Doggone good food
The red dog is dead. Its ghost haunts a popular restaurant in Westport. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear its howl above the wind and the rain and the happy clatter of cutlery.
When the restaurant opened, on Wakefield St, it was to have been known as The Red Dog, an attempt to associate it with the ghost town of coal mining days at Denniston.
Denniston has become fashionable lately, thanks to the rollicking Denniston Rose novels by Jenny Pattrick and the recent opening of an underground mining experience for tourists. Like most coal towns, it had pubs out of proportion to population. The last pub to close was The Red Dog.
So The Red Dog was the chosen name for the Westport establishment. But the choice was dogged by discovery that a Red Dog existed elsewhere. Perhaps mindful of the Blackball pub’s hassles over the name Hilton, the Westport proprietors made the change. Denniston Dog it is.
We had tried to get a table there on our last trip but found it fully booked. This time we arrive early. And just as well. As if Westport has nowhere else to eat, the crowds pour in. As we finished, and before I can pay the bill, our table has been gobbled up by a pair of business consultant types. This prompts a moment of sheer impetuosity, and, before leaving I make a reservation for tomorrow night.
Let it be said The Denniston Dog has one fault. Our seating is of the style known as ‘‘producer chairs’’, in reference to film producers barking like red dogs at sundry actors and technicians from them. These chairs consist of strips of canvas suspended from wooden frames. Trouble is, film producers tend to be portly and canvas is prone to sag. This makes the chairs uncomfortable and the seating position low and it is like eating off a shelf.
I order turbot, a favourite fish. It is soft and firm and tasty. The Denniston Dog chef may have a heavy hand with the potato dish the slabs of fish rest on but you don’t have to eat it all. The cauliflower and broccoli have exactly the right degree of crispness. The sauce which I amthinking must be a beurre blanc or if not a close relative, is perfect.
The next night we find our little table waiting for us ( like a faithful dog, red or otherwise). I order the seafood chowder and it passes every test. Then, damn the elegance of it, I order lamb shanks. Plural. That’s $28, when a single one costs $24. Such economy. And such a feed. I am a lover of lamb shanks from days when dad killed a sheep each week and we brothers fought over them (the shanks, not the sheep). The quantity of this dish almost defeats me but the taste and texture keep me going; onions, red wine, herbs – on garlic mash with a seasonal side of fresh cauliflower and carrots.
Margaret was city-raised and developed a taste for fish and chips, so takes the fish of the day: hoki, panfried and delicate, with wedges and ‘‘a very good salad’’. It looks ho- hum but she says it is delicious.
The beer and wine selection is good. The service is exceptional so the the juicy bone award goes to a restaurant that bodes to be one of Westport’s main tourist attractions. Along with Denniston.
Canine capers: From The Red Dog to Denniston Dog.