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Restaurant review: With a few changes, Ledge could be grand

Whether named for its proximity to the Parliament buildings as rumoured or its location on the mezzanine of the Bedford Regency Hotel, the Ledge is a lounge, not a restaurant per se.

Whether named for its proximity to the Parliament buildings as rumoured or its location on the mezzanine of the Bedford Regency Hotel, the Ledge is a lounge, not a restaurant per se.

Is it fair to review a bar for this column? If it offers a comprehensive menu, yes; the line between bar and restaurant has been blurred for many years now. People visit a pub to eat as much as they do for a beer, often spending as much on food as alcohol.

Not long ago, you would be lucky to find that your dining options in most local bars included more than peanuts and hot dogs that were in worse shape than you were. Today, there aren't many bars in town not offering a menu, just as there are restaurants in town with a cocktail list twice the length of the dining menu and a DJ after 8 p.m.

Though Terri, Jay and I arrived at the Ledge separately, we all had same initial reaction to the room. Dominated by a bar and pool table, in daylight hours, it doesn't look finished, or like a place where you could have a three-course meal, though the menu provides for that. Fortunately, the next thing we all saw was owner Terry Jacques, who has a megawatt smile and a manner so pleasant that you might momentarily forget if the place was painted orange and filled with mirrored tables and Perspex chairs.

We had a drink while we chose a few appetizers to share. I chose halibut tacos, thinking if there were four of them they couldn't be very big. I was right about that, but wrong about the taco part, since they were served deconstructed a la fajitas, with goujons of halibut.

Though it was not a problem for us, someone who ordered this expecting something they could simply pick up and eat with their hands would be disappointed, and the portion was a little small for the nearly $14 price tag.

We all loved Jay's choice, sang chow bow, a mix of ground beef, water chestnuts and shitake mushrooms flavoured with hoisin and oyster sauces we stuffed in lettuce leaves with wasabi mayonnaise. Terri's selection, pulled pork sliders with tender meat bathed with smoky chipotle sauce was pretty good, but again, the $9.75 price tag is a little high.

Main courses (average price about $16) also need work. Again, Jay did the best here, choosing a lamb shank that came with some decent mashed potatoes but some terribly made gremolata. Why anyone would make this in a machine when all you have to do is zest a lemon and chop it up with a bit of fresh garlic and flat leaf parsley is beyond me.

My chicken pie had good pastry but was bland. Terri's entrée, rogan josh, is a northern Indian curry made here with beef instead of the traditional lamb. This was stated on the menu, so that was no problem. What took us by surprise was that it arrived mixed with rice, resembling more of a biryani than the dish advertised. There were about three ounces of meat and it was heavily studded with peas, something that had Terri realized beforehand would have necessitated a different choice.

We ended with a superb combination of warm, sticky date pudding cake with caramel sauce and ice cream and freshly made coffee.

I expect letters asking me why I gave a place three stars when I found fault with most of the food. The truth is, despite what we didn't like, we all agreed we would go back. True, things were mostly OK with significant room for improvement, but we all found Jacques to be extraordinarily welcoming and that alone sets the Ledge apart from many other places downtown.

The atmosphere when we visited -- late afternoon/early evening -- was a bit bland as opposed to later on a weekend evening when I stuck my head around the corner, but that's because no one was there on our earlier visit. It's also something Jacques could use to his advantage.

The Ledge is well positioned to grab a piece of the after-work crowd who aren't interested in visiting the two expensive designer pubs that sit on either side of the Bedford Hotel.

New furniture is apparently on the way, but dishes need a lot of work on presentation and if he chops his menu down to a dozen dishes with an emphasis on small plates, he can take advantage of a lower price point.

Let's hope he does so.