Saying so long to the Lounge of Charlie O (a.k.a. Tubby’s) was bittersweet. On one hand the food (notably excepting the pizza) had suffered for quality in the final years (even as far as bar food goes). On the other hand, Charlie’s was a neighborhood gem, a Winnipeg institution, the kind of place that, one realizes all too late, has become part of a place’s culture. Akin to the Pemby or Silver Heights, they are, alas a dying breed.
I was buoyed by the fact that Miles Gould, recently of Fazzo Bistro, had bought the building for an undisclosed yet tidy sum. Having lived in Sheffield for some time, his intent was to turn Tubby’s into a British Pub.
A born and bred Brit myself, I had high expectations, and some pretty rigid notions of what the place should look like. As such, it begged the question – do we really want another British pub concept. All too often they fall far short of their overseas cousins. Perhaps it’s because pubs are not merely a place to drink…they are a home away from home, part of the British culture, and a culture unto themselves.
I followed construction closely…maybe too closely. I was delighted by disappearing walls and the emergence of burly wood beams and brick. A bar of considerable proportions took centre stage. However, it remained uncrowned with the typical header.
Then I saw the signage, a plain-jane logo absent of cursive script or Gothic hand. Where over the pond pub signage is characterized by overwrought carvings and oil-painted panoramas, this was but a simple stamp, an enigmatic bird and only subtly serifed font.
An homage to the avenue on which it resides (Grosvenor), they could at least incorporate the intersecting street (Stafford) and gone with the double-barreled and decidedly more British Grove and Staff. I pictured an elaborately painted Johnny Walker-like gent strolling purposefully across a meadow. But before I could bemoan the branding, walls were painted, floors finished, tables and chairs (TABLES AND CHAIRS!) in their final places.
No, no this was nothing of the filigreed, carved and wallpapered locals of my homeland. Absent were the heavily patterned carpets where the comforting stench of stale beer would reside. Missing were the mismatched tartan top stools, graffiti gouged tables, or grotty little booths within which to hide and whinge about the dismal performance of football teams and governments alike.
I prepared for disappointment. I was absolutely wrong.
The Grove has proven a perfect roost for residents of River Heights (and beyond). Entering from Stafford Street, you’re promptly greeted by professional and friendly staff. Chances are it will be Miles himself. If there’s a free spot in the house, you’ll have the option of sitting on the lounge or restaurant side. Don’t deliberate long, there’s little distinction. Belly up to the bar where a fine selection of suds, both imported and local, can be found on tap including their own Stafford Street Lager.
Without the aforementioned header and supporting columns, it’s less than intimate. Anywhere you sit you’re exposed to all, diners and drinkers alike. But hey, we’re friendly Manitobans. We play well with others, excel at socializing. Maybe that’s what Miles had in mind.
The Grove’s tightly focused menu pays respects to pub grub while upping the elegance ante. Much like England’s V.A.T. (value added tax), prices are all inclusive making it easy to cipher what you’re spending.
Panko Breaded Halibut and Salmon Fish Bites ($8) affords diners the option of a somewhat forgettable curry sauce or the much preferable and more traditional tartar sauce.
While winners both, the Slow Roasted Berkshire Pork Belly ($9) is without a doubt the shining star. Salvaged from the sunken wreck of the now defunct Fazzo where chef Norm and Miles worked together, it’s an exquisitely executed and soul satisfyingly savory dish. Drizzled with a sweet yet salty tare sauce (essentially a reduced soy) house pickled slaw brings balance and acidity to the salty, savory richness.
Moving to the mains, subtly sweet but under seasoned caramelized onion jus bathes Bangers and Mash ($15). Although cleverly garnished with bacon and fronds of fried leeks, bland sausage left little flavour to savour.
The $17 Cottage Pie is underscored by the use of top quality certified Angus beef. Props to chef Norm for making the distinction (Shepherd’s Pie = lamb). As a capable Cottage Pie creator myself, I eagerly awaited the hearty, salty, meaty mashed potato topped comfort food I’ve come to know and love. But it was not love at first bite. I cried for seasoning, but the more I ate, the more I realized that the predominant flavour was actually the beef itself. Accused as lacking flavour by others, I began to realize that the food is in fact a further expression of the minimalism and bold restraint that has been carried through the entire restaurant theme.
Lest ye be quick to judge, ask yourself this. When was the last time you actually tasted the ingredients? This accusation of the absence of flavour I suspect is symptomatic of our over salted, over seasoned palates.
I am guilty of sousing my own cottage pie with Worcestershire Sauce and black pepper until it’s all I taste. Where others have panned, I actually applaud chef Norm for allowing the flavour of this quality ingredient to shine through (although a little rosemary wouldn’t be amiss). A small criticism, perhaps since rectified, we eat with our eyes. The only adornment was an unappetizing whisp of char that kissed the whipped potato. A little egg wash would go a long way, creating a crust and giving the tatties a tasty crown of golden brown.
Battered Halibut and Chips ($17) are the quintessential staple of every British pub. The Grove’s lived up to expectations but a beer batter would make more sense. Although a freebie, the insipid curry sauce reappears here so stick to the alternate, tartar sauce. Some have accused of under-salted chips. Listen up. They don’t typically salt your chips in Britain. It’s up to you to do the right thing: drown the shit out of them in malt vinegar and season liberally (to taste) with salt. I’m thankful the chef is allowing and inviting the diner to do it yourself.
With dough made fresh daily, five pizzas feature fancy toppings almost worthy of Pizzeria Gusto. The slightly more traditional Tubby ($11), salami, pepperoni, sausage, mushroom, peppers and onion, is a respectful tip of the ol bowler hat to the former owner.
As the birthplace of the Sandwich (sarnie), The Grove gives England its due and the chef has done his research. Originally created for the banquet following the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the Coronation Chicken Sandwich ($9) features roasted chicken in a curried mayo with arugula on ciabatta bread.
The cleverest is the Welsh Rarebit ($10), a cheesy, boozy, Worcestershire saucy mixture often served on toast points. As a sarnie, the sauce joins bacon, tomatoes and green onions on a pungent marble rye.
The bread choice does not agree with my palate but my wife, and guide to all things Canadian, loves it. I can accept it only as a Canadian take on a U.K. classic.
In fact, when it comes right down to it, that’s the most appropriate way to appreciate The Grove Pub and Restaurant.
164 Stafford Street
Phone: (204) 415-3262
- Mon – Thurs: 11:00 am – 12:00 am
- Fri – Sat: 11:00 am – 2:00 am
- Sun: 11:00 am – 12:00 am