Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit the nations capital to visit friends, and take in some of the dining that Ottawa has to offer. I had held high hopes, as I have heard really good things about the culinary scene in Ottawa, and overall, it was quite impressive, particularly, Play in the market, where service and food are top of mind under the watchful eye of Grayson, their amazing Sommelier.
The downfall of the weekend was certainly the Ottawa Marriott and their revolving rooftop restaurant, Merlot. While I understand that most revolving restaurants are tourist traps, offering great panoramic views and not much else, I held out hope that Marriott hotels would seize the opportunity and make this restaurant great. I was wrong.
I would love to highlight the positives of the experience, unfortunately I do not have a single one to reference. Beginning with my initial call from my room to the restaurant to have a menu brought down to me for perusal, and being informed “we cannot do that”. Great start! I made my way to the 29th floor to get a menu, to see an empty restaurant, and not a single server or host in sight. I guess they were expecting a slow night. I eventually received a menu, and decided this must be an anomoly in service, and proceeded to make a reservation.
Once seated, we were presented a wine list, which I was excited to read, as the entire vestibule proudly displays its Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence. Another disappointment. The majority of the list was LCBO general list, which shows how little thought went into its creation, and more than a third of it was out of stock. I decided to support local, as I am want to do, and ordered the Cave Spring Riesling. Upon hearing my order, the server took the menu, flipped through it and said ” Riesling, thats the white wine, correct” I almost fell off my chair. Sitting on the top floor of the Mariott, surrounded by scenic Ottawa, preparing to spend $250 on dinner, looking at wine awards, and there server is not aware that Riesling is a white wine. Not a great start to this portion of the meal. I would have asked for a manager, but none appeared to be working.
Regardless, we placed our order, surely the food would make up for the folleys to date. Wrong again. I ordered the Cioppino Pot, the apparent signature dish. It reads as a Selection of Fresh Seafood, Garden Vegetables and Grilled Chorizo, Spiced Tomato Broth for $12.00 I received it, and it came in a small cup reminiscent of a creme brulee dish. The fresh seafood component were shrimp ( very very baby shrimp, frozen and plentiful) the garden veg was a baby cherry tomato, there was a mussel that was cooked to the shell, clearly under the heat lamp too long, and two thin slices of chorizo. There was nothing Fresh about this dish. As my appetizers were cleared away, the server did his best to let me know he wore deodarant by proceeding to clear and reset my cutlery by reaching across my face. Was I transported to a Lonestar?
My main course arrived, which was the Pork duo. The pork was cooked very well, but again lacked any creativity or wow factor that I would expect from such a restaurant. The potato fondant was nice, but it did not need the braised red cabbage that also accompanied it. Too many flavours on the plate.
The meal mercifully came to an end, and I was forced to reflect on it. It was then that it hit me. Our server never attempted to sell us any dishes, never described a single one as it went down, and seemed to care less that we were there. I began to realize that this restaurant was clearly self run and lost. Why else would there be no manager to finesse the room, explain the wine list, and its many missing bottles, or instill a passion and fierceness in sevice
If the Marriott would ever consider leasing the space, it is a gold mine ready to be harvested. As it stands now, it is a room that lacks soul, passion for service, or any raison d’etre. If you plan on visiting Ottawa, the only Merlot I reccommend you visiting, is one by the glass at another restaurant.