Neighbourhood: St. James
Address: 2615 Portage Avenue
Phone: (204) 663-3907
(Editor’s Note – This business is no longer open.)
The smell of malt vinegar hangs in the air, just like you would find at a fish ‘n’ chippery overseas, at Brit Cafe. This jolly good eatery in St. James is Canada’s “Best British Restaurant” according to an online contest held by British newspaper the Daily Telegraph this year.
It’s clear why this inviting, homespun cafe—with its striped blue curtains, bright sunroom and ode-to-UK knick knacks—”took home” the impressive title. Whether diving into an enormous plate of perfectly battered fish and chips or relishing a freshly baked house-made pudding, diners can expect authentic, hearty gastropub fare that comforts. Brit Cafe doesn’t pretend to be anything fancy; in fact, it’s diner atmosphere keeps it casual.
British cuisine is teasingly poked at for its brown, savoury dishes lathered in gravy. The cafe stays true to that impression with many of its offerings, including the iconic Toad in the Hole. Two thick, juicy sausages (or “bangers” if you’re sticking to Brit lingo) are baked into puffy, crater-like Yorkshire pudding. Rich, but not overly thick, onion gravy is poured in the centre, offering salty, mouth-watering results.
Cottage pie (shepherd’s pie is made with lamb) immediately warms the soul. Served piping hot, each cut into the top layer of fluffy mashed potatoes releases columns of steam. This crustless comfort food mixes bits of pepper-crusted ground beef, peas and carrots accentuated with silky gravy.
Also riding the gravy train, the London Broil takes roast beef, typically offered as part of a Sunday roast, and turns it into a messy open-faced gravy sandwich. Layers of thin, shaved meat are placed atop a bed of sautéed button mushrooms, melted Swiss cheese and zingy horseradish mayonnaise. Crusty, toasted white bread forms the base, while sautéed onions and peppers on top add vibrancy to the supple beef.
For a stripped down sandwich, order the chip butty—a comfort food staple in greasy spoons and pubs in England. In Canadian terms, it’s a French fry sandwich. At Brit Cafe, crispy, medium-thick fries overflow out of a lightly toasted Kaiser bun like strands of golden hay. Glob on a spot of HP sauce (yes, the tangy brown malt vinegar-based condiment) for kick.
Those same chips are a perfect pairing for a Brit classic: deep-fried fish. Here, the batter is slightly oily, crusty, yet flaky, and it crackles wonderfully under the fork. The golden coating has a desired amount of thickness around soft, white haddock fillets. Make sure to sprinkle on malt vinegar for a bonafide chip shop flavour. The smooth texture of mushy peas on the side offers pleasing contrast.
Dessert options change daily and are carefully hand-written in coloured chalk on a blackboard that hangs next to a large map of the UK. Customers hailing from the area are encouraged to sign the guest book and place a pin on their hometown. Indulge in the toffee pudding if you spot it on the chalk board. The moist date cake releases a tidal wave of toffee sweetness in each mouthful, making this warm dessert a sticky, finger-licking treat. Brit Cafe is open Tue-Thu 11 am-8 pm; Fri-Sat 11 am-9 pm.