A few nights ago Mr and I eagerly rushed through a well-appointed lobby, across gleaming floors and into a quiet refuge at the end of a hallway that buzzed with a muted frenzy. We were on our way to meet a couple that is passionate about local food and supporting the myriad of farmers across this province. Tim had invited Mr and I to join him and his lovely wife Joy as guests at the newly reopened and astonishingly revamped elements on hollis. The restaurant, under the leadership of Chef Raj Gupta sources all ingredients from sources that are within a 50 mile radius, that is around 80 km. I am so pleased that I had the opportunity to visit elements, we are fortunate enough to have a number of primary (and secondary) producers in this province and it is definitely to be celebrated when a restaurant makes the commitment to using local.
That atmosphere of elements on hollis is, in the words of one certain Bubs, “it el’gant, mommy”, yet it is relaxing and inviting. The lighting is perfect for amicable dinner conversation, not so much for the photography but that’s not really the point (for other people). Our server Sophie was attentive, sweet and didn’t mind me taking a few shots of her freeing the steaming rosemary brioche from the can. Yes. A can. The inspiration is a little unclear to me but I like the quirky randomness of it and the brioche itself was lovely. Golden and very tender in the centre it soaked up butter like a proper piece of warm bread and the sprig of rosemary, left whole and in the centre, infused the entire thing with a slight woody flavour. That earthiness would continue throughout my meal as Mr and I shared the charcuterie board and then my entree of Oulton’s rabbit and gnocchi.
The charcuterie board. This is not just a block of wood with meats randomly splayed on its surface. The wooden slats themselves are a lined masterpiece of golden and deep red woods, fashioned by Andrew London and together, they function as the perfect backdrop for locally cured meats from Rose Lane farm and a flower of smoked salmon. There were a few additions to the board that while tasty and lovely accompaniments, certainly point towards the restaurant’s commitment to the philosophy of supporting our local economy. It would no doubt be more cost effective for the kitchen to bring in locally sourced cucumbers and beans to preserve and pickle. Instead, Chef Raj is taking the challenge of sourcing locally to the next level and buying from what is known as a secondary producer. This decision, this seeming innocuous decision, is profound in that it causes us to stop and think about how we source our own food at home. It’s all well and good to use ground beef from Little Dorset Farm (our source for meat), but if you slather it in No Name relish that is made in Mexico, you defeate the purpose, yes?
Rose Lane produces spectacular cured meats. I was already eyeing up the contents of the board as Sophie passed Tim and Joy theirs, the meats appeared dry but they were anything but. Halfway through dinner I turned to the couple and said, “You know the best part of eating local meat? Being able to eat the fat and not worry about hormones or funky stuff”. This is precisely why the burgundy disks with the dried edges were so tender and melted against my tongue, that delicious fat content. I do like a little cheese on the board to buoy the meat with creaminess, but quite honestly, the dilly beans and sweet relish did that instead. The beans in particular added a welcome bite to the appetizer.
I am always curious about eating game and when I saw the rabbit gnocchi on the menu, I knew what I was having for dinner. The gnocchi was crisp on the outside thanks to a perfect sear and the centre was creamy. The entire dish was technically perfect, the rabbit was moist and full of rabbity-y flavour thanks to the jus and expert cooking. I would have liked more of depth of flavour from the dish, the sage and rabbit jus complimented each other quite well but it did seem like the kitchen was a bit shy in ramping up the flavour of what looks to be a gorgeous dish.
The dessert menu at elements on hollis is playful, notably the milk and cookies with the 4% milk coming from Fox Hill. Despite my affinity for chocolate, I love creme brulee. It is highly satisfying to crack the burnt sugar top and whomever is in charge of creme brulee at elements, wields their sugar and fire with a practiced hand. Beneath the disk of cracked sugar I found a very creamy custard dotted with plump blueberries. The serving is surprisingly large but the flavour is not in any way diminished. Mr. partook of the chevre-cake, an intrestesting take on traditional cheesecake. The chevre was creamy and the swirls of caramel very welcoming. Part of the allure of chevre is that it does have a particular tang and creaminess and this version definitely fell on the sweeter side of the line.
The meal was fabulous in that we were well tended by Sophie and it is very obvious that elements on hollis brings a very skilled and attentive kitchen. Technically the food presented to us was perfect, but it was a safe meal. Delicious and a lot more than just satisfying, but it was still safe.
I think it is important to note the wine. The wine list is fantastic and a major focus of it has been that local wines are sold at (wholesale) cost plus $5. It immediately directs the customer’s attention to local wines like the spectacular Nova 7 by Benjamin Bridge or the award-winning Domaine de Grand Pré selections. It is my opinion that in the same moment that the menu deftly directs the customer’s attention to the local wineries (which the menu encourages us to support), it is also sending another message: Nova Scotia wine is cheap and that’s why you should buy it. This dichotomy is cheapening Nova Scotia wine when our wineries are some of the most prized in this country and outside its borders. If we want to talk value, I think it’s important to understand that value is not just about the digits attached: It is also about an intrinsic value of the thing, Nova Scotia wine is valuable because it is damn fine wine. elements on hollis makes its lovely home in the Westin hotel, it has a built in clientele of travellers and the “our cost plus $5” campaign is (again, this is my opinion) devaluing Nova Scotia wine to anyone outside of this province who may be visiting. Should the servers not be recommending the wines based on their merit and not on their cheap dollar figure? This is even more apparent when you turn the page in the neatly arranged leather bound book to find the “serious wine list” of international wines, all priced at the expected restaurant prices. I dare say it is Wal-marting our local wine industry, this in spite of the restaurant’s admirable attempt to fully take part in and celebrate our local economy.
I had a lovely time at elements. It was a delight to finally meet Tim after so many Twitter exchanges and very kind of him to invite Mr and I. Chef Raj has successfully created a welcoming dining table away from home. I have a few philosophical quibbles but that needn’t detract from the beautiful experience of the night.