Behind every restaurant is a story of people and community brought together by a desire to share something. "The thing with Shane Waldron and I," says Chris Deraiche, chef and co-owner of the Wellington Gastropub, "is that we share a love of music ... I mean, aside from food, wine, and beer!" Deraiche and Waldron first met while working at Restaurant e18hteen in the By-Ward Market. But it was their fine-tuned taste in music that really connected them and eventually led them to transplant their food and drink skills in the west end. It has been almost nine years since the Wellington Gastropub opened its doors in Wellington West and, in some ways, it carved the path for the restaurant explosion that has swept through that part of town.
The idea behind a gastropub is simple: fine dining in a casual atmosphere. The mish-mashed chairs, worn sofa in the corner and window into the kitchen make for a comfortable setting, but it's the food and drink that kick it up a notch. While Waldron dedicates himself to a carefully selected wine list and locally crafted beers, Deraiche focuses on a menu that best highlights the availability of the season. Notably, Deraiche writes a new menu each day. When first starting, he admits this was a daunting task, beginning with extensive lists of current and expected stock from their suppliers. Now, however, it has become a commendable best practice and a fresh menu is created each afternoon based on seasonal availability of produce and scheduled deliveries of meats and other foods.
While there is a strong focus on local food, Deraiche discussed the challenges this presents in winter. He tips his hat to some restaurants (such as Murray Street or Taylor's Genuine) that have a diligent commitment to this practice, despite seasonal limitations. "In our case," he says, "my number one priority is for people to enjoy really good food." He continues by describing how rather than taking something such as tomatoes off the menu in winter, he will slowly roast them in the oven overnight in order to best feature the flavour in the off-season.
When asked, Deraiche happily lists off some of their local suppliers, which include Rideau Pines and Acorn Creek: both of which use greenhouses to extend the growing season. When sourcing their food, they begin with their local connections: greens and microgreens from Butterfly Sky Farms, eggs from Beking’s Poultry Farm, duck from Mariposa, bacon from Seed to Sausage. Champignons Le Coprin is their mushroom cultivator and has become a close connection.
As you listen to Deraiche describe their food and drink suppliers, a storyline for each unfolds. Really, he's describing where and from whom the food comes. These are the stories behind the many people with whom Deraiche and Waldron work to bring food to the plate, and it is this kinship with local food suppliers that make the cornerstone of their business.
After the local supply is exhausted — ideally they will use provincially sourced edibles before sourcing nationally — they expand the search. For example, while their bread comes from Art-is-in, the cold-pressed canola oil they serve with it comes from Pristine Gourmet, a family farm in Waterford, Ont., that specializes in crafting a variety of oils. The more expensive items, such as seafood and meats, need to fit into their menu pricing. Deraiche describes how “it is always a challenge to balance these things: costs, quality, value and customer satisfaction.”
One way they manage to strike this balance is by canning food when it is fresh and abundant. In fact, their collection of preserves — artfully displayed in the corner of the dining room — is quite impressive. This idea came to Deraiche about eight years ago after dining at Jamie Kennedy’s Wine Bar in Toronto, where a shelf adorned with multicoloured preserves, caught his eye. Believing the idea is both aesthetically pleasing and practical, Deraiche embarked on a similar venture in his own establishment. Each year, they preserve about 250 jars worth of fruits and vegetables, ranging from varieties of pickled asparagus to ramps (wild leeks that Waldron and Deraiche pick themselves) to blueberries soaked in vinegar and apricots in ice wine. The mouth waters at the depth of colour seen in these jars in the sunlight. Many of the preserves are made by Adriana Babineau, the pastry chef at the Gastropub. (It’s worth saving room for her ice cream!)
And what about the beer and wine? The Wellington boasts a strong beer list that regularly ranges from the closest Ottawa-area brewers: Beau's, Beyond the Pale, Covered Bridge and Dominion City, to offerings from brewers across the province, including Wellington, Cameron’s, Spearhead and Muskoka. Since 2006, the number of taps has grown from six to fourteen, mirroring the expansion of Ontario breweries in number and geographic reach. The typical offering includes a selection that ranges from dark nutty porters to refreshing citrus beers, and at least a couple of hoppy IPAs. They also make a point of adding (and tapping) a cask beer to the list. The bottled selection claims a variety of unique American, international, and, of course, local offerings. By all measures, there are enough styles and varieties to keep you tasting at the gastropub for some time.
The wine also merits mention. The owners rely on an Enomatic wine dispenser to provide more expensive offerings by the glass (and avoid spoilage). The wine is Waldron's department and he makes a point of seeking out an eclectic range of old- and new-world offerings in red and white, with a fairly equal continental split between Canadian (including Hinterland from Prince Edward County and Stratus from Niagara) and American selections.
And, what of their love of music? In addition to all things edible, good music remains an integral feature of the atmosphere. Vinyl fans unite at the recently established Wellington Record Club, where one can spend an evening in the White Room (their private dining room), sip local craft beer, eat canapés and listen to classic tunes. Serious music lovers are expected to listen and enjoy the eats (meaning: no talking while the music plays). An added touch is that all albums are played through Ottawa's own Tetra brand speakers. In their affable spirit of community, proceeds from these events go to the Parkdale Food Centre.
Between the food, drink, great service and cozy atmosphere, it’s a winning combination. We devoured a plate of rabbit galantine, grilled frisée, house-made ricotta and Babineau’s quince preserve decorated with pine nuts and sherry caramel. We compared it to a second plate of melt-in-your-mouth scallops, topped with corn relish over a bed of farro, bacon, leeks and squash. The conclusion: We'll face the squalls to get here!
The Wellington Gastropub
1325 Wellington St. West, Ottawa, ON
Jacqueline and Brent Lawlor did not know what a galantine was before eating at the Gastropub and were happy to learn it had nothing to do with the French Revolution.