Le Swan, the newest restaurant from Toronto restaurateur Jen Agg, isn’t actually entirely new. It’s opening soon in the space of a much beloved restaurant, Swan, which closed in 2015 after nearly 18 years in business. And as Agg follows in the grand tradition of restaurant revamps, she’s calling on nostalgia in a few different ways.
The concept is “French diner,” and the menu from chef James Santon features French bistro classics alongside diner-style comfort food. “It just became abundantly clear that there was a strong connective line between bistro classics and diner standards,” Agg explains. The menu positions steak frites as the counterpoint to chicken fried steak, pits Parisian-style rotisserie chicken against an open-faced hot chicken sandwich, and draws parallels between beef cheek bourguignon and meatloaf.
Le Swan will serve the same menu all day long, from 11 a.m. until 2 a.m., with late-night fondue at 11 p.m. Agg notes that the menu set-up satisfies a variety of price points and caters to a range of customers. “The 22-year-olds can enjoy discovering the warmth of booth seating, grilled cheeses, and bottles of Miller Lite, and the 42-year-olds can splash out with steak and burgundy and slip into a nostalgia coma,” she says.
Agg closed her own beloved Toronto restaurant the Black Hoof last month. But, she told Eater in July, her plan is to “just transplant the entire staff and open [Le Swan] with a well-oiled team.” At the new restaurant, Santon takes on chef duties, while Jake Skakun handles wine and David Greig is in charge of drinks. All are equity partners. “It’s so great working with people who all bring different skill sets to the table,” Agg says. “This is the first project of what we hope will be many.”
For a first project, the team has a lot to live up to, but Agg says that the Le Swan space will feel familiar to those who loved Swan. “We worked with the existing space to preserve the best parts of it and improve it in ways that are so seamless, you might not be able to tell what’s new and what isn’t,” Agg says.
The interior revamp was really a matter of sprucing up the surfaces. Agg, a self-proclaimed “lighting junkie,” found vintage fixtures that struck the appropriate balance between bistro and diner. The team installed a cast zinc bar, and the once-black bathrooms are now white with a floral swan motif.
“It’s sort of a dream spot,” Agg says of the opportunity to revive the old restaurant space. “I have many fond memories of dining there with friends and family way back when it was pretty much Toronto’s only cool restaurant.” Thanks in part to Agg, Toronto is no longer lacking in cool restaurants. Le Swan is likely to rejoin their ranks, and when the restaurant opens “very, very soon,” Agg has two goals: “Continue to set the bar for service and be real busy.”
[Disclosure: Agg has contributed to Eater.com]
• Le Swan [Facebook]