I am not even going to bother writing a funny, witty, well thought out, intro because a majority of you will just skip it anyways. Lets face it - we all want to know what the food's all about at 28 Lister. What could a $138.99 steak taste like?! I want you to know I am fully capable of wit & and this intro would have been badass wicked if you just had the patience to let me write it. Lets get on with it..
The decor on the inside is quite nice, this art piece was my favourite and I loved the upholstered booths. Most of the space really is beautiful - besides the fact there isn't a bathroom in the restaurant. That's right, if you need to tinkle you have to use the public one located within Lister Block. Yep, get your eyes ready girl, cause they are going to roll.
My new friend Adam ordered the Bloody Mary ($9.99) - I didn't have a sip of this because I'm more of a Clamato type of girl, but Dave & Avi seemed to enjoy this one and for 2oz at ten bucks, that's a winner, winner, chicken dinner.
In case you weren't aware of the hype and controversy surrounding 28 Lister - their high end prices and crazy antics from the owner have given the Hamilton gourmand community a lot to talk about. There were whispers of the prices being on the same playing field as Jacobs & Mortons. Personally my jaw dropped when I saw $36 for 9oz of duck. That duck better be laying golden eggs for $36. Am I referencing the right fairytale? Was it a duck or a goose? #immigrantproblems
To ensure we all still had our rent money at the end of the day, we decided to order a few dishes to share from the "28 Lister Chophouse Grill" menu and our mains from the rotating lunch menu. Both Avi and I found it disappointing that they don't offer lunch portions of their steaks. Cause who wants a 12oz steak for lunch? ...Put your hand down Justin
Avi ordered the Daily Soup - Creme of Mushroom ($7.99) and the three of us split the Large Caesar Salad ($13.99). I found the mushroom soup to be very basic. There were chunks of mushroom littered throughout, which I enjoyed but besides that it was a standard cream of soup. Cream of Mushroom is just one of those dishes I would never order at a restaurant - despite my love for fungi. Avi enjoyed it and had no qualms to share.
The Caesar salad on the other hand was enjoyed by all of us. The fried capers were a nice touch, and this coming from someone who doesn't even like walking by capers in the grocery store. I despise them, but fried, they were pretty damn tasty. We asked our salad to be spiked with wasabi and fresh anchovy. Unfortunately both ingredients were barely noticeable. I was expecting nice little salty morsels of anchovy but, we found none. We thought we might have tasted the zing of wasabi but none of us were too sure. It's a shame, the salad definitely needed a kick. We all agreed more garlic please. It was evenly dressed though, and the romaine was fresh and bouncy when it arrived. I hate an overly soaked salad.
Dave ordered the Bacon & Tomato Poutine ($18.99) - double smoked bacon, Quebec cheese curds, demi glace and fresh tomatoes on russet potato fries.
Are you fricken kidding me?
For a tomato poutine?
Okay, I'm done freaking out. Are you? Do you need a moment?
Did this bacon come from Ms. Piggy herself? - Okay, now I'm really done </rant>
There were a few lashings of tomatoes and bacon and a few curds here and there but mainly just a pile of french fries. The fries were actually pretty decent. I'm personally not a fan of hand cut fries and these definitely came shipped in a plastic bag pre-cut. But for a few spoonfuls of bacon and some factory fries - this was a complete rip off.
Avi had the Mussels ($12.99) This, on the other hand, was like a fresh ray of sunshine after a crap tonne of rain on the one day you forgot to bring an umbrella. Do you feel me? It's rare to find mussels made with a tomato broth these day, which is a shame cause it's so refreshing and full of flavour. The broth was seasoned well and there was an abundance of mussels. It was easily the best dish ordered the entire meal. The price point wasn't too shabby either.
We also decided to order a few sides to share : Risotto with Pecorino cheese ($6.99) as well as Apricot & Honey glazed heirloom beets ($6.99)
I hate to say it but the risotto was absolutely atrocious. I rarely use that word to describe food because it's so disrespectful to the individual who made it but this risotto really had no hope. First off, the bowl it was served in is a huge risotto no-no. Everyone knows it should be served in a flat round plate so you can eat from the outside in to maintain a consistent temperature. Risotto should be warm, rich & comforting.
