Dining Out: Café My House thrillingly elevates veganism into the realm of fine dining

When chef Briana Kim competed last fall at Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates event, a somewhat clued-out journalist wrote of her business, Café My House: “the vegan restaurant in Hintonburg isn’t known as a fine-dining eatery.”

That not-in-the-know writer was yours truly, and this review of Café My House is my attempt to set the record straight.

Granted, vegan fine-dining is rare. Kim in an interview this week told me that she thinks she’s the only vegan fine-dining restaurant in Canada.

More importantly, Kim, who won at Gold Medals Plates in November ahead of nine other chefs and represented Ottawa at last month’s Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna, does her singular thing very well. If vegan fine-dining does indeed exist, that’s due to the self-taught Kim’s pioneering and labour-intensive efforts.

For me, the bottom line is that my two recent meals at Café My House — a gorgeous, artful, five-course blind-tasting menu at dinner and a more relaxed but still highly crafted brunch — were delicious and even striking revelations to open one’s eyes and palate. (Let me add here that I’m basically as carnivorous as they come.)

Kim, 34, opened the first Café My House in 2009 on Bank Street near Walkley Road, but about five years ago she relocated to the hipper environs of Wellington Street West and the larger space of what had been the more casual AlphaSoul Cafe. Today, Café My House is a narrow, predominantly green-walled and dimly lit space that seats about 40 at its tables and bar, plus 16 more at its cosy back patio.

Over the years, Kim’s cooking has evolved, she says. The Bank Street My House initially served more conventional food, sometimes drew on Kim’s Korean roots, and even occasionally allowed for ham, eggs, smoked salmon and cheese on its plates. However, after two years at that location, Kim began to offer tasting menus once a month. Since the move to Hintonburg, Kim has dialled up the refinement, complexity and creativity of her now solely plant-based food, and at dinner, tasting menus are the specialty.

My recent dinner began with a sunchoke and watercress soup, poured table-side into a blocky bowl of crunchy sunchoke and salsify chips, pea shoots, sea asparagus and pine nuts, topped with an onion tuile. With its great, clear flavours and aromas and panoply of textures, the dish made a sparkling first impression.

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