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Despite lingering pandemic, several new restaurants set to open in Ottawa in early 2022


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COVID-19 cannot stop determined entrepreneurs in Ottawa from opening new restaurants. But it can slow them down.

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Despite the pandemic’s continual disruptions, early 2022 should see the debut of new eateries in town wooing food lovers with everything from Sri Lankan pepper crab to seafood-based charcuterie, from wok-fired red miso ramen to vegan burgers.

But the restaurateurs, seasoned and novice alike, say they would be opening sooner if not for obstacles and delays that life under COVID-19 threw at them, including broken supply chains and shortages of tradespeople and restaurant staff.

“Everything is taking three times as long,” says Shannon Smithers, director and principal designer at One80 Design, a firm involved in creating some of the new restaurants.

Below is a roundup of restaurants that Ottawans can expect to try, hopefully before too long.

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In Chinatown, the sign for Le Poisson Bleu has been up for several months, outside the former Bar Roku. Owners Alex and Eric Bimm had hoped to open in early December, but now have their sights set on early January.

The Ottawa-born, Wakefield-raised Bimm brothers are in their 30s but have worked in restaurants since they were teenagers, most recently with the Whalesbone Group. Eric, 35, will be Le Poisson Bleu’s general manager. Alex, a 32-year-old who was the chef at the Whalesbone on Bank Street before the pandemic hit, will be its chef.

Eric Bimm promises a 60-seat seafood restaurant with an open kitchen and a bright, welcoming vibe. Le Poisson Bleu will also be “technique-driven” and forward-thinking, he says, mentioning Josh Niland, an Australian chef who is pushing the boundaries of fish cookery as an inspiration.

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“We’re going to approach fish butchery like animal butchery, serving sturgeon as a rack rather than a filet or steak,” he says.

Le Poisson Bleu will even have a dry-aging fridge dedicated to making seafood charcuterie, he says. “There’s some pretty neat things you can do,” Eric Bimm says. He predicts Le Poisson Bleu’s fish charcuterie will become “our most popular thing and one of the reasons people come here.”

In the ByWard Market, the never-ending churn of restaurants will include the mid-January arrival of Starling, the ground-floor eatery in the 156-year-old building that was the Fish Market before the pandemic felled that Ottawa fixture.

John Borsten’s building at 54 York St. will soon also be home to other restaurant named Starling, on its ground floor. Above, Borsten is sitting in the just-opened YOW on the second floor. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia
John Borsten’s building at 54 York St. will soon also be home to other restaurant named Starling, on its ground floor. Above, Borsten is sitting in the just-opened YOW on the second floor. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

When Starling opens, it will complete the three-storey vision of veteran Ottawa restaurateur John Borsten, owner of Zak’s Diner, Zak’s Cantina, The Grand and Metropolitain Brasserie.

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A year ago, Borsten bought the Fish Market building — “a killer location,” he says. Apothecary Lounge, a cocktail hangout, opened this summer in the building’s basement, and then YOW, a second-storey international street-food eatery, launched this month.

Starling will be a contemporary, 120-seat restaurant with an “upper-middle price point” menu, up a notch from YOW, Borsten says. With summer’s profits in mind, he says YOW will have a west-facing rooftop patio while Starling will seat 100 at its wraparound patio.

In all, the three venues will seat 550 people. “That’s monstrous — in a good way,” Borsten says. Chef Brett Arden will oversee the kitchens for all the restaurants.

One block north, the Time Square building on Clarence Street will see changes in its restaurant tenants.

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Current tenant the King Eddy, an eight-year-old diner-style eatery, will soon move west to the larger space left vacant after Share closed in early 2020. That space is better known as the location of the Empire Grill, which operated for almost two decades there until the spring of 2016.

“It’s kind of come full circle, really,” said King Eddy co-owner Johny Bonney, explaining that one of his business partners, Gary Thompson, co-owned the Empire Grill in the late 1990s.

After landlord Morguard Corp. allowed the King Eddy this summer to use the vacant patio in front of Share, “Gary was reminded of how great of a corner it was, how much good business was done,” Bonney says. The new King Eddy will be slightly larger, growing from 85 to about 100 seats, he says.

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A new business is replace the current King Eddy, but Bonney says it’s too early to discuss it.

Also arriving in the Time Square building is the Lavender Grill, where Wasabi had been, likely in February, says co-owner Reza Khakbaz.

