Address: 160 Bay St, Ottawa
Hours: 7am – 10pm (Mon-Thu); 7am – 11pm (Fri); 8am – 11pm (Sat); 8am – 10pm (Sun)
I heard from a co-worker who was aware of my #OttawaDonairQuest about the downtown location of OCCO Kitchen having a donair, so I made my way there for a lunch date with my wife to see how it stacked up.
OCCO’s downtown location only opened within the past year and is the hotel restaurant for the Albert at Bay Suite Hotel. The interior is quite spacious, with a trendy industrial vibe to it. Food blogger cynicism aside, it’s a nice change from the many, painfully-bland hotel restaurants I’ve been at. There are other paint colours than beige, Marriott! However, it was a beautiful summer day, so we chose to eat on their even newer patio, which was only set up well into the al fresco dining season.
I had scoped out their menu online before arriving, so I knew that their donair ($19.95, oof) wasn’t as authentic as its “East Coast Donair” moniker would suggest. Lettuce on a donair is a blasphemy that occurs all too frequently outside of Nova Scotia, and OCCO takes it up a notch by having “leaves”. I’m sure it’s a fancy green like arugula or the like, but…no. Just no. Throw in some cheddar and a mix of peppers, and we’re leaving the realm of donair behind for something else.
To be fair to OCCO Kitchen and their chef Mark Steele (who started his career out east), the whole idea of the restaurant and its original, sister location in Orleans, is that of elevated street food. With the likes of Newfoundland cod cakes, several tacos and burgers, and duck confit spring rolls, I actually really dig the menu.
That is, until my donair purist* roots kick in. As such, I nixed all the toppings from the donair that aren’t the meat, sauce, tomatoes and onions. Sorry, leaves. My wife was pulled in by the caloric siren song of the Candied Bacon Burger ($17.95).
After a moderate wait while we took in the sights and sounds of Albert Street (re. busses), we had our plates before us. My donair was served open-faced on its pita, with the slices of donair loaf stylishly criss-crossed with OCCO’s house-made donair sauce. While I had axed the non-traditional toppings, I was disappointed that the amount of tomatoes and red onions weren’t increased at all to compensate. Four halves of heirloom cherry tomatoes look….lonely.
The donair meat had been finished on a grill, leaving nice grill marks and a good level of char taste. I liked the overall flavour profile of the meat, although it was much more subdued than a donair should be. Donairs don’t pull punches on the taste buds, especially my spicy favourite, Tony’s.
The same went for the donair sauce, which I would have liked to be thicker and more generously applied. I enjoyed the warm, pliable pita, which held up well against its fillings.
I had ordered the heirloom salad to go with my donair, and what an impressive compilation of flavours and colours it had! Bubbles of mango juice were explosions of sweetness, and played off the tart radish, salty bocconcini, and swirls of beets. It was an absolutely delicious side, and a wonderful counterpoint to a rich main.
My wife’s burger was also very good. The patty had a spot-on char from the grill, and the cheddar cheese bun was a cool addition. I think the candied bacon part speaks for itself. Their fry game is also very, very strong.
I get what OCCO Kitchen is trying to do with their donair and menu as a whole – bringing a more balanced, chef-ified version of this east coast classic to the nation’s capital. It’s an admirable quest in a city far from the birth ground of the donairs I grew up with, but I’ll be sticking with the other items on their menu.
*I do make exceptions for the fabled “Super donairs” of some areas of Nova Scotia, which add fried pepperoni and cheese to the mix. This exception is only made when thoroughly intoxicated and hungry though.