Ottawa is the kind of city that I love to visit. With so much going on every day, it bustles and there is lots to do. Ottawa embraces the extreme seasons, with festivals and events all year round. I knew that it was Canada’s capital city and the seat of the Canadian government. What I didn’t know is just how fun and friendly it is, and how diverse the population is.
Ottawa is a perfect size for a short visit. Big enough to have lots going on and small enough to make it easy to hop from place to place. The diverse population means there are many interesting restaurants. I had one of the best bowls of Vietnamese pho that I have ever had (and I have had many!), wonderful Middle Eastern food, vibrant modern Canadian, afternoon tea in a beautiful ornate historic hotel, dinner at a famous Ottawa cookery school and restaurant and of course, I went back to their central food market downtown.
Dinner at Jackson (in the Ottawa Art Gallery)
My first bite in Ottawa on this trip was in Jackson. A gorgeous bright room fitting of its location with glorious high ceilings and enormous hanging ceiling lamps. It is named for the gallery’s extensive collection of works by Canadian Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson (which you can view for free and which I did after my meal – you must!).
Using sustainable produce from small farms where possible, the food at Jackson is a real treat. Great cocktails too! Head here for (not so) small plates like kimchi fries made with smoky house kimchi, Korean fried cauliflower, scallops with coconut curry and cocktails like a gin sour with matcha. There are lots of plant based options too. Gorgeous creative cooking.
I headed to Fairouz for modern Middle Eastern food located in a gorgeous heritage mansion. There is a lot of detail in the cooking here, with those big flavours that I love. Lots of the menu is indicated for sharing but I managed very well solo (I would never let you down!). I loved the chickpea stuffed artichokes to start and the sumac glazed half chicken with potato and tahini salad and Yemeni pepper sauce for mains. Lovely cocktails here also but also a wine list with several options from excellent Lebanese wine producer, Chateau Musar.
Afternoon tea at Zoe’s, the Fairmont Château Laurier
The Fairmont Château Laurier is a popular Ottawa choice for afternoon tea. A historic hotel with stunning architecture in the old Fairmount style (they were originally the railway hotels next to the cross Canada railway stations). You may see a visiting prime minister or president here in passing on your way to Zoé’s. I went for the Canadian tea that features delicacies from across the country. They are also excellent with dietaries (afternoon tea is rich with gluten and dairy, and they can manage very well without both). There is an extensive tea list including an Ontario Ice Wine tea.
Ottawa’s Chinatown has more Vietnamese restaurants than Chinese owing to the large Vietnamese refugee population that settled here in the 80s. So pho is well known and well regarded, and one of the best ones is at Pho 99. I had a few recommendations to visit but fate intervened when it came up in conversation with his son about poutine. Always ask questions, that is how you find things.
I made my way over and had the great joy of meeting owner Ha Van Trung. He came to Ottawa in the eighties via a refugee camp in Hong Kong and his first venture into food here was via a poutine truck, Lou Fast Food, run now by his eldest son Hung Ha (who I had earlier met). The dream was always to have a Vietnamese restaurant which he was finally able to open just over 20 years ago.
At Pho 99 they serve northern style Vietnamese food which is a little lighter but still packs a lot of flavour. I tried their classic pho, which was wonderful, light and aromatic with beautiful flavours, and also the spicy sour Bun Bo Hue. It is always such a joy to find places like this. Look out for my next post which will be my podcast with Hung Ha and Ha Van Trung about their story and their food.
Signatures, the restaurant at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute
Le Cordon Bleu was established in Paris in 1895 with the Ottawa location (Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa Culinary Arts Institute) being the first to open in North America. The cooking here is modern and based, understandably, in the French style but with locally sourced ingredients as much as possible. It is very much a fine dining restaurant, yet it feels relaxed, in a charming way. Set in yet another charming historic mansion (dating from 1877), you can also book into cooking classes here.
In terms of photographs, the light was very low by the time we started eating, but I did get a few! Just look at the gorgeous red room that we ate in. We had beautiful crusted lamb which you can see here. Lovely cocktails too, I went for the classic French 75. The excellent service is worth an extra mention.
The ByWard Market is right downtown, and is one of the oldest and largest farmers’ markets in Canada. Up to 175 outdoors stalls sell plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables 363 days per year (closed only for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day). I did a ByWard Market Courtyards Tour with C’est Bon Cooking, a 2.5-hour walking tour led by a very knowledgeable and social guide who brought us to diverse and interesting food and drink places with lots of samples to nibble on. Recommended.