At this 150-seat restaurant, the food will pull from different cuisines, Khakbaz says. “For sure we will use a touch of Dubai and a touch of Iran,” says Khakbaz, citing two countries where he has lived. “But we decided to have something international. We need to have something that most of the people like.”

Next year will also see at least two innovative Ontario-based chains arrive in Ottawa.

Toronto-based Ramen Isshin plans to open in late January in the narrow space that was formerly Eldon’s in the Glebe.

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That Bank Street eatery will be the first foothold in Ottawa for Vancouver chef Koji Zenimaru, a partner in Ramen Isshin who has opened casual Japanese eateries in Toronto, Japan and Taiwan. Jason Matsubara, a Ramen Isshin managing partner, says his eight-year-old company, which has four locations in Toronto and a fifth in Brossard, QC, has eyed Ottawa “for the longest time.”

Ramen Isshin’s signature dishes are its red miso and vegetarian ramens, which account for 70 per cent of its ramen sales, says Matsubara,  “We’ re going to bring a new flavour profile that’s very different from what’s in Ottawa,” says he says.

Also touching down in Ottawa next year will be a location of the vegan fast-food chain Odd Burger.

Charlotte Dietz says she had planned for years to open her own plant-based restaurant in Ottawa. But after learning about Odd Burger, which has a half-dozen locations in Ontario, she wanted to become a franchisee because her values and vision align with those of the parent company.

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“It’s going to be very minimally processed (food) from sustainable ingredients. All of these things are very, very important to me,” says Dietz, who is a certified holistic nutritionist.

Odd Burger’s online menu includes breakfast items, chickpea burgers, seitan-based “chickUn” burgers and tenders, desserts, shakes and more.

Dietz is scouting for a location in central Ottawa. Still, she already envisions opening other Odd Burger locations in the city.

Restaurateur Donald Wingell plans to open his new restaurant Dhruvees in mid-January. Errol McGihon/Postmedia
Restaurateur Donald Wingell plans to open his new restaurant Dhruvees in mid-January. Errol McGihon/Postmedia jpg

Entrepreneur Donald Wingell is waiting for his executive chef to arrive from Sri Lanka before he can open his restaurant Dhruvees.

Dedicated to serving selected dishes from not just Sri Lanka but also India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Burma, Dhruvees should open in January in New Edinburgh, where Jaspers Sports Bar had been, Wingell says.

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The India-born entrepreneur has called Ottawa home for more than two decades. But he has also worked as a manager at deluxe hotels in Sri Lanka, China, Indonesia and Singapore and he plans to leverage connections and knowledge he has gained.

Dhruvees, he says, will showcase seasonal dishes including the Dutch Sri Lankan meal Lamprais, Sri Lankan pepper crab, and Indonesian beef rendang made with ingredients imported from Jakarta and the Indian rice-and-meat dish biryani.

Dhruvees will offer “casual dining with a very high-end product… W hatever I give has to be authentic, it has to be the real stuff,” says Wingell.

He will also serve afternoon tea, including tea-based cocktails and mocktails, and is the exclusive Canadian importer of teas from Dilmah Ceylon Tea Company, a Sri Lankan brand.

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Pastry chef Julia Gindra, most recently in charge of desserts for the Whalesbone Group, hopes to launch her bakery and coffee shop, Dessert First, in March, in Orléans.

“I want to open for Easter. I have to have my Mini Eggs ice cream for everyone,” says Gindra, who now sells her desserts through her Dessert First website.

Gindra says opening her own bakery has been in the works for years. “Then the pandemic stopped everything… but now I’m 31 and I want to do it before I can’t do it anymore… it’s a demanding, physical job,” she says.

Gindra envisions an open kitchen allowing customers to view bakers in action. “I want them to be able to experience what we’re doing, see croissants made from scratch,” Gindra says.

She also aims to have a 28-seat dining area, where physically distanced customers can enjoy breakfast sandwiches or slices of cake with coffee.

Still, Gindra realizes Ottawa’s COVID-19 situation come next spring is anything but clear.

Julia Gindra hopes to her own pastry shop in early 2022. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia
Julia Gindra hopes to her own pastry shop in early 2022. Tony Caldwell/Postmedia Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

“I’m hoping that by March or April, things are more sorted out. But even if there’s a lockdown, we’re prepared,” she says, explaining that curbside pickup will be an option.

“We’ll make it convenient for people to eat dessert in their own homes. There are still people who don’t want to go out, even now,” she says.

phum@postmedia.com

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