September 19, 2019

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Casino lounge a bit of a gamble

Loft 180 aims high, with mixed results

Opinion

As part of the McPhillips Station Casino, this new lounge has some advantages. Let’s say it’s 2:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and you’re craving a Scotch egg or some vegan crème brûlée. Loft 180 will be the place to go.

Along with almost non-stop opening hours (24 hours a day on the weekend and 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekdays) and free parking, Loft 180 offers lots of deals. The casino wants to keep hungry patrons onsite, after all, which means food prices are lower compared with equivalent fare in many other loungey venues. (There’s also a constant rotation of weekly specials, and you get 15 per cent off with a Casinos of Winnipeg Club Card.)

On the downside, Loft 180’s ambition to deliver globally inspired, locally sourced elevated cuisine is not always matched by its execution. The menu is packed with the signifiers of fancy contemporary food — preserved lemon aioli and micro-greens and compressed cucumbers and charred tomato broth. Offerings change seasonally, and there are vegan and gluten-free options.

But the food is, well, a bit of a gamble.

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As part of the McPhillips Station Casino, this new lounge has some advantages. Let’s say it’s 2:30 a.m. on a Wednesday and you’re craving a Scotch egg or some vegan crème brûlée. Loft 180 will be the place to go.

Restaurant review

Loft 180
484 McPhillips St.
204-957-2500; casinosofwinnipeg.com 

Loft 180
484 McPhillips St.
204-957-2500; casinosofwinnipeg.com 

Go for: upscale bar snacks and globally inspired shareable plates
Best bet: the re-imagined Scotch egg

Monday-Friday: 10 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Saturday-Sunday: open 24 hours
Shareable plates: $8-$12

★★★ out of five

 

STAR POWER

★★★★★ Excellent
★★★★ Very Good
★★★ Good
★★ Mediocre
★ Substandard
No stars Not recommended

Along with almost non-stop opening hours (24 hours a day on the weekend and 10 a.m. to 3 a.m. on weekdays) and free parking, Loft 180 offers lots of deals. The casino wants to keep hungry patrons onsite, after all, which means food prices are lower compared with equivalent fare in many other loungey venues. (There’s also a constant rotation of weekly specials, and you get 15 per cent off with a Casinos of Winnipeg Club Card.)

On the downside, Loft 180’s ambition to deliver globally inspired, locally sourced elevated cuisine is not always matched by its execution. The menu is packed with the signifiers of fancy contemporary food — preserved lemon aioli and micro-greens and compressed cucumbers and charred tomato broth. Offerings change seasonally, and there are vegan and gluten-free options.

But the food is, well, a bit of a gamble.

Executive sous chef, Jaime Broines. (Photos by Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

Executive sous chef, Jaime Broines. (Photos by Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

The ambience is also confused. Mixing up minimalist couches and low-level tables with conventional seating, the design is going for a sleek, modern vibe. But the awkward space on the second floor of the casino, set near slot machines and gaming tables and ringed by multiple screens, feels both cavernous and cluttered.

Good points include efficient and attentive service and small, considerate touches like pitchers of infused water (cucumber and basil one night, strawberry and mint another).

The menu centres on shareable plates, including salads, pizzas, tacos and flatbreads. There is a daily burger option, as well as fancied-up takes on bar staples like nachos and wings.

The Scotch egg is a standout, starting with a humble staple of British pub grub but giving it a slight twist with longanisa sausage. The egg is perfectly soft-boiled, the house-made sausage is packed with flavour and the finish is crisp.

But the dish goes a twist too far, perhaps, by serving the egg on a bed of black rice, which is perfectly nice but doesn’t really match up. Call me basic, but I would much prefer to get two of those very good Scotch eggs instead of one Scotch egg and what feels like an overly elaborate garnish.

The Scotch egg is a standout, starting with a humble staple of British pub grub but giving it a slight twist with longanisa sausage

The Scotch egg is a standout, starting with a humble staple of British pub grub but giving it a slight twist with longanisa sausage

The beet salad pairs its titular ingredient with cherry tomatoes, red grapefruit and compressed watermelon — which is undeniably cool, being basically watermelon but somehow more so — all served up with a delicate chevre panna cotta. The colour co-ordination makes this an eminently Instagrammable dish, but again, the individual ingredients don’t seem convincingly connected.

Caesar toast is kind of a deconstructed caesar, and it’s also tasty but overly conceptual. The dressing, an anchovy-infused vinaigrette, is garlicky but subtle, creamy but not gloppy and nicely set off by the saltiness of frazzled capers and the sweet richness of candied pork-belly lardons. But the whole setup — small rafts of baby romaine perched on top of stacked logs of thick grilled potato bread — is impractical, recalling that ’90s mania for unnecessarily high dishes.

The rich short-crust pastry of the empanadas is good, but the beef filling is flannelly and under-seasoned. Poutine features Bothwell cheese curds, braised pork belly and Yukon Gold fries cooked in duck fat, but as with many high-toned poutines, these upscale subtleties get lost in overwhelming gravy.

Poutine features Bothwell cheese curds, braised pork belly and Yukon Gold fries cooked in duck fat.

Poutine features Bothwell cheese curds, braised pork belly and Yukon Gold fries cooked in duck fat.

A good chicken option — it’s called fried chicken but it’s more like schnitzel — starts with boneless white meat and a super-crunchy coating and is finished with a heap of slaw and some crisped threads of yam, all wrapped in an intriguing cashew dressing that gets nice steady heat from chilies.

Beet borscht — one order supplies enough for three or four small bowls — is also good, made hearty with short ribs and finished with crème fraiche.

The house-made desserts change every day. A sampling of ice cream, gelato and sorbet was mixed. The ube and pear flavours were very good, but watermelon sorbet was icy and crumbly.

The drinks menu includes offerings from local distilleries and artisanal breweries. The coffee is just so-so, which seems like a drawback in a joint that’s often open at six in the morning. On the other hand, Loft 180 also offers a marmalade-spiked "Breakfast Martini." Yikes.

alison.gillmor@freepress.mb.ca

Alison Gillmor

Alison Gillmor
Writer

Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.

Read full biography

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