City Bites

Sur-Lie launches in old Murray Street space with modern French-inspired menu

Sur-Lie is here! Sporting an ambitious menu of modern French cuisine and a motivated chef in the kitchen, the ByWard Market’s newest restaurant has opened at 110 Murray Street just one month after its predecessor, Murray Street, closed its doors.

In that busy few weeks, owner Neil Gowe has overseen a redesign that has transformed the space into a light, bright restaurant that is both modern and warm. Chef Nick Berolo, meanwhile, has been going full-bore in the kitchen, dreaming up super-creative (and so beautiful) dishes based on classic French techniques and recipes. Berolo, who is Cordon Bleu-trained, worked at notable French restaurants in Montreal and Banff before returning to Ottawa to cook, most recently at Luxe Bistro.

City Bites Insider caught up with Gowe and Berolo to find out more about Sur-Lie and their ambitious plans for its future.

Sur-Lie owner Neil Gowe (left) and chef Nick Berolo at ease behind the L-shaped bar
Sur-Lie owner Neil Gowe (left) and chef Nick Berolo at ease behind the L-shaped bar

Neil, what’s your role?

Neil: I’ve been in this business a long time — from working at the Château Laurier, to being one of the first managers at Restaurant E18hteen, to doing the wine list at Luxe Bistro. I also own a small university bar on Laurier called Laurier Social House. That’s a whole different kind of place that caters to students and neighbours in Sandy Hill.

For me, Sur-Lie is a chance to get back to the fine dining side of things. This is my passion.

And Nick, how did you come to be Sur-Lie’s chef?

My background is Cordon Bleu, then working in fine dining in Montreal and Banff. Most recently, I was at Luxe. Neil talked to me about opening up this new restaurant and asked me if I knew any chefs from Montreal who wanted to do fine dining. I suggested me! It’s not often a chef gets the opportunity to design his own menu and cook the food he wants — not unless he’s an owner.

The dining room is both warm and modern, with classic bistro elements like the globe lights
The dining room is both warm and modern, with classic bistro elements like the globe lights

You’re in the old Murray Street location, which only closed on New Year’s Eve. So things have happened fast.

Neil: Really fast! This building went on the market and some investors helped us to buy it. We started construction on January 3 at a hectic pace and were ready a month later. Our soft opening was February 9.

Mains on the seasonal menu include this organic salmon dish with mushroom duxelle and a honey lobster broth
Mains on the seasonal menu include this organic salmon dish with mushroom duxelle and a honey lobster broth

Right now you’re open for dinner only. What’s the longer term plan?

Neil: We’ll start opening up for lunch on Friday and Saturday in two or three weeks. We don’t want to rush everything. We have a beautiful patio in the back, so we’ll be open for lunch from Monday to Sunday once summer gets going. And the plan is to open for brunch at some point.

Nick: It will be a really interesting brunch. Different. I’m working on it now! Something market-driven.

Tell me about the name.

Neil: Sur-Lie is a winemaking term that means “on the lees” and there will be a strong wine focus. I’m still growing the list. There’s a bit of a focus toward French and Ontario. The challenge is to provide some wines that people haven’t seen and tasted. And always at good value. There won’t be huge markups.

A selection of dishes from the menu includes foie gras, an inventive winter salad, and sea bream crudo. Photo: Frazer Nagy of Transparent Kitchen
A selection of dishes from the menu includes foie gras, an inventive winter salad, and sea bream crudo. Photo: Frazer Nagy of Transparent Kitchen

And your menu?

Nick: It’s French inspired. I like classic techniques, but I love working with modern techniques, too. I’m always experimenting; playing around and tweaking. I’ve been talking to a lot of farmers. The menu’s small, dynamic, and ever-changing.

I notice that it’s not all small plates like many new restaurants these days.

Neil: You can come in and share two or three appetizers or go for a more traditional two- or three-course meal with a main. At the bar, people like to come in for a drink and an app or two — maybe the tartare or some oysters.

A beautifully plated beef tartare appetizer. Photo: Frazer Nagy of Transparent Kitchen
A beautifully plated beef tartare appetizer. Photo: Frazer Nagy of Transparent Kitchen

What’s selling well that has surprised you?

Neil: The rabbit from Mariposa is selling really well!

Nick: It’s a loin of rabbit wrapped in pancetta, then we make a mousse out of the back legs, roll it in the mousse and then in pumpkin seed. The pancetta seasons the loin, the mousse keeps the moisture in, and the nuts stick to the mousse. Then we roast it in the oven. It’s pretty amazing. There are mushrooms on the side and the leg, which as been confited in duck fat, and a squash ravioli and a squash puree…

How about the beef tartare?

Nick: It has been really popular. I’ve taken a modern approach to this French classic. There’s some fermented cabbage with it, there’s ginger vinaigrette, there’s pickled carrots, there’s romaine lettuce that we’ve cooked in a water bath and then smoked. It’s really unique. Beautiful, too.

I hear you also have a multi-course tasting menu.

Nick: We do. It’s really fun for us because we can play it off the cuff. Eventually, I can see it being a bit more progressive than the normal menu. That will be once we’ve established a name for ourselves.

Not to forget dessert — we hear your pastry chef is a real star.

Nick: Gabriel [Messier] is so talented! He comes via Quebec City and was looking for a place he could be super-creative. He’s a force to be reckoned with.

Who do you see as your demographic?

Neil: It’s pretty wide open — 25 to 65. It’s a nice cozy environment. It’s warm. You can have a great meal and a conversation. We want to bring back the socializing with the meal. The other night we had a group of 20-somethings at the bar having drinks and apps and businessmen having a dinner meeting. It all worked.

The copper tiling behind the bar gives this area of Sur-Lie a retro brasserie feel
The copper tiling behind the bar gives this area of Sur-Lie a retro brasserie feel

It is really light and bright.

Neil: We opened up the windows to let lots of light in. We wanted Sur-Lie to feel a bit modern, but also classic French. There’s a retro brasserie feel. The wood paneling makes me think of TV shows from the 60s and 70s when you’d see people sitting in restaurants with wood paneling having long, relaxed meals.

Nick: There’s a nice warmth. We have white tablecloths, but there’s nothing stuffy or intimidating.

What has been the most fun so far?

Neil: Working with a really creative kitchen team; there are so many great ideas that you just get excited. I also love the service aspect. I’m always here — on the floor, suggesting wines, dropping food off. I love interacting with guests — making people happy… There’s a joy to being a host.

Nick: Everything. Doing my own kind of cooking, forming my own relationships with farmers. For me, having a sense of community means a lot.

Sur-Lie, 110 Murray St., 613-562-7244