David Bistro and David Chapman’s Five-Star OeuvreBy Bryan Lavery
David Chapman, chef and owner of David’s Bistro on Richmond Street in London, started his career with an apprenticeship at the Grand Central Hotel in Belfast, the epitome of luxury in Northern Ireland at the time. The heyday of this hotel ended in 1972, when it was taken over by the British Army during the height of political conflict known as “the troubles.”
For the first half of his career, Chapman was employed in hotel kitchens. David’s talent was quickly recognized and he moved up through the ranks. Cooking stints just outside London, England, and in Bermuda and Toronto eventually led him here to London, Ontario. Chapman’s first job in London was at Whiddington’s, a tony French restaurant at the corner of Wellington and York Streets.
In 1980, the Villa Restaurant, owned by Tony and Irene Demas was purchased by Nick Bonfrere (of London Fishery fame), who renovated and modernized it. The venerated Villa became the upscale and top-notch Anthony’s Seafood Bistro, and Chapman became the chef. The restaurant was operated by local restaurant legends, Nick and Carolyn Bonfrere, and after several years they re-located to Florida, where they opened a string of successful restaurants. Anthony’s was then purchased by Anne and Archie Chisolm. Chapman stayed on as chef. The Chisolms would later conceptualize and open the Little Red Roaster on Wortley Road, which is credited in part with the revitalization of Wortley Village. When the Chisolms left Anthony’s (by then a local landmark), Chapman took over running the business.
After being chef, then chef/owner of Anthony’s Seafood Bistro for eighteen years, Chapman decided to reinvent himself and open a traditionally inspired French bistro a couple of doors down the street. The emphasis was not just on seafood, but authentic country French cuisine with locally sourced ingredients. Chapman is a long-time proponent of the philosophy that simplicity and purity are the hallmarks of good cooking. Many of the pleasures are found in the subtlty of the ingredient-and-integrity driven kitchen.
It wasn’t long before David’s Bistro, with its tiny bar, vibrant red walls, and black-checked tablecloths, became a venerated downtown culinary anchor.
David, his wife Cindy Kinsella, and David’s daughter Natalie are your hosts and are on hand to dispense intelligent, charming and professional service.
David’s protégé, chef Elvis Drennan, a talent in his own right, continues to present superbly executed classic regional French-inspired dishes. Drennan apprenticed with Chapman at Anthony’s and has been working with him for over seventeen years.
An interesting blackboard prix fixe menu changes daily. The restaurant is known for and acclaimed for its idiosyncratic multi-course “Trust Me” dinners – a precursor to chef tasting menus.
Over the years, the food and the service have remained impeccable. When the London Free Press was still reviewing restaurants, David’s was awarded with a rare five-star review. Today this review would still hold the test of time, with additional accolades for consistency and longevity.
David’s classic bistro fare includes a delicious terrine of sweetbreads and leek, with chunky fig compote and crunchy cornichons; a fragrant Provençal-inspired stew with tender seafood, served with a garlicky rouille on a crouto; and the pièce de résistance, a cassoulet of bacon, lamb and duck, with white beans adding a delicious amplifying effect on the stew’s earthy flavours and heavenly aroma.
At lunch, cornmeal-crusted Lake Erie yellow perch with lemon, capers and tomato melt in your mouth, as well as Lake Erie whitefish cake with tarragon remoulade and micro greens. David’s other signature dishes have included a knockout choucroute garni (an Alsacian-inspired mélange of sauerkraut, sausages and charcuterie) and a superb confit of duck with a delectably robust gorgonzola tart. The menus change seasonally. The desserts are house-made in the classic French tradition. There is also a good cup of coffee.
With an extensive consignment selection and accessibly priced wine list, as well as interesting chalkboard features, David's can lay the claim to having the best wine selection in the city.
432 Richmond Street, London
Hours of operation
lunch: Wednesday to Friday, 11:30 am to 2:30 pm
dinner: daily from 5 pm to 10 pm