Café Jumbo – First Look

It’s a cold and rainy evening in early November. Covid cases are on the rise everywhere, and the world is anxiously awaiting the final US election results. What I could really use right now is a little escape, and I wonder if the newly opened Café Jumbo, glowing warmly on this dark night, might be just the ticket.

Full disclosure: I find eating indoors in restaurants in the midst of a pandemic somewhat anxiety-inducing, so until now, I’ve been appreciative and taking full advantage of our city’s many outdoor patios and takeout options. These options are also available at Café Jumbo (two tables sidewalk-side and most menu items available to-go). My usual anxiety was immediately lessened by the friendly welcome and the obvious precautions taken; my temperature is taken at the door and contact tracing info. A quick look around, and I can see that all the staff are wearing masks, and the tables are well spaced out, with a hanging plexiglass divider between the two front window tables. I veer away from my plan to have a quick look at the new space and order some things to take home, and instead, I take a seat by the window.

I am so glad I did, as the next hour transported me to summer in Italy, with an Elderflower spritz in my hand and a gorgeous Panzanella salad on my plate. It is just as owner Bruce Gillespie first described it to me when I met with him back in September – high-quality food being served with attention to detail, both in the flavours and in the atmosphere that surrounds it, with a generous nod to the cafés of Europe that inspired it. I am impressed by how accurately his vision has materialized.

When Bruce told me that this would be a “Franco-Italian” café, I asked if he was thinking of any in particular. A smile crossed his face as he reminisced about two cafés in Paris – one on the Left Bank and one on the Right – one where you’d go for coffee and a pastry and good people-watching, and one where you’d go for a working lunch of rotisserie chicken that would stretch out into the afternoon. He was imagining that this new café might offer some consolation to enthusiastic travellers who are being kept close to home during the pandemic, and it is undoubtedly filling that bill for me tonight.

Head Chefs Connor Berg and Jesse Wilson are at the helm in the Little Jumbo kitchen, which will be supporting service in the new café. A new menu has been created for the café, inspired by some of the classics of Southern France (French onion soup, Landaise salad, Pot de crème…) and Northern Italy (Panzanella salad, Venison Carpaccio and a divine Panna Cotta). It doesn’t stop there, though, but introduces exciting new elements as well. I asked about the cucumber pearls in my salad. The helpful waiter went to the kitchen and then reported back on a process that suggested a solid acquaintance with molecular gastronomy techniques and how much fun and curiosity the chefs bring to their kitchen.


My first visit to Café Jumbo took me to Italy, but I plan to stop in again soon and escape to France, perhaps with the help of some duck liver paté and a Bijou cocktail.

Café Jumbo is located at 506 Fort Street and is open from 4 pm-10 pm, Wednesday-Sunday (closed Monday-Tuesday).

Written By:

Rebecca Baugniet is a freelance food writer and editor living on Canada’s West Coast with her husband and their four children. The author of three published cookbooks, Rebecca has also written for EAT Magazine and for Montréal ...

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