Ceili Cottage has only just opened its doors, but the lively atmosphere and charming surroundings are quickly establishing this "public house" as a favourite among Leslieville locals.
Publican Patrick McMurray, international oyster shucking champion and restauranteur extraordinaire behind Starfish has dreamt of creating a typical Irish "local" for years. A proponent of Irish culture, Patrick transformed this formerly rundown garage into part pub, part Irish dance studio. Over pints on any given night there's a gentle rhythmic thudding of 8-hand step dance through the walls.
The pub is split into a front foyer and back bar, both adorned with unique pieces of Toronto history. Pillars and beams hail from the Distillery District, an area known for the influx of Irish emigre workers in the late 19th Century. A church pew and communion table from a Presbyterian church in the Junction, also add a stylish touch to the rustic decor.
We follow a little trail towards the electric red door and happily settle on the spacious patio. Everyone is in a good mood, especially when we discover most menu items hovering around the $10 mark. Pints of Guinness ($4.39 ½pint, $6.52 full pint) wash down our shared platter of 6 raw Malpeque oysters ($14). The mollusks are fresh, slimy and go down easily, leaving a cool saltwater aftertaste.
Catching our eye is the "Hashed on Tuesday" special - Hashed potatoes, roast, egg ($10). A rotating line-up of specials feature the Sunday night roast re-invented every day of the week. Leftovers never sounded so tempting!
Before the dish arrives, I imagine a generous helping of a juicy golden rump roast over a bed of hashed potatoes, crispy fried egg and a trickle of gravy. Others believe it likens more to a golden mound of corned beef hash.
Instead, the few scraps of charred fatty meat ends, a soggy potato pancake and poached egg all seems like a cruel joke.
The burnt macaroni and cheese ($8) meant for an infant in both size and blandness is no improvement.
The defeated recipient of this dish exclaims: "I think Kraft would've been better than this!" All expectations are shot by the time my onion soup ($8) arrives, so I'm not surprised when it's completely devoid of flavour. I am, however, slightly perplexed to find the aged white cheddar clumped to the bottom of my cup. While I understand the need for this onion soup to set itself apart from the better known French version, fishing for half melted cheese at the bottom of my teensy cup is simply sloppy.
The peat smoked Scottish salmon ($14) with sour cream, lemon, pickled shallots and two scraggily pieces of bread is better in comparison but overpriced. Our grumbling bellies are aching for a breadbasket, but bread and butter at the Cottage would have set us back $3.
Instead, we down our pints and make a beeline to Queen Street where we proceed to wander elsewhere to satisfy our raging hunger pangs.
Despite our disappointing meal, I'm still intrigued to see how this quaint little place shapes up in the coming months. Many themed events like a locally- sourced food market on Sundays and matchmaking evenings are in store. I only hope that with time, an equal amount of effort will be put into the kitchen. Go for their assortment of beers on tap and stay for a floor thumping music session, but be sure to arrive with a full stomach first!
Photos by Claudia Lama