FLAVOURFUL PLATES FOR THE BEER-LOVING CROWD
Flavourful plates for beer-lovers
If you type “beer and” into Google, the auto-complete feature offers a few suggestions. Tops are “wings,” “tomato juice,” and “cheddar soup.”
Clearly, Google has never eaten at Bar Lupulus on Wellington Street West. At the nearly twomonth-old gastropub, the fare runs to the fancier end of the spectrum. Think scallop ceviche, in which espresso figures into the recipe, a slab of roast pork shoulder with Parmesan-bolstered potatoes and even pasta made with pig’s blood.
The elevated dishes are meant to pair well with a striking range of connoisseur suds, including 20 Ontario and Quebec craft beers on tap, served in various sizes and in high-end Teku glasses, plus scores of bottled choices, including such exotica as dryhopped sour ales, wild ales and grape ales. “The draught selection is very impressive. Lots of interesting stuff there,” says this newsroom’s resident beer buff, Vito Pilieci.
I wish I could tell you about the precise interplay between beers and dishes, but that would have been too taxing on my budget, as well as my liver. Instead, here’s my report on the 11 dishes (about two-thirds of the concise menu) that I sampled last weekend at Lupulus.
More often than not, the from-scratch food from chef Jeff Bradfield’s open kitchen was attractively plated and brimming with well-melded flavours that belied the size of the plates that contained them. Bradfield, who previously cooked at Social in the ByWard Market and who competed last month in Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates contest, seems to be striving for food that can match the premium brews chosen by business partner, Anthony Spagnolo, as far as complexity and occasionally arcane appeal go.
Based on three raw-bar items that we tried, I’d be confident in choosing from that section of Bradfield’s menu. Beef tartare ($14) melded finely-chopped meat with a chorus of umamirich ingredients (anchovy, Parmesan, a truffle-based condiment called tartufata and cured egg yolk), but the dish had enough perkiness and acidity so as not to be lopsided. Scallop ceviche ($16) downplayed the usual acidity of those citrus-marinated raw seafood dishes, but succeeded by garnishing its mellow mollusk meat with salty hits of crisp pancetta and serrano ham and sweet, finely diced apple. Smoked salmon was transformed into rich rillettes ($15) offset by a sharp, fresh frisée salad that popped with pickled mustard seeds.
While the piadina that I’ve seen elsewhere have been flatbread folded taco-style for a single diner’s easy handling, Lupulus’s piadina ($15) was served open and unfolded, and its array of toppings (sheep’s feta, tomatoes, onion and figs) made us not only share the tastiness, but also fight for slices.
The only dish of the night that didn’t work was a salad that consisted of a pylon-shaped mound of pumpkin, root vegetables and Granny Smith apples in a large puddle of oil and pumpkin seeds ($14). All of its good attributes were overwhelmed by a punishing saltiness. (Maybe I needed to neutralize it with a punishingly bitter beer.)
Two pastas went their separate ways, but admirably so. A dish built around capellini and clams ($16) was deliciously savoury, enriched by the punch of fermented eggplant, sweet peas and the licorice hit of Pernod. Spicier and earthier was a bowl that combined slices of paprika-laced linguiça sausage with farfalle that had been spiked with pig’s blood ($16). A bright gremolata kept the dish from being too blood-forward.
The smaller dishes here are sufficiently interesting that I could see eschewing mains in favour of sharing other items. That said, the slab of roast pork at the centre of one main course ($24), while fatty, was rich in flavour and nicely crisped, and its potato and slaw added even more heft and variety. The fish dish that night saw a salmon filet, substituted for the branzino listed on the menu, and its fine vegetable accompaniments (broccolini, fingerling potatoes, a cooked-down sofrito) properly prepared.
Bradfield likes to throw a bit of a curveball when it comes to desserts ($10 each), but we didn’t object. His dark chocolate brownie also contained Gorgonzola cheese, although if the menu didn’t tell you, you might simply note an extra layer of rich, funky flavour in a deluxe dessert already enriched by figs and balsamic. His apple-pie-like dessert was garnished with slices of fennel and beet, as well as salted caramel. Purists might flinch, but we welcomed the extras.
Formerly home to the Flying Banzini sandwich shop, the bar’s space has been stylishly renovated. It’s a much darker place, in which the bar’s massive bank of taps enjoy pride of place along one wall. Under wheel-shaped lighting, servers in heavy aprons
patrol the floor.
The last year has seen the ranks of the Ottawa area’s beer-based businesses swell, with breweries offering food on-site and other restaurants appealing to discerning beer drinkers. I still have to make the rounds, but it won’t surprise me if Bradfield’s highly crafted, flavour-forward dishes put Lupulus at or very near to the top of the heap.
From left: Scallop ceviche; brownie with Gorgonzola blue cheese; and the porchetta main course at Bar Lupulus, a gastropub that serves elevated dishes.