This column started out to be about the Brogue Pubside, the lounge attached to the Round Table. But, as Robbie Burns himself would say, the best laid schemes of mice and men, etc. And of restaurant critics too, he might have added since, after one meal in the pub, it changed direction.
Like the dining room, the pub too is a faux baronial sort of place, with stained-glass windows, a coat of arms and a fireplace. What originally sparked my interest was its online menu -- lots of the currently trendy little plates, with only a few of them in the classic pub tradition. What changed the direction was the discovery that many of the same dishes were served in the dining room at prices that weren't much different, and that all of it came from the same kitchen.
The Brogue isn't the only offender, but I wish restaurants would keep their online menus up to date. Some of the online listings weren't on the in-house menu, some weren't exactly as described and some of the prices didn't match. The most disappointing was the Newfoundland po'boy, which no longer was made with sautéed lobster tail and prawns, for $20, but now contained just deep-fried shrimp -- a huge heap of them for $16, but flavourless under a breading that was thicker than the shrimp they covered.
The breading on the crab cakes was thin and crisp, but it supplied the only flavour those cakes had. I knew there was crab; I recognized the texture, but it didn't taste of crab. The online picture shows three cakes -- we got two small ones for $9 ($11 in the restaurant but I don't know how many you'd get for that price).
The wild ravioli fondue was also breaded and fried. The filling was described as a mixture of mushrooms, and I could see bits of mushrooms, but they were so skimpy I could barely taste them -- four small ravioli for $9 (served in the restaurant as an entrée for $27). With them a bland, colourless dip that couldn't possibly have been the Guinness cheddar fondue that was promised by the menu .
Longing for something simple, straightforward and unbreaded we opted for the bangers and mash and, with a sigh of relief, tucked into really good sausages with mashed potatoes in a dark brown, onion-streaked gravy ($10 for two bangers, $15 for three in the restaurant at lunch). And what a welcome, homey treat that was!
I find its nooks and crannies cosier than the pub, so I decided on the Round Table for my return visit. And although the pub's prices may seem lower, some of its portion sizes are smaller, and come without any garnishes. Add the salad, potatoes and veggies that are included with the restaurant's entrées, and much of the difference becomes negligible.
My memories of my last visit, 11 years ago, weren't the fondest -- 2-1/2 stars worth of unfondness, to be precise. The food has improved but, although it wasn't cheap back then, the current prices are steep enough to raise ones expectations mightily. But if nothing was poor enough to be sent back to the kitchen, much of it didn't rise above the merely adequate either, and only a few items were good enough to justify those prices.
One of them was -- yes, surprise! -- really good mussels in a white wine sauce, that were plumper, juicier and more flavourful than any I've had lately ($11, or $8 in the pub). Both the caesar and green salads included with the entrées were also good, but little else lived up to that beginning.
The three entrées we'd ordered are starred on the menu as signature items. The best of them was the barbecued ribs in a whisky barbecue sauce, which were good, if pricey at $32. Beef is promoted as "king" but the beef tenderloin in a winey sauce wasn't as tender as tenderloins usually are, wasn't very tasty and, at $47 for seven ounces, invited inevitable comparison with 529 Wellington's prime-grade eight ounces for $39 (veggies extra).
The prime rib was even more disappointing. It comes in various sizes, but the menu doesn't mention how much each weighs. You have to ask to find out, and I'd disagree with the description of the Jesters -- which turns out to be six ounces for $24 -- as generous. The Squires' eight ounces go for $30, the Knights' 12 ounces for $38 ($33 at Rae & Jerry's and $2.50 per ounce in the pub). More to the point, it lacked the rib's characteristic tenderness, juiciness and depth of flavour. With it, a little cup of dark, commercial-tasting consommé that in no way could have passed for the "jus" promised by the menu. And, oh yes, the Yorkshire pudding was also dry.
Other garnishes were good though -- garlic mashed potatoes, wonderfully crisp shoestring fries and simply prepared carrots and broccoli. I also liked the nice, chewy texture of the bread rolls.
Actually, though, my favourite dish of both visits was that homey old pub standard, the bangers and mash. I'd go back for that one anytime, and also for two splendid desserts -- the apple crumble and the bread pudding with amaretto sauce ($7.50 each).
The wine list is extensive, with several available by the glass. Service was friendly, deft and attentive, but being asked if one wants such add-ons to the entrées as shrimp or mushrooms, without being told that they cost extra, seems to be standard practice and is beyond annoying.
Note: In this month of holiday parties don't turn up at any restaurant without a reservation.