New Restaurant: Whitehall
It's British food like you're probably never seen it — elegant, contemporary and expertly prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.
Calgary's newest restaurant, Whitehall is all about introducing Calgarians to the beauty of contemporary British fare.
No one in the Calgary food scene was happy to see Il Sogno close its doors earlier this spring after years of refined food and polished service, but with that said, from the ashes of a dearly departed restaurant, something special was sure to arise. Over the summer, rumours began to swirl around town that the Vintage Group owner, Lance Hurtubise, had partnered with a Michelin-starred chef and that the vacant space on the edge of Bridgeland would transform into a new concept come the late fall. This is one rumour that turned out to be true.
Dubbed as a contemporary British restaurant, Whitehall and its chef/owner Neil McCue are bringing a little bit of overseas culinary to our prairie city. Check your preconceived notions of British fare at the door though; forget the fish and chips, the mushy peas, the bubble and squeak, because this place is about so much more than that. Though the menu may not immediately read to a patron as “British,” look between the lines and you'll see it ... black pudding, mackerel, the multi-purposing of meat drippings, Eccles Cake (more on this amazing item later) and strong cheeses like Stilton.
And make no mistake, this is not a hipster-chic take on British cuisine. You won’t find tattooed arms in the kitchen, leather accented aprons, nor will you find Instagram posts littered with hashtags. Instead, you’ll find true focus and a high level of technical skill comparable to established dining destinations in our city like Blink, River Café and Rouge. Surprised? Well, you shouldn’t be because McCue is no stranger to a high calibre kitchen. He was awarded a Michelin star back in 2011 at Curlew in East Sussex, headed up the kitchen at Langdon Hall in Ontario in the late 1990s and last, but certainly not least, opened Catch restaurant alongside Michael Noble as the dining room chef in 2001. He's been around the international block in the past couple of decades and it shows in the best way possible.
House-churned butter, whipped pork drippings and warm hazlenut bread.
Being the good Englishman that McCue is, the chef has plenty of wine to go along with dinner, but makes a point of keeping his front of house well-stocked with gin. A collection of classics and more boutique varieties, like Rouge's Spruce Gin, Bulldog, Botanist and Aviator make this a one-stop shop for gin and tonic lovers. Speaking of the bar, it’s easily the focal point of the room and a blue collar clash to the overall regal-ness of the space, constructed of thick metal pipes with gold accents. It makes for a perfect juxtaposition to the two-tiered room that offers up tall white walls and west-facing shuttered windows that allow the sun to speckle the room with its warmth during the day. On the north side of the restaurant, you’ll find the beautiful finishing kitchen where you can watch McCue and his team working through lunch and dinner service under the subtle glow of hanging pendant lights.
A tin box containing Whitehall's daily cheese biscuits.
Upon sitting down, it won’t be long until a tin box appears with Whitehall’s daily cheese biscuits. Buttery, salty, indulgent. Don’t spoil your appetite though, because there is something better on its way. House-churned butter and whipped pork drippings show up alongside thick slices of warm hazelnut bread. Starter bread baskets certainly aren’t what they used to be and, in this case, that’s a beautiful thing.
Smoked sablefish with crispy lardons and a sous vide egg.
Once you’ve finished spooning into the sky high Le 1608 (a pungent and creamy cheese out of Quebec) souffle, McCue’s braised pork cheek with baby turnips, apple and barley risotto with a charred apple purée and the tender, melt-in-your-mouth smoked sablefish with crispy lardons and a sous vide egg, you’ll want to direct your eyes to the dessert portion of the menu.
The Eccles cake has blueberries and raisins on the inside and a slice of blue cheese on the side.
The Eccles cake is a British classic through-and-through, though practically unknown here in Alberta. Essentially a sugar-crusted hand pie, a well-made Eccles is flaky and sweet on the outside and loaded with fruit on the inside. This refined variation is filled with an aromatic mix of B.C. blueberries and raisins with a healthy slice of blue cheese by its side, offering its robust flavour to help mellow out the buttery-sweet combination.
Then there’s the Douglas fir dessert —“Pine”— with a pine-y semifreddo covered in dark chocolate with crumble. The lingering taste of juniper with the borderline bitter chocolate is akin to devouring an After Eight after a holiday dinner. It’s times like these that makes one realize that Christmas tree in your living room might be good for more than simply hanging ornaments.
If this is the kind of food those Brits across the pond have been enjoying in recent years, then we have been missing out. Welcome to the block, Whitehall. I certainly hope you stay awhile.
Important note: the restaurant does not allow minors.