Open for five years, Erling’s serves superlative food in a pretty, friendly environment. The open-plan space features natural wood, a slightly industrial vibe, twinkly lights, a long bar, and a comfy banquette that rings the room. The low-key vibe works well with a menu that focuses on seasonal ingredients and the communal dining experience. Indeed, you must go to Erling’s with someone you know well, at least well enough to dig your fork into one another’s plates.
The blessedly concise menu is not divided into obvious courses. Our first plates were exceptional: a tuna crudo with mango balsamic, Frantoio, and cucumber that appeared so delicate, I was convinced it would be a disappointment. (Surprise!) Another winner was the large pile of mushrooms set atop a creamy hillock of cheddar-and-potato polenta with sweet green peas and a Madeira demi-glace. Three further plates, one of scallops with a robust carrot-ginger purée and bacon and a second of roasted vegetables with feta and pumpkin seeds, as well as a lemon curd pot, offered more lip-smacking goodness. All of it so good — and made better by the act of sharing.
Erling’s contented neighbourhood vibe is testament to chef/owner Liam Vainola, who started as owner but has recently taken on the role of head chef. The creative, reasonably priced food with sensible serving sizes — as well as the friendly service, good wine list, and pleasant environment — means this place is always humming.
Billed as a gastropub, The Rowan offers sophisticated British/ European food, and it does this very well. It’s owned by Simon and Ross Fraser, the brothers who brought Fraser Café to New Edinburgh over 10 years ago, but it’s Kyle Decan, formerly sous-chef at Fraser, who holds the reins in the kitchen here.
Adding a unique twist to every offering, Decan elevates his food to the delightfully unexpected. Moreover, he goes beyond typical British fare by bringing culinary influences back from his travels — for instance, by adorning a starter plate of chickpea panisse and grilled zucchini with a sticky treacle-chili sauce, which, our server explains, was picked up while cooking at the Olympics in Korea this past winter.
A particularly notable dish is the roasted cauliflower salad with coriander yogurt, chickpea hummus, cress, and pine nuts: perfectly balanced, deeply savoury, and with just the right touch of bright herbs and creaminess. The green pea soup is lively and fresh with mint and cucumber, while crispy fried quails, served atop a deeply savoury sausage ragout, is an adventurous and delicious dish.
Expect an extensive selection of beer and spirits (it’s a pub, after all), but its wine list is impressive, too, with a varied selection of not overpriced international and Ontario vintages.
Pubs have traditionally been lively, bustling places for gathering with others, and with its large front windows and bright, spacious interiors, The Rowan creates a neighbourhood space in which to see and be seen.
THE BYWARD MARKET
Sidedoor, Eighteen, Oz Kafe, Play Food & Wine and Das Lokal
Fairouz, Riviera, Clover, Town & Union 613
Two Six Ate, Atelier, Mati Crudo + Charcoal & MeNa
Carben, Absinthe, Supply and Demand, Stofa, The Wellington Gastropub & Allium
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