50 Rideau St., Ottawa – (613) 234-5544 – Website
Date of Visit: December 5, 2012
The Exchange is actually inside the Rideau Centre, in premises once occupied by the ‘Elephant and Castle Pub’, a place I used to visit quite regularly whenever I was in Ottawa. The new owners must have gutted the old place because nothing is recognizable now. It is much more open and airier, attractively appointed with lots of brick and wood, and definitely more chic. I rather miss the old place, but The Exchange makes a pretty fine replacement…
Ambience and Service
I arrived here at about 5:30 and the place was pretty lively and full with the after-work crowd. I was told that there would be a twenty minute wait for a seat and I was pleasantly surprised when one actually turned up within that time. It was unfortunate, however, that the seat I was given was right in the middle of the restaurant in a very high traffic area with both patrons and staff constantly rushing by my elbows on both sides. That was annoying enough, but I was also given a chair that was extremely uncomfortable and not designed to make one linger. I did notice however, that there were only a few of this particular model and the rest of the seating looked comfortable enough. Given the business of the place, I was served remarkably quickly and my waiter was about as attentive has he could be under the circumstances. He definitely was kept hopping with all the tables he was handling but remained very polite and cheerfully friendly and my order came in less than 15 minutes or so.
The menu at The Exchange runs to fairly standard Pub fare but they have a few interesting dishes. One is a Ploughman’s Plate that comes with two cheeses, Branston Pickle, sliced meat and rustic bread. This is a light meal that is not uncommon in English pubs and it is very nice to see it offered here. I was also rather interested in the Braised Lamb Shank they have on offer but, to be honest, the noisy chatter of the crowd was a bit much for me on that evening and I decided to grab something a little lighter and quicker…
Crispy dry ribs – The menu lists this as coming with a ‘spice blend’ and a Guinness Barbecue sauce. The ribs themselves were indeed crispy, having been deep fried, but the spice blend coating didn’t seem to be that much more than salt and pepper. That being said, though, they were actually very good and reminded me of nicely fried pork belly. The dry chewiness of the result might not appeal to some but I thought them excellent. The side sauce, on the other hand, was much less to my taste. It was a very tangy, mildly spicy barbecue sauce but, while it might be nice as a light glaze on grilled ribs or chicken, it was far to sweet and cloying to be a nice dipping sauce in my opinion. Personally, I think just a simple apple sauce would be great with these very nice ribs, which I rated at a 5 out of 5.
Onion rings with beer mustard – There’s not much I can say about the onion rings as they were merely average, but they certainly did come in a very generous helping. The mustard was quite nice, one I would be happy slathering on a sandwich, but it just didn’t work for me as an accompaniment to onion rings at all (athough it wasn’t bad with the ribs). I gave these a rating of 3 out of 5.
I have to say that I didn’t really enjoy myself at The Exchange but, in all fairness to the place, that was largely because I found the noisiness of the crowd a bit much that night and probably should have gone somewhere a bit quieter. The establishment is obviously popular with its patrons and, despite the uncomfortable chair I was given, it seems to me to be deservedly so. It has good solid pub food, excellent service and an atmosphere that most will find convivial. I will likely go back to try their lamb shank sometime.