I have a fond memory, dining at the Lord Elgin Hotel (100 Elgin Street). Still a student, my mentor, the person who gave me a career goal and helped shape my education to pursue it, took me to the then restaurant for lunch. She ordered a chicken wrap. Me, a chicken club sandwich. What we were served was adequate for a meal that was more food for thought than anything else. With praise from my then manager, I was at a crossroads. I was choosing what project to embark on next.
Until this past September, the restaurant in the Lord Elgin Hotel was just referred to as…well…”the restaurant in the Lord Elgin Hotel.” It served fare that was good enough to talk business over. Both its food and service, lacklustre and wholly pedestrian. At best, it was your default place to eat at if you were visiting Ottawa and staying in the 300 room hotel.
There is a connection between travel and cuisine. Eateries sprung up with the advent of roads and cars to provide nourishment for weary travelers. Wherever you could find lodging usually served a meal. As time passed, hotels played host to the better restaurants. In many larger cities, this still holds true. For Ottawa, our dining scene has seen its restaurants distinguish themselves standalone. But, things are changing.
This past Wednesday, the owner of the Lord Elgin Hotel unveiled Grill Forty One, the hotel’s re-imagined restaurant, complete with a new kitchen and new dining rooms.
The hotel had been without a restaurant since the summer (July 5, 2010).
To promote the opening, hotel management retained the services of Karen Wood and Knock on Wood Public Relations (KOWPR). It was KOWPR’s Stephanie Kersey (Senior Account Coordinator) who made sure the new media component of food in Ottawa was kept updated of the restaurant’s soft opening, an interview opportunity with Grill Forty One’s new Executive Chef, and finally the unveiling. With our covering this year’s Gold Medal Plates competition in Ottawa, we could only mention the restaurant’s soft opening in a September Media Release Thursday post.
It was an impressive media release. The restaurant’s re-visioned menu was the result of consultation with famed Canadian Chef Michael Smith. Chef Smith’s chowder is on the menu. The restaurant’s Executive Chef Aurelio Petraglia has legendary Chef Bernard Loiseau’s 3 michelin star Côte D’Or on his resume. A portion of the proceeds from the table d’hote menu will be donated to the Ottawa Food Bank. Speaking of which, a trip to Montreal and a dinner at Grill Forty One’s new chef’s table were raffled off at the restaurant’s unveiling. To enter the draw, attendees had to donate to the Ottawa Food Bank.
KOWPR sure knows how to pack a dining room for a grand opening evening, featuring live music, cocktails, a lit open bar, and menu samplers.
According to Ottawa Citizen’s food editor Ron Eade, there were 250 attendees. Staff mentioned the event saw a sustained 250 people in the restaurant’s various dining rooms. I heard an estimated figure of 500 people bandied about. Needless to say, it was a bustling event.
The opening event also attracted a local culinary who’s who. I personally spotted
- Restaurateur Robert Bourassa, former owner of Cafe Henry Burger
- Food journalist, cookbook author, and television host Margaret Dickenson
- Entrepreneur, wine writer, and Sommelier Debbie Trenholm (@savvydebbie) of Savvy Company
- Cheese Sommelier Vanessa Simmons of Savvy Company
- Ron Eade, Food Editor of the Ottawa Citizen
- Shawna Wagman, Food Editor of the Ottawa Magazine
- Robin Duetta (@rduetta), former publisher/editor of Ottawa’s food magazine, Food Mode
- Heather Hossie of Just Food and Savour Ottawa
Blogger-wise, we gathered around one table to compare notes. There was
- Jodi (@simplyfresh) of Simply Fresh
- Tracey (@thelemonkitchen) of Lemon Kitchen
- Heather (@aftertheharvest) of Aftertheharvest
With me that evening, Claire, wine blogger for foodiePrints.
Claire and I must have just missed
- Holly of Wine Out Loud
Together, we marveled at Chef Smith’s chowder, which languished during the entire event in a soup cistern.
It was paired with a 2009 Peller Estates Chardonnay.
We sampled the unnecessarily rich (read: “sinful”) deep-fried Mac’n Cheese, which was paired with either a mustard or green curry sauce, depending on which tray and server came your way.
The Mac’n Cheese was made with applewood-smoked cheddar, truffle oil and dijon mustard.
We wondered about the cheese cubes, melted brie (sprinkled with pinenuts and cranberries), cheesecake squares, and somewhat over bruleed creme brulee
We tried the roast beef at the carving station, everyone struggling to get through their plates, armed only with a fork.
In fact, I saw many plates of abandoned roast beef, surreptitiously set aside.
We tried Grill Forty One’s signature martini, which was cooled by pouring it through an ice “luge.”
It was made with blueberry vodka, Triple Sec, pomegranate juice, lime juice, and a raspberry.
Towards the end of the event, Tracey and I wandered to the kitchen to see if we could meet the Executive Chef.
There, we were served hand-made mushroom gnocchi with a cream sauce, flavoured with mustard and tarragon.
It was slightly over seasoned.
Finally, we kicked back with some Beau’s.
My thoughts: If the Lord Elgin Hotel intended Grill Forty One to showcase its ability to hold a very large cocktail party, catering for hundreds of guests, the unveiling demonstrated such. What confused me were the elaborate live-stations, including the carving station. They seemed intended to demonstrate Grill Forty One is a grill restaurant.
That said, Grill Forty One’s staff, the servers, the cooks, and the chefs, were very friendly and informative. The event was fun.
Perhaps the high intensity unveiling is why our parting gifts included $50 gift certificates to the restaurant. They want us to dine in.
My first impression is positive. We will return.