Saturday, 10 March 2012

Restaurant reviews in Ottawa and elsewhere

I have taken up the new hobby of reading restaurants and hotels reviews I frequent. I have also subscribed to different sites like UrbanSpoon,, Trip-Advisor. By far my favourite is the hotel site,, for the last 15 years I have used it for all my hotel bookings around the world and have never been disappointed, given the amount of travel I do in Europe, Asia and North America, something could go wrong but not with If I select an hotel with an 8.5 point average or better and read the reviews and I also read between the lines, I find that I will not be disappointed by my choice of hotels. As for restaurants it is a different matter. I often will ask the Front Desk at the hotel about a restaurant they would recommend. However I always tell them that I want a good restaurant with local specialties and a medium price range or better, a good selection of wines and a restaurant that is known by the locals and not by the tourists. Is it family owned and how many years has it been in business.  Too many people make the mistake of saying, they want something fast and cheap, I don't want to spend too much or look at the menu and if they see lots of foreigners around at tables conclude it must be good. That's a big mistake in most cases, another mistake is too go to a restaurant or café or bar in a very touristy area, prices are always far higher catering to the tourists.

This week in Ottawa our local newspaper announced that the restaurant reviewer for the last 20 years, Anne Des Brizay, was retiring. She often suggested restaurants I really enjoyed. Then the CBC on one of their radio shows asked the following question; Do we need professional restaurant reviewers nowadays given that so many people can give an opinion on any number of sites on restaurants?
I would say, yes we do need professional reviewers. The opinions you find on many sites are often not very detailed and give you a very inaccurate idea of what the restaurant really is like. Per example this week UrbanSpoon in Ottawa featured 3 restaurants which are trendy at the moment. The Red Apron had great reviews, everyone who has been there loves it. But it is not really a restaurant, they only serve a light lunch and otherwise it is a take away shop with great offerings of the all prepared variety. The menu changes all the time and the ingredients and dishes are said to be superior to what you would find elsewhere. Another one that I like a lot is Parma Ravioli on old Wellington street, everything is fresh and can be taken away or eaten in a small area with a few tables. There specialty is fresh pasta, many daily fresh items and great sauces and breads all made on the premises.

However two other restaurants, one being the Hintonburg Public House, got terrible ratings, unfortunately the reviewers put in their personal comments without explaining what they did not like. Example one person wrote; we walked in we had no reservations and the staff was not friendly, we walked out. Or another person wrote: my 23 year old son did not like his salad. Ok what does that mean? Did he only have a salad? You go out for salad? Another one complained that the waiter did not introduce himself, did not do the usual, Hi him Bruce and I will be your waiter tonight and blah, blah, blah, how are you guys schtick, still to common in Ottawa. Who cares! Another one complained that the water glasses were not promptly refilled, really you go to the restaurants to drink water? Other complaints is that the food was not flavourful or the dishes did not blow them away, you mean you like terrorist chefs.  Many want many flavours in their dishes, one wonders what is it they are looking for in food? But no one said what they were eating or had ordered, no one said anything about presentation or if the dishes where appetizing or if it was good value overall. They will tell you they went out with this or that person, for this or that reason, on this or that night. Not really relevant, I am not interested in personal life details.
Far too many appear overly concerned with how much they paid, one person wrote that he had 24 oysters and a half bottle of white wine, paid $45 dollars and thought that far too expensive. Really two dozen oysters and wine, did this person have any idea of the cost of fresh good quality seafood? Considering also that oysters have to be imported. Words like awesome, amazing, very tasty are not good examples in terms of description of food or if it was prepared properly or presented well, though these are expressions that come back constantly on sites where people put in their impressions of a restaurant. You wonder about the quality of what they eat every day.

This is why I believe we still need good professional reviewers like Anne Des Brizay to guide us and give an honest impression. It has to be said that despite the fact that Ottawa has matured in terms of restaurants and quality of chefs and cuisine, it remains still a city where many people go out to a restaurant only for a special occasion and are often happy with mediocre food and poor service has long as the decor is nice. This last remark was one left by a person living here. Having said this, Ottawa does have wonderful new, young chefs like Marc Lepine of Atelier restaurant on Rochester street who won the Gold medal at the Pan Canadian Culinary contest this weekend. There are many other great chefs in this Capital but the public has to be made aware and educated to what exist. Here are there names:

-Ces Santaguida, Vittoria Trattoria-Michael Hay, The Courtyard Restaurant-Matthew Brearley, Castlegarth-Norm Aitken, Juniper-Michael Blackie, Le Cafe at the NAC***-Jamie Stunt, Oz Kafe***-Pat Garland, Absinthe***-Arup Jana, Allium***

-Jason Duffy,  Arc the hotel
-John Taylor, Domus Cafe-Yannick Anton, Cordon Bleu Bistro***-Steve Mitton, Murray Street-Caroline Ishii, Zen Kitchen-Charles Part, Les Fougeres-Michael Moffat, Beckta Dining and Wine-Matt Carmichael, Restaurant E18hteen 

-Clifford Lyness, Brookstreet Hotel-Chris Deraiche, The Wellington Gastropub-Trish Larkin, Black Cat Bistro-Steve Wall, Luxe Bistro***-Mike Radford, Savana Cafe-Matt Somers, It's a Matter of Cake-Michael Farber, Farbs Kitchen and Wine Bar-Matt Carmichael, Restaurant E18hteen

To think we have now in Ottawa so many good restaurants is quite a development for this Capital, which until 2005 had precious few good restaurants. The ones with *** are restaurants I know for having been there and enjoyed the cuisine.

                            Château Laurier Hotel, Ottawa (1911-2011)

1 comment:

  1. Many people choose great dining restaurants for a special occasion, so the food must not disappoint- in either selection or quality. You don’t need to feature a huge menu, but it should be interesting, offering unique items that patrons wouldn’t find at any other restaurant.

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