Feast + Revel bills itself as a restaurant serving New Canadian cuisine with a sense-of-place menu. Situated on the first floor of the stylish, up-market Andaz hotel in the heart of the ByWard Market, it’s certainly at the epicentre of one of Canada’s most popular tourist destinations.
But, what defines Canadian cuisine? We sometimes struggle to escape the long shadow of the United States when it comes to differentiating our cultural and culinary identity. This seems like a particularly poignant question to be asking ourselves right now, as trade tensions run high with our neighbour to the south – even condiments have become contentious.
When you read through the menu at Feast + Revel, you’ll no doubt recognize those trademark dishes that appeal to our patriotism: bannock, poutine, and elk.
For the remainder, however, Chef Stephen La Salle’s dishes offer a global perspective; all composed with Canadian ingredients sourced from sea to shining sea – BC Bed Rock Crab to Acadian Sturgeon Caviar.
The pork belly lettuce wraps boast a distinctively Asian flavour profile thanks to the accompanying slaw and dipping sauce. The result is a delicious interpretation centred around a perfectly cooked pork belly – succulent, fatty and rich – balanced by a crisp slaw, spicy sauce and light lettuce wrap.
The Octopus Paella ($21) is less successful. La Salle’s iteration brings home-harvested ingredients: PEI mussels, Seed to Sausage chorizo, dulse and wild rice, to this Spanish classic.
The wild rice is not a welcome addition. Although combined with arborio rice which would be typical of this dish, the wild rice compromises the textural integrity. I was left yearning for the soccarat – the crusty, crispy bottom of classic paella. In addition, the nutty flavour of the wild rice drowns out the brightness of the saffron broth and leaves the plate in disharmony.
When he reinterprets Canadiana, La Salle’s dishes sing. The lamb poutine ($14) is certainly the calling card for the True North, strong and free. La Salle’s architectural composition is a welcome reimagining of this flag-waving fare.
The braised Ontario lamb shoulder is nestled between two slabs of perfectly cooked potato, smothered in rosemary jus, topped with cheese curd whip and a dusting of chives. This variation is so much more appetizing than what you’d find in a styrofoam takeout container after a late night on Elgin Street.
The edible flowers adorning the plate in this dish, and in the pork belly, seem a bit out of place but they certainly make for a more ‘grammable meal.
Of all the dishes I sampled in my two visits to Feast + Revel, whether inspired by a uniquely Canadian or come-from-away culinary tradition, my favourite was the sea scallops ($32).
The combination of pine nuts, raisins and saffron bears the hallmark of Middle Eastern cuisine. Plump seared sea scallops pair beautifully with the roasted cauliflower and saffron aioli. The raisins bring a touch of sweetness, croutons add crunch and pine nuts build texture. This dish is a resounding success.
Another favourite came from the dessert menu in the form of the “Strawberry Fields Forever” ($12). I’m often disappointed with deconstructed desserts because I find they have a tendency to prioritize form over flavour. Not here.
This sculptural sweet is comprised of whipped cheese mousse, graham crumb, rhubarb purée, white chocolate and strawberry ganache, dehydrated and fresh strawberries, strawberry granita and a basil tuille. See if you can spot them all. The laundry list of components might have you breaking out a dictionary but each and every one is essential to building the perfect after-dinner treat.
The cocktail list is comprised of a set of easy-drinking libations that would appeal to the wide spectrum of tastes that come through the door. The diversity of the list might be improved by one or two more spirit-driven cocktails, for those among us who prefer something a bit stronger.
On both my visits, the service was attentive, charming and informed. The setting is well-styled, if a bit restrained – making it well-suited to our Canadian aversion to boastfulness.
If the menu at Feast + Revel is any indication, I think what defines New Canadian cuisine is the confidence of knowing that we don’t have to build a wall to preserve our culinary identity. Rather, our palate is enriched by opening our borders and our minds to the world and its flavours.
Feast + Revel
325 Dalhousie St., Ottawa, ON
Open for lunch and dinner Monday-Sunday.
Disclosure: I was invited to dine at Feast + Revel as a guest of the restaurant on one occasion where I was able to sample some of the items described above. I’ve dined there on one other occasion on my own dime. All thoughts and opinions are my own.