House on Parliament
This Cabbagetown pub has been one of our favourites for a long time, but I feel like I need to vent about it a little.
The quality of many of their signature dishes has gone downhill. For example, the steak-and-mushroom pie has long been a favourite with many people I know, but in the last year or so something crucial has changed: the crust is no longer the sublime explosion of savoury pastry it was, and is now dull and chewy. They also seem to be drizzling truffle oil over it, for no reason I can see. The meat-and-mushroom filling of the pie is just as lovely, but the pedestrian crust doesn't show it to advantage at all.
The Wednesday night "Kobe" (can you really get a burger made from Kobe beef for $14.95?) burger special was another recent disappointment. The burger, a separate creature from the regular-menu version (also a good value) used to change up every Wednesday with topping variations like Brie/mushroom or pancetta/cambozola, but the last few times we've been in it's been the same - cheddar, bacon, chipotle aioli. Why chipotle?
We ordered our burgers medium rare: when they arrived eventually they were definitely medium, although to be fair they were still very juicy. No pinkness visible at all, though. The aioli that accompanied them had clearly been sitting around in the kitchen for a while and arrived in little paper cuplets, with the sauce slightly hardened and cracking around the edge. The buns were stale, too.
Most disappointing are the fries! In the past, the HoP's fries have been consistently excellent: thin, crisp but tender inside, perfectly-done. They've changed to a more standard size now, though, and are always overdone.
The outside patio has changed from a relaxing, laid-back space with picnic-bench seats to a cramped area with too many small tables, and tiny uncomfortable stools to sit on.
We've been going to the HoP for about six years now and have recommended it to countless people, so maybe we're a little bit to blame for its increased popularity and long wait times for tables. The place seems to want to change from a true pub-style joint with surprisingly good food to yet another bistro with adequate but uninspired fare. I wish they'd reconsider, and bring back the awesome quality and atmosphere that drew so many of us there in the first place.
Well, I'm coming to the HoP's defence! I've had the burger (the regular one, not the Kobe) a number of times, and it has never disappointed. (Although, your description of the aioli is truly alarming.) In another posting I've praised the Sunday roast beef as being an excellent value. They have always been ambitious when it comes to the daily specials, in a gastro-pub way, so that's nothing new (and I've been going since they opened in 1996), and I'd say that the specials are their strong suit. Where else can you get things like pickerel, cassoulet, duck confit, scallops, etc etc so well executed for under $20? As to patio, it's true that it's more crowded and less laid-back than it once was, but that's an unfortunate result of the place's growing popularity. (I think that they're phasing out the stools in favour of backed chairs.)
I definitely agree with you that the specials are always interesting and well-executed, and really reasonably-priced! Their wine selection is very good, too.
But I feel like the mainstay of the operation, their formerly-extraordinary pub fare, is going way downhill. I don't always want duck confit (although when I do, and it's on the menu there, I love it!): for comfort food I'm more likely to crave the aforementioned pie, or bangers-and-beans, which they used to offer but have now replaced with something like merguez-and-chutney. It's very disappointing!
When I started going there I heard that their chef had either been poached from Joso's or was working both places (I can't remember which), which is where their practice of offering really interesting and delicious specials started.
I'm still fond of the place, and I'll still go, but I really wish Beau and co. had held back on some of the changes. I still miss my beloved pie crust, and the wonderful fries-that-were.
I had to laugh at your reply - in a good way! - "the chef had... been poached" - great pun. They've had a guy for a long time who was (I think) from La Bodega, but I might have that wrong. Don't know what's up with the steak pie - it was fine when I had it, but that was back in December, so I'm not going to the barricades on that one.
I definitely agree with you on the steak pie!!! I had it 3 months ago and the crust was soggy, soggy, soggy, and the all over effect was mush. I got the impression it had been frozen, which accounted for the texture. I would be very distressed if they have changed their fries, I loved those!!!