The Black Hat
1005 Langley St.
This was one of the most exciting restaurant visits of the month for me. The Black Hat, was arguably one of the most anticipated new restaurant openings in downtown. The space is second to none. The renovation and rejuvenation of the building is beautiful, an open and welcoming conceptual lay-out.
Recently, I ate at chef/owner Sam Chalmers restaurant in Oak Bay, Bistro 28. He cordially invited me to come try out his new baby, The Black Hat. My friend JP joined me, as I knew he would appreciate some of the more meaty options. I looked at the menu posted on their website (http://www.theblackhat.ca/) just to see what I was getting myself into.
[ Just a note of some of the confusing parts/sp? on the menu:
'Torchon or Foie Gras', is it supposed to be Torchon of Foie Gras, or is it a choice of preparation?
Serano chili= serrano chili
'Cerviche'= ceviche, seviche, or cebiche
The disclaimer at the bottom of the menu states that the Black Hat ' strives to be as local, seasonal, and sustainable as possible", yet they feature a jaw-dropping Wagyu tasting?
Also the staggering amount of raw preparations, I definitely haven't seen this done before in Victoria, ceviche, crudo, tataki and tartare.
But what stood out to me most, was that as a vegetarian, I wasn't going to have a lot to choose from for dinner.]
I ordered a beer to start off. First impressions of the room, I enjoyed it. The tables were beautiful, not crazy about the chairs. Not a huge fan of the amateur photo’s of women in bowler hats in the mens bathroom either.
Our server was a nice girl, presentable and smiling, a touch on the nervous side. She accomodated my request for the wagyu meatballs and spaghetti to just be a veggie spaghetti. My company ordered the chicken stuffed with chicken liver, over a fine brunoise of roasted celeriac and apple, with a celery and fennel salad and shallot jus.
Verdict on the food: I’d give mine a 7/10. The pasta had a really nice texture, so that was the star of the dish. For $21, I found the portion to be quite small, especially because for 3 dollars more I could have had it with Wagyu meatballs? Explain that food cost to me. The sauce the pasta was tossed in was more of an oil than a sauce, so by the end of the dish my tongue was coated in oil. There were heirloom cherry tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, red peppers and good quality parmiggiano. Don’t get me wrong, it tasted good, but it’s nothing memorable. At the end of the day, it’s a small bowl of pasta, and somewhat pedestrian.
JP had the chicken roulade($26). It was presently beautifully, the plating reminded me of how Ulla does their plating, on a long rectangular plate. The knife skills were the star, good crispy skin on the outside too. My only criticism would be about the chicken livers. Maybe this is just a matter of taste, but when I previously ate offal, I would like it prepared in a way that I knew I wasn’t eating it ( in a mousse, terrine, sausage, or chopped up). Perhaps The Black Hat is very purist, in that they kept the chicken livers whole when stuffing the roulade.
For the dessert I had the S’mores. This was clever, absolutely bleeping delicious. This was a great interpretation of a classic, jujjed up with sick pastry skills. It was a layered chocolate dessert, with a milk chocolate mousse, shortbread crust, dark chocolate ganache, and piped marsmallow that had been bruleed, garnished with some raspberry coulis.
The menu reads pretentious the first time through. But I think I understand what Mr. Chalmers is trying to do. He’s bringing classic dishes and preparations to Victorians, with good ingredients, and sometimes there’s a bit of a twist. And I commend him for that. I don’t agree with having so many raw dishes or Wagyu beef on the menu, both because it’s been done to death and I think it’s time to move on. Sure, having crazy expensive pampered and extravagantly-fed beef is exciting for Victoria, but when it’s flown half way across the world, it seems kind of gimmicky. I guess you could have the same argument for any imported products.
The service wasn’t very confident. For example, when I ordered a glass of ice wine to go with my dessert (upon recommendation from the sommelier/bartender), our server asked me if I wanted that in a 5 ounce size, when very clearly on the menu, all wines and ports are 2 ounce pours. Furthermore, I received my dessert before my ice wine, subsequently waiting close to five minutes for the wine to arrive. That was really the only downfall of the service that night. The server was friendly, but just didn’t know the menu front to back, which is acceptable because the restaurant was still fresh out of the gates.
Would I come back here? Hmm.. I have mixed emotions about that. For 50 dollars, I don’t know if I enjoyed it that much. I would honestly come back for the dessert. Having had both the vegetarian entrees( the farro risotto that I had at Bistro 28 and the veggie spaghetti) I really don’t have many reasons to go back to The Black Hat to eat. I don’t go out to fill up on salads. The atmosphere is cool, and it would be a nice place to have a few drinks and dessert.
Entrees: 7/10 for mine, 8/10 for JP’s
Overall I wish Sam and his crew a lot of luck. It takes someone with a lot of courage and drive to open this type of restaurant up. That’s one thing you can see when you dine here, the passion and dedication the people involved possess. I look forward to seeing how The Black Hat does in the future. Try it out and support a local business.