Dining out in Ottawa has changed profoundly over the last decade. A city that was once lightly flecked with a handful of exceptional eateries has experienced a restaurant boom, and Ottawa is now a hub for food. Rewind twenty years ago, when the culture of dining out was just starting to blossom in Ottawa. Celebrations and milestones brought families and friends out of their homes and into restaurants.Today, Ottawans dine out anywhere from once a month to three times a week. Where has this new attitude toward dining come from? And how has it shaped a national capital region that truly celebrates food?
Rise of the Restaurant
The downtown core is not the only—nor the first—place that Ottawans, and tourists, turn to for a good meal these days. Neighbourhoods, from Hintonburg to Westboro; to Little Italy and the Glebe, are bursting with new restaurants and becoming lively hubs that foodies covet. The options are limitless; the destinations at our fingertips. In these new restaurants, chefs are taking risks with their menus, and they are finding that new approaches to cuisine are being applauded. Just this year, we’ve seen a handful of new restaurants open in Ottawa—each offering a menu that is completely unlike the next.
The Glebe neighbourhood has welcomed the upmarket Pomeroy House and the Fraser brothers’ second restaurant, The Rowan, found its home not far from there. On Elgin, Chef and Restaurateur Matt Carmichael recently opened an Asian small plates bar, called Dat Sun, situated next door to his incredibly successful taco stop, El Camino. Even the suburbs are seeing a different style of restaurant emerge. Communities, like Orléans and Stittsville, have recently welcomed new bistros that offer a unique dining experience – much different to the practice of chain restaurants. One thing is certain: Ottawa was ready for more variety. And restaurateurs delivered.
A love for local food has brought character to Canadian cuisine—and to Ottawa’s cuisine, too. With accessible local food suppliers and a fortune of farms on the city’s fringes, Ottawa has developed a true appreciation for the natural gift of home-grown grub. There is an expectation to embrace local food, and chefs have harnessed the delight that lies in plating Ottawa’s essence.
Standard of Service
Beyond food and local suppliers comes the experience of dining out. Stephen Beckta, for Ottawa’s purpose, is the Godfather of Gastronomy and the Sultan of Service. With his first remarkable endeavour in 2003 (the nine time award-winning restaurant, Beckta), he reshaped the definition of fine dining with a focus on service excellence. This shift quickly transcended the white-tablecloth restaurants of Ottawa and became the standard.
Places like Fauna, Supply and Demand and the Elmdale Tavern are more casual dining experiences that still offer exceptional service. Ottawa knows that great service and good food go hand in hand. It is all part of the experience.
Welcoming Wine & the Cocktail Craze
For a long time, the natural union of food and wine was missing in Ottawa. But, as the city experienced a restaurant boom, a new appreciation for wine was also unearthed. Now, we welcome wine as a pillar of a good meal. And on the coattails of wine came its cousin: the cocktail. The cocktail craze has taken Ottawa by storm and almost every new restaurant boasts a list of artisan cocktails that give a nod to the artistry of mixology.
The Albion Rooms is revered for their craft cocktail list, while Play Food and Wine in the Byward Market is regarded as top tier in Ottawa’s offerings of wine lists. It has been an exciting decade for restaurants—and for eaters—in the National Capital Region.
Yes, Ottawa is hungry. But no longer are we biting at the ankles of Montreal or Toronto. This city has clinched its own spot in the upper echelon of the Canadian food scene.