*Restaurant is now closed*
Fresh from opening Ensemble earlier this year, Top Chef Canada winner Dale MacKay is at it again with his latest venture - Ensemble Tap. Located only one and half blocks down from his flagship restaurant, it takes over the space left by the former Azia. The "tap" part of the name refers to the 15 different craft beers on tap. Furthermore, Ensemble Tap attempts to be a higher end quasi- gastropub with emphasis on "sophisticated" pub food. As intriguing as this seemed, I was planning on visiting the place after Friday night hockey in the future. I say future is because my knee is still on the mend and that means no hockey until January at the earliest. But with Whipping Girl available for lunch, we couldn't' resist and decided to go try it out on their 4th day since officially opening. As such, we noticed Dale hurriedly making sure everything was running smoothly.
As per our server, we decided to start our meal with the Sausage Platter. At first, I was confused why a cutting board of 3 sausages would be so impressive. That question would be answered immediately after we bit into the house-made links. In reference to the picture, from left to right, we had a caraway sasuage, Thai sausage and finally a BBQ sausage. Grainy mustard and a fresh pretzel completed the platter. The moist meatiness was one thing in common with all the sausages. They were juicy (as the liquid on the cutting board illustrates) and not overly fatty. Definitely quality made sausages. We liked the Thai sausage the most due to its flavourful punch. As Whipping Girl remarked, "I could taste the Thai immediately as I bit into the sausage". Now with a comment like that, it could mean many different things... er... But let us focus on food. I definitely agreed as there was a definite basil kick. The caraway sausage was also very flavouful and there was no mistaking of its composition. However, the BBQ sausage was on the saltier side. Despite this, the finish was one of meaty-smokiness.
Since Whipping Girl can't go without her moules et fries, we had the Mussels and Fries (as an appie...). This was a fairly standard attempt with a mild Thai coconut broth. The broth was fragrant, yet could've benefited from more "punch". All of the mussels were open and most were plump with one or two smaller ones (not their fault though). The side of fries were fantastic. Fried until a dry crisp (in a good way), they were light and we kept on munching on them (because we had like 3 orders of them due to our dish selection). And that brings us to the Tap Burger. Consisting of a large beef patty topped with caramelized onions, Swiss cheese, mushrooms, fresh horseradish, butter lettuce, tomato and red onion, this was a very messy burger with juices flowing down our arms. This is what a burger should be with a big oversized patty, an abundance of toppings and a just-soft-enough bun. The meat was cooked all the way though, yet moist and juicy. There was a nice balance of flavours including a nice kick from the horseradish.
Lastly, we had Dale's famous Top Chef Pulled Pork Sandwich with apple-horseradish slaw and BBQ pulled pork beans. Seeing how I've already had this at Ensemble, I only took a small sample of this one. As expected, it was the same with moist tender pork with a balanced BBQ sauce and a tangy crunchy slaw. Whipping Girl had this for the first time and she was really happy with it. Yet, we were even happier with the pulled pork BBQ beans. At first, the texture was a touch gritty due to the mushed-up beans, but the finish with the pulled pork and the deep sweetness made for a tasty spoonful.
Alright, I know there will be the usual "it's too expensive" crowd out there. Hey, I hear ya. But let me ask you this: with prices that are inline with Cactus Club and Earl's, is Ensemble Tap really that expensive? Considering its prime Downtown location and with Dale Mackay's namesake, the prices seem reasonable to me. Portion size did not seem to be a problem either as we struggled to even put a dent into the mains we ordered (granted we ordered 2 big appies). For us, Ensemble Tap represents a more laid-back approach from Dale Mackay. It shows in the decor and the food. Service was really attentive and at times nervous and over-bearing (because it has only been open for 4 days!). The bottom line is that Chef Mackay tries to put his spin on pub food and succeeds.
- Nice spin on pub food
- Relaxed atmosphere
- Good selection of craft beers on tap
- For some, it maybe pricey (but considering it costs the same as the chain restaurants, maybe not)
- Decor is a little bit stark