London Community News
By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News/Twitter: @MalloryClarkson
Imagine sitting down in a warm and almost rustic, lounge-style restaurant with a napkin folded across your lap. Your server brings out Tuna Poke Nachos — an Asian fusion appetizer featuring light deep fried won tons, covered with a tuna sashimi mix, spicy mango coulis and crushed macadamia nuts.
Once you finish that, perhaps washing it down with a pint of Muskoka Brewery’s Albino Rhino lager or a cocktail made with fresh fruit and herbs, a mouth watering Bronx Burger, made with a certified Angus beef patty, topped with three, beer-battered onion rings, red pepper relish, with roasted garlic aioli, all sandwiched between a freshly baked bun, is placed in front of you.
If you’re not fully satisfied after mowing through the appetizer and entrée, the meal could be followed by a rich, moist chocolate cake, sweetened with dates, covered in toffee and chocolate sauces and served with vanilla bean gelato — a dish called Chocolate Sticky Toffee Pudding — for dessert.
Is your mouth watering yet?
If you just dabbed traces of drool from your chin, you might want to try London’s newest eatery, as all three of those items can be found on the menu at Earls Kitchen and Bar.
After prepping for nearly three months, the restaurant’s manager, Justin Heyninck, said he is anxiously awaiting the official opening on April 18. As for what first-time Earls patrons can expect, he challenged London residents to come and check out the eatery themselves.
“The biggest thing that people are going to expect and what I hope they see out of our concept is the difference in our food and drink program,” Heyninck said. “One of the core beliefs of Earls is that the kitchen is the soul of the restaurant and that’s something we’ve been passionate about for years.”
Not only are the aromatic sauces and flavourful salad dressings made from scratch, but the Italian ciabatta and focaccia breads are kneaded and tossed into the ovens daily by Earls’ in-house bakers.
Heyninck said the restaurant’s dedication to “freshness” doesn’t end there.
“When we first moved into the Ontario market, our No. 1 goal was to set up a mirror of the program we have out west with locally sourced organic produce,” he said, adding chicken and beef are also shipped in from local suppliers three times a week and salmon is shipped in from Western Canada two times a week.
To keep the 7,211-sq.-ft. establishment (located at 1092 Wellington Rd. S.) running, around 190 people — 80 full-time and 110 part-time — will be employed to serve a maximum of nearly 180 patrons inside the restaurant and another 100 on its patio.
But rather than considering the workers as staff or employees, the restaurant’s head chef, Richard Baksh, said they’re considered partners.
“We think of them as business partners,” he said, adding that title is given to empower them to run part of the venture. “If they don’t come in and own their part of the business every single day, we can’t produce a great product at the end of the day.”
Those products, Baksh said, showcase fresh ingredients used in the kitchen’s “soul program.”
“When you go to your grandmother’s or mom’s house, the kitchen is where you’ll usually find them — that’s the soul point of the home,” he said. “So, we make the kitchen the soul point of our restaurant.”
But, it’s not just home-cooked meals that are plated and served to patrons. The chefs’ versatility is shown through a featured global skillet, Baksh said. He pointed to the Jeera Chicken Curry dish as an example.
“We actually bring in spices from India once a month … in order to produce the traditional flavour of this Indian authentic curry,” he said, noting freshly baked naan bread and fragrant jasmine rice accompany this dish.
Whether it be Asian fusion or Mediterranean dishes, Baksh said the global skillet can be seen in many of the available dishes.
While products from the kitchen are held at a high standard, Heyninck stressed that quality isn’t reflected in menu items’ price points.
“Value has always been at the core of what makes Earls great,” he said. “We’re in the price point of a lot of the other casual chain restaurants you’ll see around.”
On average, appetizer prices are in the ballpark of $10-$11 each, whereas entrees can range from as little as $13 to $33. Most desserts are kept to $8 a serving.
The dishes aren’t only made and priced to keep patrons coming back for more, but also to challenge the Red Seal certified chefs, Heyninck said, adding every chef has garnered the internationally recognized designation.
He stressed before any dish is put on the menu, the restaurant tries to determine whether it’s actually going to be a fun, challenging dish to make.
Earls’ menu is overhauled four times a year with the seasons — offering a lighter fare or heartier meals depending on the weather, as well as serving out in-season vegetables. Smaller menu variations are also seen every other month or so.
While most restaurants make a seasonal transition between entrees and appetizers to better suit the weather, Baksh said Earls beats the trend.
“In terms of the trend and what the competitors do versus us, everyone can change their menu, but can they do it to the level of freshness that we deliver here at Earls.”
If the kitchen is considered the soul of the restaurant, Baksh said the bar is the spirit. He added people can expect the same kind of freshness found in the food menu.
“The trend, I would say, is a lot of fresher ingredients used in drinks, whether it be we’re using fresh basil and herbs in a lot of our cocktails, a lot of fresh fruits and purees,” he said. “We have our bartenders make our simple syrups … every single day to produce these great cocktails.”
For more information on Earls or to see their menu, visit www.earls.ca.