Look for two massive, mod yellow doors and you will have found Weslodge, perhaps the poshest, most luxurious saloon Hogtown has ever known. Not only is it the perfect backdrop for a Ralph Lauren photo shoot (Purple Label, of course), replete with genuine cowhide banquettes and wall-to-wall dead animals, but it sets a new design benchmark for clubland's King West corridor.
Hmm, I wonder who'd dare to dream up an over-the-top idea like this during an economic downturn? Ya guessed it: nightlife ki
ngpin Charles Khabouth (La Societe). I mean just casually utter the word "pleather", and the man would probably gag. Uhmmm, where does he get all this money? Along with partner and culinary king Hanif Harji (who helped reinvent downtown's dining experience with eateries like Blowfish, Kultura and Nyood), this team gets an A for authenticity right down to the brass rivets around every table and leather holsters slung across every server slinging intriguing drinks like a Canadian Mutt ($14) with a house tobacco tincture and maple bitters. No teeny tiny detail has been overlooked. So what possibly can go wrong? Plenty.
Even with an army of kitchen commandos, none of whom look over the age of five, much of the food is a miss. What can one say about a salt cod brandade ($12) except bran-don't. It's more than just perplexing to see such a Mediterranean mainstay be reduced to the consistency of a yogurt-like liquid, it's a travesty. Perhaps the problem is turbo-processing all the ingredients (that also include potatoes, cream, butter, garlic and shallots) in a Vitamix before being put through an Isi cream gun. But surprisingly, and as much as I hate to admit it, it's not a total write-off, saved mercifully by pickled onion and celery cress with a house made lemon vinaigrette, potato "hay", shaved truffles and Fred's grilled sourdough. Whatever this dish is, brandade it ain't.
Thankfully, a fluke ceviche ($12) fares beautifully. After being diced, the fish is blended with chives and yuzu before being molded into the shape of a stick of butter. Garnished with candied yuzu rind, cabbage cress, julienned radish and radish rounds, and finished with dill oil and gorgeous white tapioca chips, this overly-stylized creation impresses both on the plate and on the palate. Even a buffalo tartar ($15) mixed with shallots, chives, garlic and pickled mustard seeds is a pretty pleaser. And its inventive topping of egg white "pearls," cabbage cress, fried capers are a fanciful touch. But the addition of shaved foie gras imparts little if any added flavour boost, not to mention that it looks like some Kraft "parmesan" that's been sprinkled on like sawdust. A pretty transparent way to justify the price of this teensy order of raw meat.
Next we decide on a burger ($18); we figure, if the message is upscale saloon, then we'll give the kitchen a chance to redeem itself. Served much more rare and gory than the requested medium-rare, it too is on the smallish side. And though the meat is a top quality blend of Cumbrae's brisket, chuck and rib eye, with a 30 per cent fat-to-meat ratio, and ground in-house by chef Stuart Cameron (Nyood) and crew (including chef de cuisine, Kanida Chay (Origin), it's pretty bland, barely enhanced with a homemade tomatillo relish, Taleggio cheese and a house pickle. BTW, is someone charged with counting the number of "hand cut fries" on every plate? Nine? Would ten be considered excessive or too vulgar? And they're a bit mealy so the extensive process to create these precious spuds --cut, steam, cool, blanch, cool, fry - doesn't seem worth the extra effort.
But the dish that fares the worst is a fried bourbon cornish hen ($21) with creamed corn, kale and chanterelles. It sounds fantastic on paper, but this deboned bird, marinated in bourbon, wrapped in a ball in caul fat, cooked sous vide for 1.5 hours, dipped in buttermilk and deep fried is an unmitigated disaster. Breaking open its rock-like outer shell reveals an unappetizing grey-coloured ball smothered in membrane. Disgusting is the only word to describe this dish. Unless you're a zombie.
A halibut ($26) is only slightly better. Also cooked sous vide and then seared, it's dry and pretty tasteless. But its accompanying clam tomato fumet is a hit with house lardon and leeks. But then again when hasn't bacon come to the rescue. The smart thing to do here would be to serve the clams solo. Even a lemon curd parfait ($8) and a panna cotta ($8) are so caught up in some molecular gastronomical treatments that they're robbed of their natural essence that makes each such joyful desserts.
Weslodge might have the wow factor in spades, but the moral of the story girls and boys is beware of form over function. No matter how much money you throw into a restaurant, no amount guarantees a great meal. The Farmhouse Tavern is sheer proof of that. I'll bet their entire budget would have been blown on those two-storey yellow doors at Weslodge. Yet supping there is one sublime experience. Here, not so much.