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Voyages: The Press Gang Restaurant & Oyster Bar

Voyages: The Press Gang Restaurant & Oyster Bar

Today’s voyage takes me to The Press Gang Restaurant & Oyster Bar where I’m told that Chef Chris Bolt has some interesting things in store for me. Upon walking in, someone takes my coat while another pours me wine. Jazz standards play softly overhead.

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At first glance, I can tell that this place oozes and drips with age – literally (there’s an entire wall of candlewax). There’s also an old-fashioned wine cellar and a seat for two situated inside of what appears to be an old brick fireplace. Top that off with a grand piano and walls abound with maritime regalia and it’s clear that this place is a little piece of living history.

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But today’s voyage is one that, in a way, says out with the old and in with the new. Chef Chris greets me casually and then wastes no time in getting into his philosophy behind the upcoming winter menu. He’s trying to bring something new to the city that it has never had before: a fusion of worldly flavours executed with French flare while using local ingredients wherever possible.

Our trusty photographer Tibor and I tell him we’re ready, and the onslaught of dishes begins – but first, a Godfather Sour (a simple but elegant mixture of bourbon, Amaretto, brown sugar, egg white, and angostura bitters, garnished with an impressively accurate stenciled portrait of Don Vito himself).

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As I sip on my exceptionally well-crafted cocktail, the Crab Salad Roulade arrives to start me off. It looks very much like a sushi roll but instead of seaweed, it is wrapped in cucumber and that is about the extent of the similarities. The cucumber is marinated in sesame seed oil and salt, and comes garnished with black, red, and orange tobiko (otherwise known as flying fish roe). Stuffed inside this wondrous creation of tubular beauty is the crab, done with lemon aioli, miso mushroom emulsion, and cracked black pepper, but what really makes this dish so interesting is the different tastes you get with the varying colours of the caviar, and even more so when you combine two or even three colours at once. While the tender crabmeat is the prevailing flavour, the thin cucumber adds a welcome fresh crunchiness – a new texture to balance out the silky mouthfeel of the crab.

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Next up is the deconstructed ‘Henry’ Caesar Salad. Every component you would see in a regular Caesar is present, except the details make it something different entirely. The romaine lettuce is grilled and the bacon ‘lardons’ are of a higher quality with strong notes of sweet and salty pork fat under a blanket of subtle smokiness. Add in the restaurant’s signature caper aioli and a spicy dressing and you can see why there’s nothing normal about this salad (the “deconstructed” label was a dead giveaway too).

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Just when I thought I’d seen it all, the sight of the Charcuterie Board quickly changes my mind. To my delight, I find out that Chef Chris makes much of the cured meats in house. The board features house-cured lamb leg prosciutto, venison, short rib, and PEI Blue Dot beef tenderloin, as well as duck prosciutto and pancetta from Ratinaud. There’s a dense jungle of flavour on this board, and it looks like one too. There’s salty, sweet, smoky, and umami – and it’s pretty much like nothing else I have ever tasted before.

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Before we can even finish the cheese board, the Whole Side of Sea Bass ‘From The Sea’ section of their menu lands on our table. One perfectly delicate piece of fresh striped sea bass comes stuffed with River View Herbs, fingerling potatoes, seasonal vegetables, lemon and dill compote butter, and a rich black curry quinoa. The dish is playfully light on the palate and just melts in your mouth while the asparagus lights everything up with a contrasting zing. With the exception of the slightly crunchy exterior, the knife glides through the fish with ease.

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Again, before I can let my stomach catch up, the Moroccan Beef Kebab hits the table (Chris is on a roll, I wasn’t expecting this much variety today). Medium (otherwise known as double onion) curry couscous, raita, and chermoula form the bed upon which the kebabs rest. The couscous emanates a medley of fragrant spices and when eaten with the kebab, makes for an interesting fusion of textures and tastes. This Middle Eastern flavour is not one that I was expecting today but it certainly plays well with the other dishes I’ve tried.

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It’s at this point in the meal that Chef Chris takes a step back and allows us to absorb everything that has just happened. After a brief pause, the Orange Custard Tart arrives to announce our final hurrah, dessert. There are no twists to this dish, just pure unadulterated sweet sweet goodness. French buttercream and orange custard sit inside of an anchor made from flaky piecrust and are topped with a crispy tuile, chocolate shavings, and slices of dehydrated lemon for garnish. Is your mouth watering yet? “Just like grandma makes,” Chris chimes in. After so many twists and turns throughout the menu today, I’m glad that the finale doesn’t have any tricks up its sleeve, and I find it an amazing way to end off an even better meal.

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As I put on my coat and take a step into the cool winter air outside, I realize that Chris has succeeded in his mission – he has brought my taste buds to a place where no one else has before, and for that I commend him. Whether you consider yourself to be the crème de la crème of discerning foodies or simply a person who loves to eat delicious food, The Press Gang is a place you can leave feeling like you have experienced something unique. I know I did.

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