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Exciting new Ottawa restaurant combines fine dining with pub food

by Ray Samuels, Food and Restaurant reviewer

  TOP PHOTO: The Exchange: a new look in downtown Ottawa. BOTTOM PHOTO: The Elephant Castle

TOP PHOTO: The Exchange: a new look in downtown Ottawa. BOTTOM PHOTO: The Elephant Castle.

Whatever happened the Elephant Castle in Ottawa? The Elephant Castle had been an Ottawa landmark in the Rideau Centre for many years. I can now report that a rejuvenated ownership team has transformed this long- time landmark in the nation's capital into an exciting new gastropub, which now goes by the name of The Exchange.

Have you ever gone to a pub and got that "questionable" smell somewhere between old beer in the carpets, combined with the heavy air of an old trunk? No worries. The Exchange offers a fresh and inviting atmosphere for punters. You might remark: "Sounds expensive." But, alas: You get basically the same prices at The Exchange, with much better atmosphere and food that the typical pub.

So, why go the typical pub along Elgin Street, Bank Street on in the Market, when you can get a better atmosphere, and a wider range of more conscientiously prepared healthier food, at basically the same prices?

The Exchange's gastropub concept was born in London, England. The gastropub is a culinary revolution where the typical pub grub is elevated to refined dining heights. Perfect for lunch, dinner and of course, an after-work drink. The Exchange is, indeed, not strictly a bar and is not strictly a restaurant.

The Exchange: fish and chips, homemade potato chips and sweet potato fries

The Exchange brings together the best of both. It offers a high quality menu and a welcoming atmosphere that is stylish and refined without being pretentious. The Exchange seeks to be an inviting place for everyone and every occasion where the food is as important as the drink.

The Gastropub name is a combination of pub and gastronomy and was coined in 1991 when David Eyre and Mike Belben took over The Eagle pub in Clerkenwell, London.[LINK] The concept of a restaurant in a pub reinvigorated both pub culture and British dining,[LINK] though it has occasionally attracted criticism in the United Kingdom for potentially removing the character of traditional pubs.[LINK] The Exchange has overcome this criticism by keeping itself grounded in conserving a pub vibe, but with an invigorated dining experience for pub goers seeking a cool alternative.

Have you ever had cravings for fish and chips and other pubfare but baulked when you thought about how much grease you might also be eating? For starters, I would rate The Exchange as having not only the best fish and chips in Ottawa, but among the best I have ever tasted. It was apparent when I went there, that they not only use canola oil, but that they keep changing the oil to avoid that "stale" oil taste that one finds at most pubs.

Their homemade potato chips, the fries with the fish and chips, and sweet potato fries were all full flavoured from having also been freshly cut. No frozen fries here.

You may also wish to consider checking out the asparagus. It is made with olive oil, parmesan and rock salt.

The Exchange was the first time I have had pub style food that did not feel "greased up". This was the result of The Exchange's focus on using fresh rather than processed frozen foods in pubfare as part of its gastro pub dining experience.

The Exchange offers the usual assortment of beer and wines with some great surprises. But, maybe you are the designated driver and you would like to avoid alcoholic beverages. You might wish to consider the Earl Grey tea. I noticed it was particularly full flavoured, and found out they use a special organic tea from Mighty Leaf.

The Exchange's 'flagship' Dessert Platter certainly had the "wow" factor, drawing the quick attention of a nearby table. It kept to The Exchange's theme of flavourful and upscaled pubfare. It includes the Carmel Brownie with homemade-tasting vanilla ice cream, and a crumble with a seasonal fruit. If you are a banana lover, you definitely should check out the luxurious banana bread pudding with chocolate.

  PHOTO: The Exchange's Trifle

PHOTO: The Exchange's Trifle.

Jim Knox, its General Manager, is a native of Ottawa. He has been involved in the restaurant business since the age of 17, when he begged his way into a position as a bar-back while studying Hospitality and Restaurant Management at Algonquin College in Ontario. Mr. Knox has used his tremendous knowledge of the industry to transform the Elephant Castle into a gem within a couple minutes walk from the Chateau Laurier.

Montreal native Remi Star, the Head Chef, collaborated with Elephant & Castle’s Director of Culinary Services to create a simple, elegant, pub-fare-inspired menu.

The Exchange Pub was full of great surprises and promises to be a welcome addition to the increasing dynamism of Ottawa's restaurant scene. The Exchange Pub's convenient location in Rideau Centre at the heart of downtown Ottawa's commuter traffic also offers a tremendously convenient location for all kinds of cool and hip events.

Editorial note on Photos: The Exchange Pub-Restaurant (Kim Ing Photography - LINK ), LINK, 50 Rideau Street, Ottawa (formerly the Elephant & Castle Pub).

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