★★★★ Very Good
No stars Not recommended
Lark — as in "up with the lark" — is a resto and bakery from the folks behind Chew and the Store Next Door in River Heights.
The space, up a few steps at 91 Albert St., was previously home to Albert Street Cocktails, and back then it was dark and a little louche, as a bar should be. Now, befitting its new occupants’ virtuous daytime hours, this Exchange District venue is light and bright.
The renovated room opens things up, working with the high ceilings and huge windows to bring in the sunshine. There’s a long counter piled with baked goods and an alcove that’s stocked with takeaway items like specialty groceries and prepared foods.
Lark’s seasonal menu showcases some inventive, interesting options for breakfast and light lunches, but execution is occasionally uneven, and results range from flat-out terrific to just flat.
91 Albert St.
Go for: some inventive takes on breakfast and lunch
Best bet: a modern salad niçoise with big, strong flavours
Sandwiches: $6-$13; salads: $8-$17
Monday-Friday: 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Wheelchair accessible: no
Noise level: low
★★★ 1/2 out of five
Coffee is good — a sampled Americano is robust — but tea comes with the teabag in the cup, something that saddens tea people.
A nectarine scone was a little tough at the edges and a chocolate croissant a bit dry and heavy, while a morning bun was just lovely, the interior stretchy and tender and the exterior just slightly crisped up with orange-scented sugar. Meringues — sold in the takeout section in little paper bags — are divine, with a dry finish but just a little chew at the centre.
A lot of the humble home-style baking, such as bars, brownies and cookies, is good.
Lark’s imperial cookies, that old-style Winnipeg obsession, are simple and deliciously jammy, and their chocolate chip cookies are perfect, with just the right balance of crispy and chewy.
For a cooked breakfast, there’s shakshuka, not the familiar tomato-based dish but a green version, which is satisfying and sets you up for the day with kale, sweet potato purée and two perfectly calibrated eggs. The flavours get heated up with peppers and cooled down with some lime crema, and beet chips give some textural contrast. There’s lots of toast for sopping everything up (though some butter on that toast would have been nice).
The salad niçoise is a modern take, with big, strong flavours. There are chunks of barely seared albacore tuna, boiled baby potatoes, briny black olives, big sprigs of Italian parsley and lots of edamame — unorthodox, sure, but it works — all wrapped up in a umami-inflected anchovy vinaigrette.
The brie sandwich gets some oomph from the nettle pesto, but the brie could be gooier (brie can almost always be gooier).
The porchetta sandwich features slow-cooked meat that’s meltingly tender — though the meat’s fatty edges need to be rendered and crisped up — augmented with garlicky aioli, all that richness cut with sharp apple mustard and pickled fennel.
Serving dishes mix IKEA staples with grandmotherly china.
Individual staff members are obliging, but the service, which is a vague hybrid of counter ordering and table delivery, can be scattershot.
The takeaway section is handy, especially for downtown dwellers. There are some pantry items, many locally sourced, including Smak Dab mustards and Flora & Farmer preserves and jams. There are high-end oils and vinegars, and little luxuries like white soy sauce, truffle oil and marrow butter.
Frozen dishes that can be reheated at home include potato soup, smooth but intense with roasted garlic, truffly mushroom perogies and chicken parm, which had a nice crisp crust but needed more tomato sauce — and more specific cooking directions.
The selection of breads could include house-made focaccia, baguettes and bagels. A sampled sourdough loaf is dense and tangy with a good crust (and it makes great toast).
With an opened-up space and some intriguing menu options, Lark offers lots of possibilities but needs more consistency.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.
★★★★ Very Good
No stars Not recommended