You’d be surprised how many restaurants have opened in the last two years. But that doesn’t mean the business has gotten any easier. Struggling restaurateurs are feeling inflation in food and labour costs, which means that your dinner is going to be more expensive than it was pre-pandemic.
This year, we’ve taken a different approach, asking two food reviewers to whittle down the list to bring you their Top 10. At times it was a she-said-she-said situation as they are food writers with very different tastes. One appreciates mismatched china and brown-paper tablecloths, while the other adores white linen and impeccable service. But they share a conviction about what makes for good food, and we hope these reviews will be useful for anyone looking for a great meal in a nice restaurant.
A good dinner is so much more than dine-and-dash, so take the time to build community in your new neighbourhood spot and linger with a glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail in hand. Be patient, be kind, and cut your new server some slack if they are trying hard to make you happy.
Plus, nine of these 10 restaurants will be at our 2022 Best Restaurants event happening on September 26. A limited number of tickets are still available. It’s a great way to explore the offerings described below, plus a portion of every ticket goes to support the good work at Parkdale Food Centre.
Without further ado, the list! Click on the restaurant name to see the full review.
Le Poisson Bleu
610 Somerset St. W.
Le Poisson Bleu opened on an unassuming corner of Somerset Street West in February 2022. The narrow entrance belies a sizable, cozy dining area with a Spanish-tile adorned bar; an eyecatching painting of a trout by local artist Daniel Wakeman spans the back wall.
A hallway beyond the bar leads to a sunny back room with high-top tables that offer views into the open kitchen and a quiet hidden patio. The space boasts a comfortable, lived-in feel that new restaurants often lack. A stylish atmosphere is enhanced by an expertly curated playlist of hits from the ’90s and early aughts.
Once seated, chef and co-owner Alex Bimm will reel you in with his ever-changing menu of creative and unexpected takes on seafood. Bimm, formerly of The Whalesbone on Bank and Les Fougères in Chelsea, shares ownership with his brother Eric and their cousin Sophie Velour, who helms the bar. For her part, Velour brings years of experience at award-winning watering holes, such as Montreal’s Atwater Cocktail Club, to her playful cocktails and well-curated wine list.
Once you’ve ordered drinks, direct your attention to the aged trout crudo. A welcome departure from the more common tuna crudo, the jewel-toned trout loin is dry aged for four days, accompanied by tomates provençales which impart subtle sweetness and acidity, crunchy house-made sesame rice chips, and varied accoutrements.
The chef ’s penchant for big flavours is equally successful with the toothsome Fogo Island squid in chimichurri. Bimm’s culinary daring is defined by his willingness — and aptitude — to cast seafood in starring roles typically awarded to red meat. The charcuterie plate, for instance, consists of such items as a Toulouse-style sausage made from sturgeon and Chinook salmon roulade with “tuna bacon.” The pickerel schnitzel — with its crispy exterior yielding to a firm, flaky interior — will have you wondering why it was ever made with pork.
However, the desserts are lacking. The Eton mess comes in an overwhelming portion, is a touch too sweet, and the plating is true to its namesake: messy. But the starters and mains are triumphant. Pescatarians and epicureans alike should rejoice at this new addition to the Ottawa food scene. – YL
309 Richmond Rd.
Brassica chef-owner Arup Jana has served up an inspirational comeback story. In March 2019, Jana’s first restaurant, Allium, burned to the ground. While the pandemic halted plans to rebuild the Holland Avenue restaurant, Jana turned his attention to opening a new place on Richmond Road. The timing couldn’t have been worse, as Brassica opened just a month before the first lockdown. Nevertheless, Jana persevered, and Brassica is now a bustling Westboro destination.
On my last visit, the eatery was abuzz with enthusiastic diners, the service warm and neighbourly. The décor reads more like a Crabtree and Evelyn store than fine dining, but concessions can be made given the current challenges of staying afloat. The cocktails are less forgivable: we sampled all, and all were over-diluted and too sweet.
The ‘surprise me’ dishes are a highlight. I put my faith in the Brassica kitchen for the first course and was not disappointed with the cured trout, which came on a deep-fried potato pancake with beet slaw, sour cream, and an earthy beet meringue. The tuna crudo and steak tartare both lacked acidity, but all was forgiven when a dreamy trio of arancini arrived.
The most successful main we sampled was the smoked celeriac and kale Wellington. I’d sooner order this plant-based version than the beefy original. Puff pastry stuffed with duxelles, squash, and port-and-mushroom jus — the combination yields an umami delight that you won’t want to share.
I was delighted to see Jana had carried over the Allium fanfavourite: banoffee pie. The graham-cracker creation — filled with dulce de leche, sliced banana, a heap of whipped cream and chocolate shavings — is utter bliss.
