Moose Winooski's 20 Heldmann Road (at Sportsworld Crossing) Kitchener, ON …
TWH Social Bar | Bistro
1 King Street West
Kitchener, ON N2G 1A1
Cost for two with wine: $75
If you focus and use your imagination, the bones of TWH Social Bar | Bistro at The Walper Hotel, sitting at auspicious 1 King Street West, still say “Rum Runner,” the subterranean den-like bar and grill that Darryl and Liz Howie operated for years. The Howies, happily, have set up shop virtually just outside the Walper entrance and across Queen Street with a breakfast and lunch venture called Darlise Café. More power to ’em; Darryl Howie has cooking chops and has been in this region for decades.
Back at Number One, the iconic property, a century old and more, has had its old bones braced and fortified; the cosmetic refurbishments are aesthetically pleasing. Upstairs is the rejuvenated Barristers’ Lounge and cocktail bar Lokal. Dubbed an urban lounge, it’s open weekday evenings beginning at 5 p.m. It has good bones and a good vibe too.
TWH Social is a brighter space now but with a toned control and warmth. Large white “windows” create a sense of openness and the illusion of daylight. The bar is long with televisions, adjacent to which are booths and, extending to the far end of the dining room, a few tables and communal space. Behind the windows is more seating, including private space for about 20 or so.
Service is smooth and professional; the menu has four components — starters (many of which can be shared), sandwiches, proteins and greens (nice ring, that) and mains.
Executive chef Jeff Ward is a cook’s cook. A Stratford Chefs School alumnus, he’s cooked at Langdon, in Toronto with the Oliver and Bonacini boys, and as a restaurateur at his former Marisol. Delicious that was too.
Ward is straightforward about food. Keep it simple and don’t muck about with good ingredients. He executes well and doesn’t fuss: cook properly, plate pleasingly and serve it, he might say. The formula worked well at Marisol, and it works here too.
Charcuterie is plentiful with a balance of rich cheese and acidic house-made pickles alongside salty meat. Ward has always cooked octopus as well; calamari too: it’s lightly dusted in corn flour so it’s crisp but tender inside. There’s a dipping sauce, but you don’t need that.
Moroccan lamb burger is juicy but not overpowered with a garlic sauce. Brioche holds up to the juices, and TWH fries are good. The highlight of Kale Caesar (is that a pun?) is soft-boiled egg. There are daily specials that include sweet and savoury cod cakes; acidity in the greens — along with roasted cauliflower, green beans and toasted hazelnuts — balance well. There’s a lively lemony yogurt-based sauce that enhances too.
Every restaurant has a steak. Few cook it really, really well though. Ward’s strip loin — not a favourite cut of mine — is, however, brilliant. Is it sous vide, the colour and texture so perfectly medium-rare and uniform throughout? Ward would say no way: he has no interest in the technique. The 10 ounces come with a lightly sauced plate and a dollop of chimichurri for acidic accenting. Salt and pepper are used judiciously. The simply grilled strips have 35 days of aging on them followed by a few days dry. They’re trimmed and allowed more drying time: don’t mess around; just cook properly.
And finish with a TWH affogato.