Review: Merchant’s Workshop is the Neighbourhood Restaurant We Need Right Now
It's not an oyster bar anymore.
January 16, 2018
The best neighbourhood restaurants are almost an extension of your own home: welcoming, casual and comfortable—all three a check, check, check for Merchant’s Workshop on Commercial Drive.
Chef/owner Doug Stephen presides with wife and partner Lindsey Mann (and an assist from manager David Back). Stephen’s passion and enthusiasm are effervescent, bubbling over as he chats with his guests about the Coronation raisins he made with Milan Djordjevich’s grapes or the latest Superflux beer release. Originally an oyster bar when it opened in 2012, the restaurant now features a menu that has evolved to include seasonal sharing plates built around locally sourced ingredients. Stephen’s culinary explorations are particularly admirable given that his minuscule kitchen is—without much exaggeration—the size of a postage stamp.
Fall and winter dishes are rich and decadent: there’s chicken liver torchon with Coronation grapes, mustard and pickled shallots atop Matchstick Café’s sourdough, and crispy pork terrine served warm with celery, pear, hazelnuts and red wine vinaigrette. Larger plates include Brant Lake Wagyu steak from Two Rivers Meats and local ling cod brightened with a preserved-lemon-caper-shallot relish.
Drinks here are no mere afterthought: Stephen creates the cocktail list alongside bar manager Conor Roche. Clarity in the Garden will blow your mind—a lower-proof Gin Mare cocktail with clarified tomato-and-cucumber water. Bourbon dominates the spirits list, with about 40 on offer. Regularly rotating beers on tap shift from fresh hops to sours, while canned and bottled offerings showcase local craft breweries such as Twin Sails and Boombox—choice sips for chilling to Merchant’s old-school hip-hop playlist.
1590 Commercial Drive