Neighbourhood: River Heights
Address: 164 Stafford St
Pub grub—from gourmet burgers to truffle fries—has enjoyed ongoing popularity since The Grove opened its doors. In 2011, this publication praised the casual spot as one of the year’s best new restaurants for its elevated menu; since then, it has continued to impress by giving eager diners ample opportunity to pair fine dining panache with a pint.
Inspired by British pubs, the restaurant smoothly incorporates specials from across the pond into items like curry-sauced fish and chips and gussied-up bangers and mash. Still, the archetypal English tavern is less of a literal influence and more of a blueprint for the kind of convivial neighbourhood atmosphere cultivated here. Adding shepherd’s pie to the menu does not a neighbourhood pub make; a cozy, warm, friendly vibe, genuine personal touches, and a careful blend of clever gastronomy and mass appeal place this spot at a cut above.
On any given night, the simple, light green-hued space, centred around a well stocked bar, fills with a diverse cross section of diners from sports fans to family outings. Burgers and sandwiches with creative toppings are popular picks, as are the filling, crispy-edged pizzas that serve as an homage to the longtime former occupant of the building (Tubby’s pizza).
Creative appetizers are highlights, a bargain at casual pub prices. Soft, fatty slices of pork belly beneath a crispy sear pair perfectly with a roasted pineapple gel that adds tropical sweetness. Tangy pickled shallots and jalapeños, a funky hint of miso, and a scattering of crisp-fried pork skin round out the dish. Seared scallops share a plate with grassy pea purée and refreshing and herby watermelon and mint salsa.
Mains deliver low key elegance that goes well with a crisp house lager. Spicy steak tacos get a colourful topping of avocado, grapefruit, and cilantro, with a drizzle of habanero sour cream packing some serious heat. A buttery slab of salmon under sweet passion fruit glaze is well appointed over tangy cabbage slaw and a rich Japanese tare broth smacking of soy salinity.
A plate of housemade mini donuts is a fun finish, puffy as clouds and still warm under a drizzle of maple whiskey glaze and a shower of crumbled bacon. It is the dedication in these details that show that this kitchen isn’t just looking to impress, but to make friends.