From the crests on the wall to the honey-coloured wood tables to the apricot leather banquettes and distressed mirrors behind the full-length bar, the hopping Dominion Square Tavern is something out of a 1920s movie. The waiters’ tuxedo shirts and carefully carved facial hair adds to the impression, but most important, of course, is the food.
Following the worldwide trend for classic tipples, the cocktail list – the natural place to start any meal here – features a frothy gin fizz, a biting sazerac and a refreshing mint julep. The mixing is judicious here, in fact, near perfect – never too sweet or sour, generously strong but always delectably subtle.
Points of departure from the British tradition (the cocktail was invented in London, after all) are their own in-house inventions, such as the Canuck – a treacly treat involving rye, angostura bitters, lemon juice and maple syrup – and the Orange Julep, which is basically the drinkable equivalent of a spiked creamsicle. In other words: heaven on earth.
Appetizers keep the British vibe going with offerings that include a scotch egg: a whole 3-minute egg encased in homemade sausage meat, then battered and deep-fried. It comes served on a housemade mayo as light and fluffy as cumulus nimbus and a spinach and watercress salad that adds a welcome note of tartness. The marrowbone, another favourite app, comes not sliced in the regular rounds, but cut lengthwise, providing an insanely generous serving of fatty marrow to spread on rye toast triangles. Beware, this may be more than the average appetite can handle. A more conservative choice might be the tomato salad, served with lardons and a dollop of cottage cheese. One bite and my initial aversion to the diet-staple dissipated into thin air.
Mains are meaty and homey: the homemade bangers and mash are a comfort-food staple, particularly because the mashed potatoes are laced with cheddar cheese. The braised beef is so tender you could eat it with a spoon. The mussels braised in cider and bacon are famous for a reason, but the beet salad is to be avoided – there’s something confusing about the myriad flavours and textures of the endive, beets, goat cheese and ranch dressing. Too much of a good thing. A great choice for those looking to focus on the drinking more than the eating here are the ploughman’s platters, generous platefuls of terrines, pickled veggies, cheeses and deviled eggs perfect for sharing. There’s a fish one and a meat one – and of course all of the charcuterie is made on the spot.
If you can’t fit in a dessert you owe it to yourself to take one to go – their doogie-bag packaging is so cute it’s worth it just for that. Maybe the nutmeg doughnuts tempt you? They come with a dollop of sour cream. Or the 75% cocoa chocolate mousse, which is decadence in a dish, or the pub classic of all classics: sticky toffee pudding, with a side of homemade coffee ice cream. Who knew the good old days tasted so great?
Dominion Square Tavern, 1243 Metcalf, (514) 564-5056
Isa Tousignant is contributing editor for Canadian Art, Montreal correspondent for Akimbo, and a freelance writer on art, culture, travel, design and shoes for everyone from enRoute to Canadian Business to herself.