TWH SOCIAL: UNDERGROUND DIGS FOR UPSCALE COMFORT FOOD
BY CHRIS TIESSEN
‘If I didn’t know better, I’d say this amazing place has a bit of a speakeasy-type vibe going on,’ TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis whispersas we tuck into our booth for lunch. I nod affirmatively – even though I’ve never actually seen a speakeasy. But I’ve heard enough to have a pretty good idea of what Cai is alluding to.
I look around. TWH Social in downtown Kitchener. For sure – posh as it is – this grand old landmark definitely could be said to evoke a certain cloak-and-dagger feel. Like some upscale gambling den. Or exclusive prohibition clubhouse. The underground location beneath the shops that line Kitchener’s downtown core. The exposed brick walls and backlit arched ‘window boxes’ that make up an evocative chiaroscuro. My mind begins to wander. I picture Al Capone lounging in one of the padded leather booths.
Or John Dillinger coming out of the bathroom.
‘You’re not too far off the mark about the feel of the place,’ says TWH General Manager Nathaniel Beattie, who strolls over to our booth to welcome us. ‘In fact, they used to film Murdoch Mysteries here. And the old vaults are still in use – now, albeit, as beer fridge and wine cellar.’ Very cool.
The restaurant, more than an occasional set for noir-ish worlds, plays double duty as both a stand-alone bistro and the restaurant of downtown’s storied Walper Hotel, which has, over the years, been host to all sorts of characters – including prime ministers, governors general and tech nobility, along with any number of notables and local folk.
We look around as we get comfortable in our booth to see if we recognize anyone here today. Craig Beattie, whose Perimeter Developments have been instrumental in resurrecting the downtown core one project at a time, is seated a couple booths over. Entrenched in his meal and his laptop. A couple tables past him I think I recognizea familiar face from City Hall, deep in conversation. After a few more seconds perusing the space, my attention shifts to Nathaniel, who stands ready to tell us about the tap list. ‘We actually have twenty taps,’ he notes, ‘all featuring brews from Ontario. As well as a bottle program for some harder-to- get brews.’ I give the bottle list a once-over: Burdock’s Ton Ton Saison and Beau’s Tom Green’s Cherry Milk Stout instantly catch my eye. But I select an Amsterdam Space Invader IPA – big, bold, juicy. Perfect. Cai settles on sparkling water. She’s driving.
It’s not long before our drinks arrive, and Nathaniel informs us that the restaurant’s co-chefs – Grant Holdbrook (formerly of Langdon Hall) and Carlo Atienza (a former engineer and self-taught cook) – have decided to prepare a few dishes for us. ‘To give you a taste of what we have to offer,’ remarks Nathaniel, ‘including a couple items you might have never tried before.’ Sounds good. While we wait for the first dishes to come out of the kitchen, I ask Nathaniel about the particular character of the restaurant – where he sees it fitting in Kitchener-Waterloo’s burgeoning culinary scene. He is quick to answer. ‘We’re a unique beast,’ he begins, ‘because we cater to everyone from out-of-town hotel guests to local residents. Our menu certainly reflects this. We offer everything from steak and eggs and huevos benedictinos for brunch to Korean steak sandwiches and house made korma for lunch to chicken confit and poached cod for dinner. In other words, we run the gamut of flavours and styles. But we attend seriously to each one.’
Nathaniel continues: ‘Our mission is to create a diverse number of dishes using the highest quality ingredients – collaborating with as many local producers as possible.’
Like Golden Hearth Bakery, for instance. And Goodvibes Kombucha. ‘Our partnership with Goodvibes is pretty awesome,’ Nathaniel tells us. ‘We’ve come up with an entire cocktail menu using their kombucha – including amazing concoctions like our ‘Orchard Bellini’ for example, with Pama Liqueur, peach & mint kombucha, Prosecco and apple spice. Or the ‘Tom Sour’ with Dillon’s dry gin [so good], sour cherry kombucha, lemon and simple syrup.’ I’m keen to try some of these next time we stop by.
Nathaniel goes on: ‘You might say we strive to do elevated comfort food – with a twist.’ As he finishes this statement, our appetizers arrive. They immediately impress, as Cai and I learn soon enough that their flamboyance is matched by their extraordinary flavor. Lamb tartare with spiced carrot purée and grilled sourdough. Pan-seared scallops with cauliflower cream, bacon lardon, brioche croutons and pickled onion. And bone marrow with honey pickled mushrooms, cipollini agrodolce and grilled sourdough.
‘Bone marrow!’ My discernible level of marvel and excitement has nearby diners turning their heads. I explain to Cai: ‘I’ve wanted to try it since watching Jesse Koide and his culinary crew slurp vodka straight from the bone on Munchies’ ‘Chef’s Night Out.’’ With a little guidance from Nathaniel, I’m soon scooping the luscious rich marrow out onto its accompanying Golden Hearth sourdough. And enjoying every morsel. The tartare is also phenomenal – as are the scallops. Score one (or three, for that matter) for these exquisite dishes. Elevated comfort food with a twist, indeed.
As we put away the last remnants of our appetizers, Chef Grant emerges from the kitchen with the main we’ve decided to split: duck breast with brioche bread pudding, honey and thyme roasted sunchoke, swiss chard and juniper jus. The presentationalone has me excited. The taste – even more. ‘You’ve got yourself quite an amazing place here,’ I remark to Nathaniel as I load my fork with some of the bread pudding along with some jus-infused duck. And, so delighted and content in these extraordinary suroundings, I think to myself: if this is what a real speakeasy would have been way back when, then I’m living in the wrong century. But I’m thankful that TWH exists in this one.
TWH Social Bar | Bistro
1 King St W, Kitchener