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Review: The Highlander Pub – Ottawa

115 Rideau Street, Ottawa, (613) 562-5678  Website

Date of Visit: March 23rd, 2012.

I have been visiting the Highlander Pub on every trip to Ottawa for the last 7 or 8 years … sometimes just to sample one of their huge selection of single malt scotches, but occasionally to eat as well. Mostly, I tend to visit during the evening but on my last excursion to the capital I went for a long and relaxing (partly liquid) lunch …

Ambience and Service

The pub fronts onto Rideau Street but also runs along a pedestrian only alleyway leading into Byward market. It is not very large but it is fairly comfortable and cozy inside. My only dislike is that, aside from the seating at the bar, the remainder of the seats are at tiny little tables, which I always find cramped. To be fair though, they don’t have a lot of room for anything else.

The big draw at this establishment, as far as I am concerned is their terrific ‘Wall of Scotch’. They boast over 200 different single malts and will provide a printed copy of their list on request. Enthusiasts are encouraged to keep track of the malts they sample and to record how they rate them. For each of these, the bar offers a ½ oz. tasting portion or a full ounce ‘sipping’ size, and one can also enjoy a variety of  ‘flights’ that include a variety of different malts selected according to different criteria. My wife and I have tried a few of these but, on the whole, I prefer to mix and match from the full list at my own whim.

I arrived at about 1pm on a Thursday afternoon. The place seemed to be emptying out after the lunch rush, at first, but it then quickly started to fill up again. I took a seat out on the patio, even though it was quite breezy, as I wanted to enjoy a cigar with a pre-lunch Scotch or two.  I should note, however, for those looking to enjoy the same, that just after I made my visit, new municipal legislation has curtailed this particular pleasure.

There are a few kilted male servers on staff but the majority, and all of those I saw on the patio, are females dressed, quite prettily, in short, plaid skirts, with white blouses and knee socks. The service at this pub tends to be a bit ‘hit or miss’, in my experience, but on this occasion it was very good.  My primary server was obviously new as she was being ‘shadowed’ by a more experienced young lady but both were very pleasant and the ‘older’ one was very knowledgeable about the menu and drinks. Even during the busiest times of my stay they kept a constant eye on my table and never left me wanting.

By the way, in the picture of the patio above you can see a couple enjoying an interesting looking container of beer. The Highland Pub operates its own microbrewery and produces a lager called ‘Claymore’ that they serve in what they describe as four-pint ‘mini-kegs’. Such a serving was a bit much for me but I did try a half-pint of the brew and quite enjoyed it. It didn’t have much body to it, in my opinion, but had a nice fruity taste and was nice and rather refreshing.

The Scotches

Highlander uses a method of rating Scotch that is, I think, as good as anything I could come up with. They employ a classification scheme, identified by initials, as follows:

  • PS = Peaty and Smoky;
  • LF = Light and floral;
  • FS = Fruity and Spicy’; and,
  • RR = Rich and rounded

There are lots of single malts I still want to try here, but on this occasion, I settled on two from the same distillery:

Tomintoul Peaty Tang – This is a Speyside but I would never have guessed it. On the nose there was a fruity aromatic quality with hints of wood and chocolate, but there was also the surgical gauze notes of a Laphroig or Lagavulin. The taste noticeably lacked the formalin quality of Speysides and it was quite peaty (as advertised) but this was more in the aftertaste than the middle. With water it was even less fruity and the smoky peat taste actually seemed to dominate and linger a bit more. I thought it the best Speyside I have tasted yet and gave it a Scotch rating of 4 out of 5.

Tomintoul 10 year old – This is characterized by aromatic apple and chocolate on the nose and a moderate alcohol burn at the start. There was a varnish quality in the middle with a light apple undertone and some honey notes. Water dilutes it but does not alter the character other than to allow a slight tinge of pepper to come through. Generally, it is hard to recognize as a Speyside as there is none of the typical formalin notes and is not especially floral. It was not bad, and I gave it a Scotch rating of 3 out of 5.

The Food

The menu at the Highland Pub rubs to basic pub fare but they also do some decent steak specials at a good price. What marks this menu apart, however, is their Scottish preparations and, on this occasion, I sampled their particular version of haggis…

Haggis, for those unfamiliar with the dish, is a Scottish specialty traditionally comprising the heart, lungs, and liver of a sheep mixed with oatmeal and onion and then cooked, sausage style, in a sheep’s stomach. In more modern versions, much of the offal is replaced with muscle meat and the enclosure is a more standard sausage casing than a stomach. At the Highlander Pub, they serve their version with a leek and mushroom demi-glace and garlic mashed potatoes. Alongside, they also offer a ‘wee dram’ of their house Scotch, which, on this visit, was Teacher’s …

The haggis I was served was minced meat and oatmeal. The meat could have been just about anything – beef, pork or lamb, possibly – but there was also a little liver in the mix. There were also some root vegetables included, both carrot and turnip, I think, but they were seasoned a little too heavily with some aromatic spices (nutmeg or clove, perhaps) that didn’t work well. The potatoes, unfortunately, were really awful… clearly held too long … but the sauce was nicely rich and savory. Of most interest to me was the solid ring of what looked very much like stomach lining… I didn’t eat it but it struck me that maybe this establishment takes its Haggis seriously and cooks it the traditional way.

Anyway… I enjoyed the haggis even despite the poor quality of the potatoes and the unfortunate choice of seasoning for the root vegetables. I should say, however, that I have enjoyed it a lot more on previous visits to this same place and that, on this occasion, the visual presentation was not nearly as good as before.

Overall

I enjoyed excellent service and a nice relaxing afternoon in pleasant surroundings. The haggis I ordered was not as good as I have had at this place before but this did not diminish my experience by any means and I will definitely return again.


Highlander Pub on Urbanspoon

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