UPDATE: WESB HAS CLOSED
Bells Corners, forgive me, is not a hot bed of gastronomy. So when an upscale restaurant lasts as long in a corner as littered with fast food outlets as The West End Station Bistro has, it must be doing something right.
One of the pleasures is its successful refurbishing. It had been looking dated, but its new style is sophisticated, open and airy, with contemporary table settings, clean lighting and earthy colours. Given that it’s plunked in a big mall parking lot, The Station Bistro has also managed, much better than it had before, to repress the sensation of being surrounded by asphalt and automobiles. (Still, I find a window seat not my first choice.)
It has a convivial wine list – not long, but well assembled, with decent choice by the glass and half bottle, and with solid options for the big and modest spender.
The menu is also commendably concise – six starters, three main dishes, as well as a table d’hote that offers a few more options, available either in a bundled deal, or a la carte. The food is recognizable; it doesn’t break new ground, and almost all of it is fleshy (there’s no joy here for the vegetarian.)
But as successful as it appears to be, The West End Station Bistro has its share of faults. My three visits over the past two months have been tales of some pleasure but also some pain.
The pleasure begins with a steaming bowl of tomato-Cognac soup and a slice of the house-made bread, crusty and flavourful. And ends with the crème brulée with Grand Marnier. And if Chef-owner Jordan Forester gets his hands on more of those rich, meaty “Honey” mussels from BC waters, I’d return for a bowl of those. But on balance, the food has been ho-hum, from the tired Mesclun mix salad and a dry tuna sandwich at lunch, to overcooked duck and fish and pedestrian vegetables at dinner.
We enjoy the salmon one evening, the fish fresh and nicely undercooked, with a crust of goat cheese and herbs. But on another night, the Arctic char tastes fishy and arrives quite overcooked and dry, and the shrimp starter, though generous, tastes of the freezer, in a sauce that amounts to little more than tomato paste and cream. A salad of fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, tomato and basil suffers from tasteless late November tomatoes. The foie gras works better, the delicate liver nicely seared, the blueberry drizzle a pleasant sweet counter.
A rack of lamb arrives perfectly executed to medium rare, juicy and well flavoured, though its sauce is cold, and its vegetable mates are all a bit flawed – too-crusty roast potatoes, undercooked asparagus, under-roasted red pepper, woody carrot. The branch of rosemary that protrudes from every plate doesn’t quite make it better, and for $39, it had better all sing and dance.
I’ve had a charming server and I’ve had an indifferent one.
If I lived or worked in Bells Corners I would be grateful for the West End Station Bistro and the rescue it offers from the bland blocks of prefabricated eateries in its neighbourhood. The question becomes, would I cross town for it? And the answer is probably not. When pitted against the many similarly priced fine-dining restaurants in this city, The West End Station Bistro comes up short. It does some things well enough, but it does a number of other things without any particular distinction. And its prices (table d’hote $49, main dishes in the $20 to $39 range) suggest a level of service that’s more thoughtful and food that’s more accomplished and current.