As the weather shifts into winter coldness, before the holiday decorations start to pop up around the city, we have the gift of being welcomed in by one of Dartmouth’s newest gems: The Watch That Ends the Night. The restaurant stands on the base floor of a luxury condo at King’s Wharf, which only adds to the feel of a classic 50’s hotel bar.
We reach the entrance and are greeted by owner Joe Gurba, who walks us over to a coat hook at the far end of the restaurant. Here there are cozy couches aside a wall of windows; a perfect place to sit with a drink and a good book. We hang our coats and choose to sit at the bar so we can chat with the bartender as he throws our cocktails together.
Starting off with a classic, we are made an Old Fashioned; only rather than being made with whiskey, it is put together with Plantation Original Dark rum – a Jamaican and Trinidadian blend. Within the glass sits a completely transparent cube of ice; a seemingly simple yet noticeable quality that’s representative of the preparation and attention to detail each drink made at the bar takes. Joe tells us “Many of our drinks require a massive amount of prep and time to create the raw materials. We also put a large focus on using the best possible ice to amplify the drink’s delivery, consistency, mouthfeel, and flavour” which is certainly the case with this classic drink.
Joe tells us he remembers the day he and his wife Bethany came up with the defining ideas behind their restaurant. “It was born on a drive home to Dartmouth from the Valley on December 5th. I remember that conversation and initial excitement fondly. Eleven months later we opened our doors. From that first winter night the idea of The Watch That Ends the Night was to uncover and develop Canadian cuisine by focusing on preservation.” Contrary to what is typically thought of when referring to Canadian-themed cuisine (maple syrup, poutine, and back bacon), Joe tells us that The Watch That Ends the Night aims to showcase an “elevated terroir cuisine and allowing the space to blossom with more subtle references to the nascent culture of Canada.”
As we sip our Old Fashioned, we are brought out the first of two cold plates: the Shrimp Cocktail. I quickly grab hold of the menu before the dish is placed in front of us to read its description; finding the ingredients to be that of a classic shrimp cocktail. As the shrimp arrive in a martini glass, I can’t help but smile at this tongue-in-cheek re-imagining of a classic 50’s dish.
Our second dish, Albacore Tuna, consists of seaweed-cured tuna put together with scallion, frisee, and turnip. Light and multi-textured, the ingredients deliver an interesting contrast to one another depending on what you scoop up with each forkful – a crunch, or a smooth bite of tuna, which delicately falls apart when you bite into it.
Returning to the idea of Canadian cuisine focused on preservation, Joe tells us how one chef kept coming to mind – Mark Gray. “We kept saying that we need to find someone like Mark Gray to head our kitchen. It just so happens that Mark Gray became free during our search. We met with him and he took the mantle less than 12 hours later. We were over the moon.” Alongside Gray’s notable experience and finesse, The Watch That Ends the Night aims to reinvent old recipes by using odd ingredients and inventive new techniques.
As we finish our cold plates, our second cocktail arrives. By the looks of the Sage Advice, you would think the cocktail would be citrusy, but don’t be fooled, the combination of horseradish brine and Scrappy’s Firewater bitters make the cocktail spicy. Though the drink is initially easy on the palate, you feel a growing heat coat the tip of your tongue – an unconventional sensation that quickly makes you take another sip.
As we empty our glasses, we are brought out a board filled with meats, fish, veggies and cheeses. Our assortment is put together on a large board, mixed & matched with 10 different items. The arrangement looks beyond appetizing. We stare as we are guided through the items. Duck Prosciutto, Pancetta, Rainbow Trout Tartare, Roma Cheese, and French onion dip are just a few. As we dip, spread, and pick away at the platter’s contents, the final cocktail of the night arrives at our table.
The Upside Down is the sweetest of the three, however; while the Prickly Pear Brandy brings a floral and fruity taste, the lime and orange bitters balance the drink out, ensuring it is not overly sugary.
The cocktail list at The Watch is constantly changing with a menu that seeks to incorporate the unconventional, both in flavourings and spirits. Joe tells us “It can be difficult to resist putting on recipes that include some gin and some nice fruits and herbs […] knowing that you will sell a boatload of them while instead focusing on recipes that contain difficult and exciting spirits that the majority of our guests will not recognize. Combining the spirits with wild foraged plants from nearby or ingredients from cuisines far flung from the average North American bar’s repertoire, but such is our ambition”—though this is not to say you can’t ask for your favourite cocktail or simply a classic.
The restaurant is named after Hugh MacLennan’s 1958 novel “The Watch That Ends the Night,” a book whose setting and story attempts to capture the spirit of Canada. Joe says “The aesthetic direction was largely inspired by mid-century hotel bars and living rooms in addition to a general overarching reference to the woodcut paperback covers of literature published in the 50s and 60s.”
The aim in this aesthetic is to create a place where old friends can meet, or where you can make new ones. “A place where you could read, engage in thought, or get excited about great food and drink […] to bridge the delightful tension between the sublimity of our harbour view and the intimacy of a small and cozy restaurant.”
Aside from the environment, we of course talk food. We are told that everything in house that could be sourced from Canada is, though The Watch does not always place local over quality. But for the most part, things are sourced from nearby, like sturgeon caviar from the St. John river, arctic char from off the coast of Newfoundland, and bone marrow from cows pastured in Canning.
Taking a moment to pause from our conversation, we are brought out a Sweet Potato and Butternut Squash Risotto. Topped with aged Asiago cheese and toasted hazelnuts, the dish is gone as quick as it arrived; each forkful of Risotto as indulgently delicious as the last.
After finishing our Risotto, we sit and talk with the staff of The Watch, our conversation jumping from food, literature, and travel— we stay chatting for so long we feel like old friends rather than customers losing track of time. Going back to the name of this place, we can’t help but agree with Joe’s statement that “The meaning to be gleaned from the title is that time has a way of dissolving. It is subjectively experienced, and we hope to achieve that same dissolve in that perfect bite, perfect sip, lingering conversation; that eureka moment. As MacLennan writes in the eponymous novel, ‘Happiness annihilates time.’”