Chef Steve Mitton and manager Paddy Whelan, both formerly of Social Restaurant on Sussex, have branched out on their own. Their new venture is called, plainly, Murray Street, and they have transformed the once pink and laced premises of the departed Bistro 115 into a buff dining room of manly appeal. They’ve torn out worn carpet and laid down dark wood. They’ve covered the forest green and dusty rose colour scheme with blacks, browns and olive greens. The leafy patio and its furnishings have been spruced up and can now be counted among Ottawa’s prettiest al fresco dining rooms. Antlers and snouts and swine art abound, inside and out. A big goofy picture of Mitton and Whelan hangs over the bar and meat slicer (at the ready to slice up some elk).
The logo of Murray Street is a stylized M in a boar’s body. The staff wear logo-bearing black tees decorated with definitions – of wine, of charcuterie – half in earnest, half in fun. There seems no shortage of those T-shirt wearing people. As you travel through the dining room, past the charcuterie bar, down the narrow hall that passes the kitchen, and into the oasis of patio, pond and arboured grapevine, you are greeted and grinned at along the way. Service at every meal here has been well paced, knowledgeable and friendly.
The soul of Murray Street is meat. In addition to the menu of wild game terrines and craft salamis, soft moulded head cheese, and some of the finest specimens of Upper and Lower Canadian cheeses, the balance of the menu remains chiefly carnivorous.
There is always a fish dish though – beer-battered BC halibut, wild Ontario perch, local White Bass, grilled and served with Newfoundland mussels and cast iron fried potatoes. And there is always a nod – just one, mind – to the vegetarians. (I’ve had a yummy dish of al dente wheat berries with smoked King Eryngii mushrooms and wilted kale slick with truffle oil; beside it, a wilted Savoy cabbage leaf wrapping a mixture of curried quinoa, grilled corn and roast cauliflower in a pool of coconut curry sauce.)
A salad of roasted and pickled beets, with spiced pecans and a honey-yoghurt dressing is a fine, seasonal starter. Or you could begin with some heft: pork belly, cooked in birch syrup and glazed with rhubarb, served with pickled mushrooms and nuts.
A price tag as large as you will find for wieners and beans means the casserole has some living up to do, but the wieners are lamb chorizo sausages, made in-house, served with Great Northern white beans fashioned into a pretty salad and some fresh clams. Once you’ve eaten your fill, you won’t squawk at the price.
Grass-fed short ribs, the sumptuous meat off the bone, are slow cooked and fabulous. With them come chanterelle mushrooms and a rich, meaty jus that moistens the hand cut spaetzle. My only quibble with the plate of pork that stars the 10-week-old milk-fed piglets from St Canut Farms – is with a dry loin. The rest is very fine – the smoked confit leg the bacon, the homemade apple jelly and the rich wedge of scalloped potato with its crispy top, balanced with a bit of steamed spinach.
If you didn’t want to commit to a full meal, a selection from the charcuterie menu and a glass of beer is an option. I’ve gone that route with an ambrosial duck liver mousse, slices of chewy Kielbasa from the Elk Ranch, a hunk of 7-year cheddar from Pine River Farm, a wet, delicate piece of smoked salmon, and a vegetarian terrine of goat cheese thick with mushrooms and golden raisins, layered with grated veggies and a little crunch of sea salt, the whole wrapped in a Napa cabbage leaf. Try it with the cranberry orange preserve. The condiments tantalize – gherkins and olives, seedy mustard and pickled onions, sun dried tomatoes drenched in green oil and a cloth basket of Art-is-in-Bakery bread, some fresh and some baked into crisp thin toast. Makes a fine, light supper.
To drink: freshly squeezed juices, an intriguing cocktail list (Boar’s milk martini, anyone?) artisan beers on tap, and a short but well chosen wine list.
To end: local raspberries and Pure Gelato ice cream with an almond tuile; a lemon bavarain with a ginger cookie crust and a crown of meringue; chocolate pudding with a Chinese soup spoon of ginger orange marmalade. All good.
As I was getting ready to leave Murray Street after a late lunch of macaroni and cheese, Rene Rodriguez wandered in from Navarra, his new restaurant across the street. He and Steve Mitton had a beer and a pulled pork sandwich together. They chatted about local greens. Had they tried this, and what about that? It was a nice moment, these are two young men with already impressive track records, each with his own new venture, excited about what mark they may make on the culinary landscape of an increasingly tasty city.
It’s easy to like Murray Street.