Many years ago, Somerset Street East of Bank Street was the (only) place to go in Ottawa to have a nice meal. After a few years of downturns, the area now known as Sommerset Village is enjoying a rebirth.
This week, I met with René Wallis, one of Ottawa’s most charming sommeliers, to discuss his role in the newly opened 327 Wine Bar. 327 Wine Bar occupies the 19th century house formerly occupied by Benitz Bistro. There is a patio out the front. The interior is small, with high ceilings and simple decor. The room is dominated by a large bar with an attractive display of wines in the rack.
René and I found the comfy corner and sat down to talk about the creation of 327’s wine list. The intention of the owners, Tim Barton and Brad Henderson, was to create a wine bar first, and then compliment it with a brief menu of high quality, local ingredients.
With busy lives outside of the restaurant, they understand the need to balance work and life; 327 Wine Bar opens at 4pm from Tuesday to Saturday to accommodate those wishing an after-work bite before the commute. While there are no current plans to open for lunch, should they find customers beating down their doors, they are open to considering it. Both Tim and Brad are hands-on Chefs, alternating front of house and kitchen duties on a bi-weekly basis. The week I visited, 327 Wine Bar was raising funds for the Ottawa Humane Society, a sign that this establishment intends to become an integral part of the larger Ottawa community, I thought.
Longtime friends and colleagues of René Wallis, the trio have set out to create a small but interesting wine list. As René explained, having a wine list of twenty or so wines allows 327 Wine Bar to change their list to suit the seasons. The wine list I looked at last week had a good representation of Canadian and International and really did have something to suit everyone’s tastes. Canada is particularly well represented, from sparkling wines from Prince Edward County’s Hinterland, whites from Quail’s Gate in Britich Columbia, red from Layley Vineyard in Niagara, and port from Karlo Estates.
I was particularly impressed by the inclusion of both the white an red Port. Although originating in the Douros region of Portugal, Karlo Estates has managed to produce a Port-style wine here in Ontario. While many have tasted red Port, particularly with Stilton at Christmas, white Port is becoming more well known. I encountered it first about 15 years ago and I like to serve it chilled, with an ice cube or two, and have it as an appéritif in the summer. Much less sweet than its red counterpart, it nevertheless carries a certain fruitiness and, being a fortified wine, also a bit of a punch! The Karlo Estates Van Alstine White is a blend of Frontenac Blanc and Gewurtztraminer, with sweet peach and lemon meringue notes. If you have never tried white port, 327 Wine Bar carries it.
Every single wine at 327 Wine Bar is available by the glass which I appreciated; nothing more annoying than spying a wine you would really like to try on the wine list only to have it be by the bottle only. Of course, this means that a wine bar needs to ensure that its wine stays away from oxygen. René explained that the smaller number of wines on the list helps ensure good turnover and that the bar staff are careful to keep an eye on the open wines.
I was also struck by the price of the wines. With no glass over $12 and most bottles in the $40 to $50 range, 327 Wine Bar is affordable. A glass of wine and a bite to eat will not break the bank.
René and I chatted over a plate of charcuterie from Niagara’s Pingue Proscuitto and Quebec cheeses from Ottawa’s Serious Cheese shop, and shared a plate of seared scallops, cooked just right and the right size for two. Although he will not be at 327 Wine Bar every night, he intends to remain involved and to see the wine list change and evolve.
327 Wine Bar is new and the restaurant will evolve. While I found the interior a bit sparse, I could find nothing to complain about when it came to the quality of the food, the wines I tried and the discreet professionalism of the staff. In fact, I would like to take the time to mention the staff who were, in my opinion, some of the best I have seen in a while: present when you needed them, not hovering when you did not, moving around the tables with ease and swiftness.
327 Wine Bar had its Grand Opening on Saturday and is open 5 evenings a week. If you find the time to visit, let us know what you think.
327 Wine Bar
327 Somerset Street