Anne DesBrisay has been writing about food and restaurants in Ottawa-Gatineau for 25 years. She is the author of three bestselling books on dining out, is the restaurant critic for Ottawa Magazine as well as a senior editor at Taste & Travel Magazine. She is head judge for Gold Medal Plates and a member of the judging panel at the Canadian Culinary Championships.
If you want to watch a nail-biter bit of YouTube video, check out Véronique Rivest’s final exam at the 2013 World’s Best Sommelier Competition. It will give you an inkling of what a brilliant Canadian treasure we have in our midst. (And it really is edge of the seat stuff.)
Having secured wins at the Best Sommelier of Quebec competition in 2006, the national sommelier contest and the “Best Sommelier of the Americas” in 2012, Véronique Rivest, from Restaurant Les Fougères in Wakefield, Quebec, headed to Tokyo for the Meilleur Sommelier du Monde, a competition held every three years. It was her third attempt at the big one, and this time was the charm. Rivest made it to the finals, the only woman ever to reach that level, and ended up placing an unprecedented second.
What is remarkable is that Véronique Rivest has not taken her remarkable achievement and moved on to seek greater glory in New York, San Fran or Vegas. Instead, she has opened a wine bar in Hull, now five weeks old.
Soif, it’s called, found where the resto-bar Le Twist used to be on rue Montcalm.
Rivest was pouring wine for a table of elder statesmen, clearly admirers all, when I dropped in for a taste and a slurp. That first lunch was so lovely, I immediately booked dinner the following day.
There are three distinct spaces at the red bricked Soif, plus a painted-blue terrace waiting for some spring action. Cork dominates the rooms, covering the ceiling, walls, pillars … even the bench seating has a subtle cork stamp in its soft-green faux leather. Some walls are hung with framed maps of major wine regions. More maps are imprinted on overhead wine racks that double as chandeliers. The wine cellar is on display behind glass.
That the Soif wine list contains a wide selection at many price points, served in the right condition by servers who speak with smarts about it and its food matches, was a thing I expected. That the food was also highly accomplished was a bonus.
The menu fits on one small sheet, divided into five sections titled Snacks, Tartines, Boards, Small Plates, and Sweets. House bread is great stuff, crusty-soft, infused with a lovely tang, served with a black olive tapenade and a pot of herbed butter. There are devilish devilled eggs, with snippets of chive and bresaola, and some crunchy-soft fritters of mackerel, their rich-saltiness tempered with a lively tomatillo salsa verde (and accompanied with a crisp 2013 Riesling from Niagara’s Tawse Winery.)
House-smoked trout came topped with little green pods of pickled daisy buds, the layers of pink fish stuck to their toast with a smear of crème fraîche. Another tartine delivered a muddle of mushrooms tumbling off a soft pillow of mushroom duxelles, dobbed with creamy-fresh ricotta. A beet salad was striking on its black slate plate, the roots paired with puddles of goat yogurt, strewn with toasted hazelnuts, edible flowers, and rough chunks of fried bread.
A mini cast iron skillet held a steaming ragout of white bean and chorizo. It shared the slate plate with a well-judged hunk of sablefish. A drizzle of good oil, a pile of crostini, and a smear of (lightly) truffled creme fraîche were the only accompaniments to a ruby rich puck of well seasoned bison tartare.
This is not food that is wildly adventurous, but the fundamentals are utterly sound. Plates taste cared-for rather than fussed-over, flavours are clean and uncomplicated. Soif serves food that doesn’t get in the way of the wine. And I found the price point very fair indeed.Soif’s blood pudding. Photo: Anne DesBrisay
We were directed to a luscious Merlot/Cab Franc blend from Cotes du Marmandais, the Domaine Elian Da Ros “Le Vin est une Fete” with some of the middle dishes, and somewhere in there, two ounces of a Greek treat, the Naoussa Jeunes Vignes 2012, from Domaine Thymiopoulos.
Soif is a marvellous addition to the pleasure of dining out in old Hull.
Merci Madame Rivest, for staying among us. We salute you.
Snacks/tartines, $2.50 to $10; boards/small plates, $8 to $16
Open for lunch, Monday to Thursday, 11:30am to 10pm; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 4pm to 11pm; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.