While there’s room for improvement, Brassica offers approachable food in a warm environment, well-suited to casual celebrations with friends and family. — YL
Aiana Restaurant Collective
50 O’Connor St.
Aiana Restaurant Collective opened on the ground floor of the Sun Life Financial Centre at the corner of O’Connor and Queen Streets in August 2020. The father and son duo of Devinder and Raghav Chaudhary — owner and chef, respectively — had no doubt hoped to attract well-heeled downtown professionals. Despite office shutdowns changing the atmosphere of the core, the restaurant has reopened and is serving up some very good food.
The space is wholly transformed from that of its predecessor, Hy’s Steakhouse. Curved navy banquettes center around a moonlike brass pendant light nestled in a constellation of hand-strung stones cascading from the ceiling. The menu is as extravagant as the décor and priced accordingly. But there’s a certain way this menu needs to be read, because Aiana offers full-time, salaried positions to its entire staff, provides living wages, and service charges are included (no tipping).
The bread and butter — piping-hot bannock and sliced brioche served with honey-truffle butter and berry jam — is a triumph of humble ingredients. The Acadian chowder is elevated comfort food: a hearty bowl of lobster, crab, mussels, clams, potato, bacon, roe, and caviar. Its creamy broth, unctuous hunks of shellfish and its salinity will have you tempted to lick the bowl.
Some plates stumble when overwrought with buzzy ingredients and techniques. For example, the salty-sweet meat of the abalone is adorned with edible gold leaf served on a spirulina-topped mixture of celtuce, apple, fennel, and Buddha hand citrus. A bit of editing would allow the rarefied mollusc to really shine.
In spite of these shortcomings, Aiana delivers an ambitious vision, striving to delight and challenge diners with its seasonally inspired menu. The food, and the enlightened hospitality, makes it a worthwhile destination for your next special occasion or power lunch. — YL
350 Elgin St.
What’s a pizza joint doing on the list of Ottawa’s Best New Restaurants, you may ask? It’s simple: Giulia is an uncomplicated dining experience that is a great weeknight substitute for a trip to Italy.
With its bustling interior, exposed brick walls, large booths, wood accents, funky ’80s playlist, and giant pizza oven, Giulia sets the scene for a fun night on the town. Combined with a lovely outdoor space in Boushey Square with picnic tables and vintage hanging lights, and you could be forgiven for momentarily mistaking Ottawa for Italy. The service is slapdash, to say the least, but it’s friendly and energetic and brought to mind restaurant adventures in Italy.
But the food — now that’s bang on. A Caesar salad with large flakes of pecorino, bread crumbs and white anchovies is the best I’ve ever eaten; house-made sourdough is chewy and flavourful. The tuna crudo comes floating in a puddle of fine Aurelius olive oil, the acidity perfectly balanced with lemon, capers, red chili and crunchy flakes of Maldon sea salt. Cacio e pepe fritters are cheesy little mouthfuls that allow pecorino and Parmesan to waltz across your tongue. And then there’s the pizza. Blistered, wood-fired and thin-crust, choices are divided into red and white: those with and without tomato sauce.
The Sicilian appears with salty anchovies, oregano, and plenty of stretchy cheese, while the Half Nelson is perfect, layered with Asiago, fior di latte, pecorino, stracciatella, broccolini pesto and fresh rosemary. All of this we wash down with a pair of cocktails: the Paradisi Spritz, a well-balanced blend of gin, elderflower, grapefruit and fresh mint; and the Cool as a Cucumber, an explosion of summer flavours in a glass. Wine by the bottle begins at $55, by the glass a more affordable $9 and up.
Giulia offers excellent food and drink, and an experience that’s rather less expensive and easier than getting to Italy these days. — HK
1319 Wellington St. W.
Food and hospitality veteran Erin Clatney has accomplished something special in the 4,000-square-foot space at the corner of Wellington Street West and Grange Avenue. Parlour first welcomed guests to its patios for tree-shaded al fresco dining in July 2020 with approachable food, beautifully executed. While there is now indoor seating as well, some early menu favourites remain, such as russet-potato chips with chive dip, buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches slathered in sriracha honey butter, and beet-dyed devilled eggs topped with crispy chicken skin.
Inside, the white and grey dining room is flooded with natural light and a series of stylish nooks are spread throughout. An eclectic mix of vintage furniture brings a liveliness to the large space. The restaurant has an effortless cool factor, enhanced by a regular rotation of DJs getting diners toe-tapping at their tables or out of their seats, dancing off dessert.
Bartender Quinn Taylor brings sophistication to the cocktail menu with her expertly designed list of libations. Options range from spirit-forward sippers like the refined Chantilly Clad — a gin martini made complex with bitter lemon liqueur, sumac and kiwi bitters — to crowd-pleasers like La Flama Rosa, a tequila sour with chili-infused Campari, guava and pink peppercorn.
