One thing I can certainly say for London, Ontario is the number of festivals and events that are run in the city. In the past month I can think of Sunfest, the Home Country Music and Art Festival, Pride, and Rock the Park with Rib Fest and Forest City Beer Fest coming up shortly in August. It’s almost a little bit overwhelming!
But one event that’s easy enough to participate in is Londonlicious. For two weeks, various restaurants around London offer discounted, three-course menus from $15-$30. This weekend, we decided to take advantage of the offer to try a restaurant that normally is a little out of our price range: CHE Resto Bar, a trendy downtown joint serving modern Latin American cuisine.
When I say trendy, I mean trendy: clean white walls, crisp lines, exposed brick, supersized artwork, long windows overlooking Dundas Street, and funky lamps that cast whimsical shadows on the walls. Our table was raised, wooden in contrast to the modular bar chairs we sat on. WB doesn’t appreciate dining up high. It didn’t bother me, but it is, when you think about it, a strange thing to have. Wearing a skirt makes it especially difficult to hop off without exposing oneself.
We were seated by the bar, and I noticed all their bottles were hidden under the counter. I guess this is to look slick or clean, but something about it bothers me. Like, why are you hiding what kind of liquor you have? I don’t know. I guess I’m paranoid.
Our waiter was cute and nice, and clearly making an effort to ask a lot of questions about how we liked our meal, etc. WB, a former waiter in a fine dining establish, thought she was a bit of an amateur, serving the wine on the wrong side and other horrifying things like that. I was a bit surprised that at 8:30 at night, by the time they probably had at least one and a half seatings, she didn’t know what the fish of the day in the ceviche was. But she found out the information and was obviously a nice person, and I have a hard time being ultra critical of wait staff.
Anyway, the mystery fish ceviche (it was tilapia) was nice, in my opinion, at the time. Though it was largely because I didn’t know what to expect, so I thought “okay, well this is ceviche.” It was rather liquidy, with a puddle of fishy water collecting at the bottom, making the lettuce and such less than appetizing to eat. It was garnished with yam and jicama and a small slice of corn. I have a beef about garnishes. I feel that it should have some purpose or edibility, or at least demonstrate thought. The yam was edibile, but I’m not sure how it went with the ceviche. The ceviche was advertised as being “served with jicama” so I thought that would mean it was diced up in the ceviche, but it was just like a carrot stick that you had to eat with your fingers, and then why am I just eating a piece of plain jicama with my fingers in a classy establishment?
Overall, I had the sense I was doing something wrong, but I liked the raw fish with the creamy hot sauce that was served on the side. And it was a good portion. So I was not disappointed, but if you have some high or narrow expectations for ceviche, then maybe you would be.
There were too many onions for WB, as usual!
For my main I had the baked salmon filet with fried yams, spinach, and a passion fruit cream sauce. This was very yummy. The salmon was cooked perfectly, which is always my worry at a restaurant. It was silky and the skin was crispy, and the rub on it was pretty delicious. I could have eaten it without the sauce, but I liked the contrast between the savoury rub and the creamy, sweet, passionfruit sauce. Though as WB pointed out, it’d probably be nicer a touch lighter with more chunks of fruit. It was a bit like someone drizzled a smoothie over my fish, but it worked.
The fried yams were good. Like sweet potato fries but a bit more moorish. I’m not sure how well it goes with salmon, but they were good. I’d replicate these at home for a snack when I’m in the mood for something more unhealthy.
And I love spinach, so you can’t lose me there.
WB had the chimichurri ribeye steak with yucca fries with mojo sauce, and a side of pico de gallo after a battle between this main and the paella. He concluded that paella was much easier to mess up, and he’d never had chimichurri sauce before.
WB says: The steak was medium rare, as asked, which is always cause for nervousness. When I first made my order the waitress repeated “medium well.” I repeated myself, but I was still really nervous she wrote down the wrong thing. Thankfully she didn’t. Anyway, I had about one bite of the steak where I could really taste the chimichurri and it was delicious! Fresh and interesting. But mostly the steak overpowered it and it just tasted like a normal steak (which was still good). The yucca fries were a bit unremarkable in themselves but dipped in the mojo sauce they were very yummy.
I didn’t understand the pico de gallo. I didn’t really eat it – not because it wasn’t good, but just because i didn’t know what to do with it. Was I supposed to dip the fries in it? Put it on my steak? It just seemed like they wanted to add a splash of colour, but the flavours didn’t really make sense with the rest of the dish.
Thanks, WB! We hadn’t heard from him in a while. I had a taste of the yucca fries and the mojo sauce was really good.
Overall conclusion with mains: both good. I was pretty happy, but WB expected it to be a little more exciting than pretty straightforward steak and fries. The twist seemed mostly in the menu, not in the taste.
Desserts are something we don’t tend to order. They were kind of an afterthought and honestly we probably would have walked away overall happier with our meal if not for the guava crème brulée. It highlighted for us all the slightly “off” aspects of our meal. Just a slight lack of attention to detail. A slight lack of attention to flavour (why was there just a stick of jicama in our ceviche? why the pico de gallo? could the passionfruit sauce be executed a bit better?).
You may be able to guess by the photo that the top was burnt. The inside was a pudding. Actually, it gelled less than a pudding. When you tasted the inside it was tasty in itself – if it had been marketed as a silky pudding, served in a dish with a dollop of cream. But that is not what it was. Also, where was the guava flavour? I think I could vaguely taste it, but it seemed to mostly mute the creamy, brulee-y flavours and possibly also be responsible for messing up the texture. Anyway, we were unenchanted.
The passionfruit cheesecake was decent. Passionfruit goes well with creamy stuff. But it was unremarkable. It was cheesecake, and you’d have to do something pretty dramatic to make me not like cheesecake.
Then we sat ruminating on the disappointing brulée while our waitress chatted with a colleague at a nearby table instead of getting our bill. The service was fast throughout the night; why she would drop the ball just when we want to go home and we’re contemplating what to tip, I’m not sure.
Overall, we were pretty happy for 30 bucks each. We would maybe recommend the place for a large group of people who want some snacks other than french fries and chicken wings with their drinks, but be prepared to spend some money. Their regular menu is not cheap for what you get. We would have paid $24 and $26 for our mains alone if not for Londonlicious, and they didn’t have any wine for under $8/glass. It just wasn’t that good – or that artful and creative – for me to be willing to spend the money. Though they are entirely different kinds of food and atmosphere, we’d definitely suggest Addis Ababa over CHE.
Coming up next month is Corelicious, an event with the same concept, but focusing on restaurants in the downtown core. CHE will be participating again, but we’ll be trying some other food London has to offer, in hopes that we find some truly great eats in this city. Any recommendations?
CHE Resto Bar website
225 Dundas Street
519-601-7999 | firstname.lastname@example.org