Anne DesBrisay is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine. She has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years and is the author of three bestselling books on dining out. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.
Is a gastropub as straightforward as a nice looking bar with a kitchen that puts out tuna crudo instead of a chicken wings? Must it serve upscale British pub food in order to call itself a gastropub? Or is it just a name for anything goes in the kitchen? No limiting culinary theme: calamari, pierogis, hamachi, lamb bhoona, burgers, bouillabaisse — it all works!
Or doesn’t. In which case, the place may aspire to gastropub-ness, but if it isn’t ticking the right boxes — a convivial atmosphere, an excellent drinks list, solidly good food — it is a gastropub in surname only.
This one, the Beechwood, in the space where Farbs Kitchen used to be, is on its way to deserving the title. It hasn’t all been rosy on my visits — one meal had some hiccups, the welcome can seem muted, and one more warm body on the floor would help service flow — but the space is busy and jolly, there’s craft beer on tap, the wine list has been thoughtfully assembled, and the kitchen — led by chef Colin Lockett — puts up plates that mostly please.
I provided a glimpse of the new Beechwood Gastropub in a lunch pick in December. I also promised a more detailed look, so this is that.
The Beechwood Gastropub is owned by André Cloutier (formerly of Arturo’s on Beechwood, and now owner of the long running Iberian restaurant, El Meson, also on Beechwood). He seems fond of the street and diners seem fond of him. The place has been packed at my every visit.
If you knew Farbs Kitchen, TBG’s predecessor, you will note that not much has changed in the looks department — a bit of a different colour scheme, glass topped wine barrels in the middle of the room, and the requisite barn boards behind banquettes (with new pillows). But essentially, this is Farbs with a new awning.
A few things I don’t like — firstly, the TV. It’s on, but nobody’s watching. One lunch it was Telly Tubbies or some such thing. The wait for a welcome can be troubling. One visit we’re at least three minutes by the front door before we’re noticed. I watch an elderly couple with walkers wait as well.
One lunch the porchetta sandwich delivered great smack, and gnocchi bathed in a lemon sauce with roasted cauliflower and buttery kale was a total treat of a dish. A smoked-then-grilled trout with salad would have been the star of a second lunch, I suspect, had a more restrained hand worked the dressing on the greens and the spuds not been burnt. A tarragon vinaigrette pooled beneath the salad bullied too much the gentle coconut-squash purée that underlay what was otherwise, a fine piece of fish, though balanced on potato rosti that was badly burnt on the side we couldn’t see and should not have left the kitchen.
From the ‘Tasty Bites’ section of the menu we would eat the pierogis again. Stuffed with cheddar and leek, perfectly cooked, topped with Brussels sprout leaves and a generous amount of smoky-good bacon, they had been given a bath in a horseradish cream sauce. From the ‘Herbivore’ section, the beet and apple salad with greens, blue cheese, walnuts, and rings of pickled jalapeño didn’t thrill, but worked well enough.
And we plucked, from ‘Hooves & Feathers,’ the comfort dish of meatballs. These were beef balls, sharpened with chorizo, plopped on a soft bed of enriched polenta with a fine tomato sauce and a confetti of parmesan. We liked a whole lot less the dish of fried chicken and waffles: chicken gravy and maple butter didn’t work in my mouth.
We were directed to donuts at every visit and they didn’t let us down. A chocolate brownie, mi-cuit, with too-sweet cream was more so-whatish.
Prices are kept in a neighbourly range, though the small plates/snack formula can mean that some dishes seem wildly generous and others feel less so. Ask for guidance.
11 Beechwood Avenue, 613-744-6509
Small Plates, $6-$17
Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch/brunch through dinner. Closed 10 p.m.