A few months ago, the vegan/vegetarian/raw food restaurant Café My House packed up all its grating/grinding/whirring machines and moved from suburban south Bank to the happening Hintonburg neighbourhood.
The new place looks nothing like the old. I remember a green and white space, with a bright and cheery homespun look. The Wellington West Café My House is none of that. A long, narrow room, it’s quite dark — black really — inside and out, which you either find edgy and contemporary or somewhat gloomy and oppressive. I must say I was in the latter camp. Worried, too, that if the feeling was a bit bleak in June, how would it seem in December?
For now, the back patio is open and quite sweet, and that’s where we found ourselves at a second visit. At our first, we sat as close to the front windows as we could.
The menu begins with a page of CMH Mixology — cocktails ‘without processed ingredients’ — and I gave the one called ‘Japan’ a go, intrigued by the description (anise pickled beets, dry sake, pear bitters, ginger beer). It was pretty, I’ll give it that, but the flavour was underpowered. Too much ice, perhaps, melting too quickly in the heat…
But underpowered pretty much sums up my feeling about the food as well. It certainly looks striking. Dishes arrive layered, multi-coloured, fussed over, very pretty. But with a few notable exceptions, the flavours were wan and the texture at times flabby, at other times unrelentingly crunchy. And some dishes suffered from a general temperature trouble — sauces served only tepid when they should have been hot, for example.
I’ve chomped through quite a bit of the menu and I’ll start with the winning dish — the banh mi tacos. The besan flour tacos (soft shell) had huge heft and were very filling, topped with strings of carrot, radish, greens, and cilantro, but it was the house-smoked tempeh that delivered the flavour and meaty texture to really carry the dish. This could easily have been a meal on its own. The creamy primavera spaghetti, in which raw zucchini stands in for pasta, had some nice elements — we liked the capers — but overall, it was fairly dull. Plus, it was served — as we were warned it would be — lukewarm.
The lemongrass curry was gorgeous on the plate, but it was a bit messy in the mouth — too much going on, all competing for attention. Here was under-seasoned grilled zucchini in a lemongrass-carrot curry sauce that, again, arrived unpleasantly lukewarm, a corn and basil risotto that was pretty gummy, radish, grape tomato, and a pineapple salsa that was neither here nor there. Cold, starchy brown rice was a problem with the beet tartar roll as well, though the dish was generously served and hugely filling.
Another good looking dish was the summer lasagna, wherein parts of the lasagne that would ordinarily be pasta were raw zucchini slices. I don’t know… I think I made the mistake of over-ordering things with zucchini. A dish that relies on raw zucchini for flavour begins badly, in my opinion. It’s a vegetable that absorbs flavour rather than delivering its own, and served raw and untended is bitter and bland. Paired with raw beets, raw carrots, out of season tomatoes, rescued somewhat with a layer of cashew cheese, it was a whole lot of wholesome and not much smack.
An eleven dollar baba au rhum — no longer on the menu I notice — was truly inedible, and removed from the bill.
The wine list is eight entries long, and markups are a bit unfriendly.
I wanted to like the new Café My House much more than I did, I’m sorry to report. But I might return for those tacos and a perch on the pretty patio one summer day.