole is being modest when it proclaims on its website that it's "the best French restaurant in Chinatown." It's one of the best French restaurants in the whole city, and it offers one of the best duck dishes I've ever had.