Review: Whalesbone Restaurant
430 Bank St., Ottawa – (613) 231-8569 – Website
Date of Visit: March 13, 2013
Whalesbone Sustainable Oyster & Fish Supply not only maintains a retail seafood outlet that supplies oysters and other maritime delicacies to restaurants around Ottawa, it also operates a very nice little restaurant (the ‘Oyster House’) downtown on Bank street. I visited there for dinner one evening a couple of years ago and, on my last trip to the city, I made a reservation for lunch. The current lunch menu, as opposed to the dinner menu, is a bit limited, consisting of two sorts of salad, fish and chips, chowder or a steamed mussels, but that didn’t matter to me as I was going for the oysters…
Ambience and Service
The interior of the downtown restaurant is very small , seating about 35 or so, but it is very pleasantly and rustically appointed in old red brick and rough wood. It is a little cramped, some would say, but it has a cozy comfort to it and the general atmosphere is very relaxed. During my stay, I was attended to by two very nice young women and both were very efficient and helpful.
As I mentioned, the lunch menu is very short and simple, but I gather it changes fairly regularly, as does the dinner menu, which is considerably more upscale. When I ate there for dinner on my previous visit, I saw some very nice meals being served including one very novel presentation consisting of a mason jar laying on a rustic plank. The entrée was contained party in the jar and the remainder ‘spilled’ artfully across the wooden board. I don’t recall exactly what the food was, but it certainly looked interesting.
The wine selection is fairly modest, although they serve a decent number by the glass, and I also got to try a number of beers I have not had before.
The restaurant had 4 different types of oyster available for sale on this particular visit and they were offering a pretty good deal of 18 in any combination of one’s choice for $50. As is standard, they come served with a variety of different sauces and condiments and the waitress brought me the tray and asked if I was a ‘sauce-man’, or not. I amused her by declaring that I was an avowed ‘purist’ as I waved the abominations away.
The Oysters pictured above were the Malagash Thrumcaps from Nova Scotia and they were the stars of this particular oyster lunch. I won’t bother reproducing pictures of all four kinds, as it would be largely more of the same, but my tasting notes are as follows:
Malagash Thrumcap – These had little liquor in the shells but were deliciously plump and meaty. The brine taste was sharp right at the start but mellowed into a sweetness that had notes of kelp and cucumber. The umami richness was very pronounced and I gave these a 4 out of 5.
St. Simon – This variety, which is harvested in Northern New Brunswick, was my favorite over the previous two seasons but this batch was not nearly as good as usual. There was a nice brininess to them, as well as a pleasant sweet background taste, but the overall effect was a bit flat without sparkle. I gave them a 3 out of 5.
Marina gold – I have enjoyed this deep-cupped, British Columbia type in the past but these ones were rather poor. The dominant taste was more of fish sashimi rather than shellfish and there were none of the nice melon notes I have experienced in the past. They weren’t unpleasant, by any means, just not very special. I rated them at a 2 out of 5.
Lucky lime – These come from PEI. The name was a new one to me but they were pretty much standard Malpeques. They were quite sharply briny and had nice seaweed notes but were otherwise not remarkable. Rating 3 out of 5.
This lunchtime visit to the Whalesbone Oyster House was every bit as pleasant as my first dinner there and I really enjoyed my oyster meal and the general ambience of the place. I look forward to taking my wife there on a future trip to Ottawa. Rating 5 out of 5