The composed plates include creative vegetarian-friendly options such as a rich mushroom tart and a tomato salad with artichokes, fior di latte, and caper flowers.
My duck confit arrives with crispy skin and juicy flesh, accompanied by a slice of toasted Corner Peach sourdough dotted with chicken-liver mousse and sour cherry jam. The side of simply dressed greens with radishes and fresh strawberries was a nice match.
We finished with a perfectly portioned lemon tart. The lemon curd is bright and bold, topped with dollops of toasted meringue and graham-cracker crumble, served in a shallow pool of delicious, sweet-tart haskap gastrique.
Parlour is a worthy destination for sharing a platter of 12-hour brisket with family, or contemplating life over tasty tipples and refined fare with friends. — YL
Paper Tiger Noodle Bar
1091 Bank St.
For ramen lovers, Paper Tiger Noodle Bar offers a steaming, deeply savoury broth. “We never start a brand-new stock, but continually top up with fresh bones, making our broth as old as the restaurant itself,” says chef and owner Charley Nelson.
That’s seven months. Thankfully, the rest of the soup is fresh, with generous slices of Mariposa Farms pork belly, bright hits of green onion, pickled zucchini, and a soy-marinated egg. Pickled eggs are not my thing, but it’s perfectly executed, with a soft, deeply yellow yolk.
Raw dishes feature sustainable fish from the Whalesbone and include a scallop ceviche as well as a tuna crudo. The tuna is well-balanced in flavour and texture with coconut oil, chives, macadamia nuts, Thai chili, lemon juice, nori, and fresh microgreens.
A creamy, fried, Brussels sprout dish is a comforting hit. Tossed with melted St. Albert cheddar cheese, the charred sprouts are soft and giving against the crunch of puffed-wheat kernels and an acidic curl of pickled onions. Chicken karaage, which might be mistaken for Asian chicken nuggets, are marinated overnight in fish sauce, then coated in traditional Japanese potato starch and flour before frying. The results are crisp, piping-hot chicken bites.
On Tuesday the menu is limited to yakitori because the stock for noodle dishes takes at least 72 hours to make and the Old Ottawa South restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday. Nevertheless, the Japanese skewers, cooked over charcoal, are succulent and sticky. The chicken breast and pork belly play off a background of smoky charcoal, a combination of Japanese flavours and Southern smokehouse that Nelson discovered while working in Texas.
To finish, bananas foster, flambéed at the table, provides a bit of fun and plenty of sweet with soy-salted caramel sauce, a white-chocolate blondie and vanilla ice cream.
The drinks list features creations concocted with Toronto-based Izumi sake distillery, as well as a good selection of cocktails, five choices for wine, and several beers. It’s all served in a darkly black painted space with vintage string lights and cheerful, low-key service. — HK
85 Clarence St.
Many restaurants have pivoted since March 2020, but few establishments underwent the fundamental shift that Saigon has bravely embarked upon. Christine Huynh and her husband Jason Hoang took the reins of the family business from her parents, Nghia Huynh and Thuy Bui, who first opened the restaurant in 2001. The refreshed concept is a Vietnamese cocktail bar that turns out modern interpretations of family recipes and fusion plates from the kitchen and creative drinks from mixologist Cuong Nguyen.
The youthful shift is embodied in the ByWard Market space, with a large mural by local artist Falldown and a head-bopping playlist of hip-hop and R&B.
Nguyen honours the textures and complexity of Vietnamese cuisine in his approach to the cocktail program. The Saigon Mai Tai is one of the best examples of the classic drink I’ve sampled; his house-made kaffir-lime syrup adds a unique depth of flavour and intense citrus fragrance.
The Bo Tai Tartare is the ultimate fusion dish – Vietnamese beef carpaccio meets classic French technique. This preparation is less wet than traditional steak tartare but strikes a perfect balance of acidity and umami flavours. The lean top-round beef is finely chopped and marinated in fish sauce and lime juice, topped with crispy fried shallots, and served with fresh tortilla and shrimp chips. The salad rolls and pho are somewhat less successful. In the former, the hoisin dipping sauce is delectable but an overabundance of vermicelli noodles overwhelm the fresh ingredients. And the pho broth bursts with flavour but is similarly noodle-heavy and the beef brisket was a touch dry. The Saigon Sliders — succulent pork patties with pickled green papaya, carrots, and spicy house mayo on brioche buns — are not to be missed. Nor are the chicken wings with their crisp, caramelized exterior and tender, juicy flesh.
Overall, Saigon has succeeded in executing Vietnamese fusion at an affordable price and complemented by friendly, knowledgeable service. — YL
340 Somerset St. W.
At Arlo, it’s more about the wine. The wine list appears first, and it’s exclusively natural wine here. But there’s a good offering by the glass for those unwilling or unable to shell out for bottles starting from $55.
