Tastiness Factor: 7/10
Locavore Approved? Kinda...While they did a nice job of incorporating seasonal produce in their menu (i.e in my nicoise salad) and do profess on their website that they use "high quality seasonal and regional ingredients", I was disappointed that they had no daily specials except for a cocktail. After my experience at Fat Badger (also tavern-style) with its daily chalkboard showcasing a variety of novel creations, the stagnant menu at The Abbey was a let-down.
My dad came to visit from Newfoundland recently and, when thinking of places to bring him for dinner, The Abbey immediately came to mind. It had been on my "need-to-go" list for quite some time, and I knew that my dad enjoys pub-style food so The Abbey seemed like a slam-dunk. Having been to the Fat Badger a few months ago and really enjoying the experience (see my blog post here), I was really looking forward to seeing what The Abbey, with its similar concept had to offer. I was even more excited when I realized that it was owned by the fine folks that own Pied-a-Terre and Sardine Can which I can say, from experience, are top notch.
So off we went to the outer edge of Chinatown where the Abbey has its home. The location is pretty isolated and we almost walked right past the very inconspicuous door. But it was the inside that was the real shocker. I have been to a number of pubs in my lifetime and the Abbey did not look even remotely like anyone of them. The only thing that was the least bit reminiscent of a pub was the large "A" printed on an odd drape hung at the back of the room. The rest of the decor, from the ornate bar to the tables by the window, made the space look like a cross between a lounge and a bistro. Right off the bat, it was clear that the Abbey has an identity crisis. Compounded on the puzzling atmosphere was the fact that the Abbey was completely dead on the Thursday night that we visited (I can count the people there on one hand).
On the positive side, there were two private rooms on each side of the restaurant, each up a windy staircase (again, does a windy staircase really belong in a pub?). They occupy quite a bit of the space so perhaps this is what a main purpose that the owners had in mind? Based on the number of people that were there when we visited on a Thursday night (I could count them on one hand), lets hope they are more successful on the private party front.
After I got over the fact that I just didn't get the ambience, I was ready to look past it and enjoy the rest of the evening. Unfortunately, things kept going downhill. The service was absolutely abhorent. Our server mumbled just a few words to us the whole night and when I asked her about dinner specials or about the ingredients, she looked at me like I had 10 heads. She was obviously not enjoying herself that night, although I will give her credit for at least filing our water glasses frequently (in silence of course).
Now onto the food, which, while not on the same level as Sardine Can or Pied-a-Terre, was fortunately the best part of our whole evening. The menu is divided into a number of sections including "tavern favourites", which includes the only dishes that are the least bit reminiscent of pub food. The rest of the sections, including small plates, mains, "for two" and sweet, include dishes that could be seen at any of the many other "West Coast-inspired" places in town. The identity crisis continues.
In terms of drinks, the Abbey does have a nice selection of draft and bottle beers. In addition, they have a remarkably long list of wines (wish there had been more picks form BC) and quite an extended cocktail program which again, really didn't help with their pub persona.
Here is what we tried on our visit:
Sausage rolls- Hubby and my dad chose this little starter from the "tavern favourites" section of the menu and, as advertised, it was a piece of pastry rolled over sausage. Both men liked it, but my dad was a bit caught off guard by the spiciness of the mustard which could definitely be toned done a few notches (think wasabi x 10!).
Venison burger- Every tavern needs a burger! The Abbey's version, using venison, was plenty hearty, piled high with a mound of cheese and a generous portion of bacon. It was served pretty rare which may not jive well with some guests, and it would have been helpful to have been told that when it was ordered. The fries (topped with salt and vinegar) were less successful as they were overdone and therefore became way too crispy when cooled.
Nicoise salad- This was my pick and it was by far the best part of the night for me (besides the company of course!). The salad base was a nice mix of super fresh greens with a generous portion of perfectly-cooked tuna. It also contains a myriad of other goodies, including nice crisp green beans with small potato medallions, tomatoes, anchovies, olives, and topped off with a cute soft-boiled quail's egg. The only letdown was the plating, as there all of the dressing was clumped on one side of the plate, therefore making that side quite soggy. And again, not to belabour the point, but does this look like pub food to you?
I have said it many times and I will say it again- The Abbey has a identity crisis. Combine that with subpar service and mediocre food, and you have a place that will not be attracting many return customers, including myself. I hope that the experienced owners who are doing such brilliant things at The Abbey's sister restaurants can somehow resurrect this latest addition to their restaurant family but, based on our dining experience, that is going to take a considerable amount of work.