Lovely patios at the front and back of this old house on Somerset Street West offer cozy, backyard-style dining with mismatched tables and chairs and vintage string lights. Inside offers a more formal dining experience, perfect for the cooler months.
The menu by Gold Medal Plates–winning chef Jamie Stunt is blissfully short. On offer are 10 starters, four mains, and three desserts. There are plenty of seasonal flavours such as zingy green peas and spring crudites, which include whole radishes and pea shoots. Fried asparagus arrive piping hot and perfectly crunchy, sitting on umami mayonnaise flavoured with seaweed, sesame seeds and yeast. “The best asparagus ever,” declares my dining companion.
A celery salad is bracingly salty with briny anchovies and olives, but also creamy. We wipe the bowl clean. The dip for crudites — made with green pea, mint, and white bean — vibrates with vivid flavours and fresh herbs, but the plate looks like an unkempt head of hair. In fact, this could be said for much of the presentation — it’s eccentrically wild, with greens and herbs strewn across the top of all the plates we ordered.
One main course, an eggplant stuffed with mushroom tapenade on a bed of lentils, is hearty and satisfies my meatloving guest, who prefers this to a spring lamb dish, which he describes as tough. We finish with a strawberry-rhubarb parfait.
Arlo is a happy, relaxed place; wait staff are friendly and knowledgeable. The food is really good — but it’s not inexpensive. This shouldn’t come as a surprise any longer: the days of an excellent $100 meal for two are long gone. — HK
283 Elgin St.
For decades, Hy’s on Sparks Street was a place where politicians, lawyers and lobbyists entertained the money. Since Hy’s closed in 2016 there has been a vacuum for the big-spending carnivore crowd. Harmon’s now satisfies that demand. The latest venture from the Whalesbone group of restaurants boasts a lineup of steak from Ontario, the U.S., Australia and Japan.
Wagyu is the calling card. The A5 Japanese and the Australian flat-iron wagyu steaks arrive perfectly rare, sliced and nicely seared; this is rich meat with a buttery, melting texture. If you love this style, order the beef-tallow fries, as they continue the decadent approach.
A bright moment in the meal is the two types of salt — large flakes from Vancouver and softer grey salt from the East Coast. The trio of house sauces, including an excellent chimichurri, is also a nice touch. It would be good to see lighter, more vegetable-forward side dishes; an asparagus with lemon ricotta and poppy seeds was pleasing in itself but doesn’t offer any acidity, nor cut the fat.
If you’re going to indulge in a first course, try the scallop ceviche — a pretty plate with edible flowers and a tart citrus dressing. Roasted bone marrow came nicely presented, but the sourdough toast on the plate could be improved on.
The best part of dessert was the scoop of strawberry ice cream. The pastry dishes were appealing but the lemon tart fell short.
Harmon’s appeals to oenophiles, who can even rent a temperature-controlled wine locker to keep special bottles. It’s a special event place — it also serves lunch and attracts a dedicated following during the day. Service is friendly and knowledgeable. The environment, both inside and out, is lovely. Harmon’s truly has filled a niche in the fine dining market, but those are big shoes to fill. With creativity, dedication, and an increased balance to the menu, Harmon’s has the potential to be an important part of the local restaurant scene. — HK
749 Bank St.
Cantina Gia is the second restaurant for chef Adam Vettorel and co-owner Chris Schlesak, the boys behind North and Navy. It opened on Bank Street during the summer of 2020: an inauspicious time to launch any new project. However, this one has thrived, with chef Vettorel splitting his time evenly between the two restaurants.
Gia serves simple southern Italian classics that really hit the mark in a dimly lit, cozy environment that successfully imparts Old World charm. A mural of the Italian countryside is dreamy; exposed brick and bottle-lined walls add warmth; upbeat tunes give it a jazzy vibe. There’s also a separate dining room that can accommodate private parties and a curated grocery area with olive oils, preserves, and a bottle shop.
Having recently spent a winter in Italy, my standards are high. Cantina Gia checks every box. Starters of fried smelts — those crispy little fishy bites — are perfectly seasoned and crunchy, paired with a creamy aioli. Arancini are lusciously rich and fragrant. The classic spaghetti carbonara is deeply comforting and not overly rich.
The whole grilled branzino arrives charred, with a half-lemon floating in the vibrant puddle of olive oil and fresh green herbs similar to a chimichurri sauce. The fish arrives firm, white and flaky. It plays brilliantly off the blackened skin.
Since servings are large, we choose an enormous arugula and frisée salad rather than starches as an accompaniment. That salad is blessed with the perfect balance of crunch, acidity, and sweetness. With all of the dishes so successful and delicious, we cannot resist dessert, and the tiramisu is the perfect finish: light, fluffy and creamy. This was a dinner fit for celebration. —HK