This was just mushy rice piled in a bowl. Avi and I agreed it tasted like rice pilaf with melted cheese. The beets were pretty awful as well. They could have been cut into more smaller edible pieces. There was also absolutely no apricot or honey flavour to be found and they were completely underdone.
I didn't exactly feel like the 20oz Porterhouse for lunch so I settled for the Open Faced Steak Sandwich($22.99) - seasonal mushrooms and sharp cheddar served with fries.
For a steakhouse, I expected this dish to be the pièce de résistance. Sadly, it did not meet my expectations. I know I ordered the "lunch steak" but that shouldn't change the quality of the product. It's the same cook, the same equipment, the same seasonings and it should be the same farm they're getting their "dinner" steaks from.
It was barely a 4oz steak and although the grill marks make it look promising, it was grey and completely flavourless. The menu claims their steaks are "the top 1% of Canada AAA US Prime Beef" This tasted like it came frozen out of a box from Walmart. I asked for it to be cooked medium rare and from the picture below, it was more medium well. As a steakhouse, every steak that comes out of that kitchen whether it's a Tomahawk or a little guy like mine, better be mother fricken awesome. This wasn't. <insert displeased eye roll emoji here>
The mushrooms were fresh, plump and incredibly juicy, but they were just soaking in an absurdly acidic balsamic vinegar that just overpowered any woody, earthy, flavour these beautiful mushrooms were suppose to have. To have such a simple dish executed so poorly is disheartening.
The service overall was pretty decent. She needed a little more finesse but her general personality was warm. We were the only guest in the entire restaurant during our meal so it was slightly uncomfortable having our server, the host, a junior server all waiting on us.When a restaurant is dead you probably assume that service would be stellar but everyone who has ever been a server knows it's the complete opposite. Service usually tanks.
Add two cups of coffee, a bottle of sparkling water, tax & tip and our lunch bill was a little over $150 for three people. Give me a quarter of that and I could have bought us some bomb ass empanadas from Culantro's down the street - and still have money left over for sweets at Made for you by Madeline - also down the street. It's a shame. I had high hopes for this place. Afterwards I drove down the street for a $2.50 banh mi sandwich that hit spots this steak couldn't reach with a ten foot pole.
Would I go back to 28 Lister? No. Never. It's too much of a hot mess. First off, the menu, what is pork chops & mango bbq sauce doing on there? How about sourcing some local Ontario produce? And coconut shrimp should never be on a menu where they use cloth napkins. All that sh#$ comes frozen from a box. The menu was a horrible mash up of gastro pub favourites and hoity-toity country club specials.
Secondly, for a restaurant that has the audacity to charge $139 for a steak, they should have the professionalism to spell check the menu before it goes to the printer. [I'll give you a moment to scroll up to see if you can spot the mistake(s)]. It's little things like misspellings, no bathrooms, having to ask for cutlery, & gunk in your coffee cup that don't add up to the high price points. If this meal was served to me at a dive bar I would be mildly impressed. But at a fine dining, white table cloth establishment? It was unacceptable.
The most appropriate way to describe the entire dining experience would be Meh. This is the best situation to use Meh. This meal was Meh. I will forget it the second my body digests it.
When I go to a fine dining restaurant I expect to be spoiled rotten. I don't expect my dishes to come to the table lukewarm (risotto, beets, fries, soup) my coffee cup to be stained or have to ask for cutlery. These are all things you brush off if you're at your local diner not a high end restaurant. My word of advice -get rid of the doorman and invest those labour dollars into training the cooks and waitstaff. Hamilton has a plethora of phenomenal restaurants offering outstanding food and top notch service - so save your dollars for another well deserving restaurant.
28 James Street North
Side Note: I was assigned to write about 28 Lister back in February for the winter issue of Hamilton Magazine, so you can say I've been following their story very closely. Set to open in March there were numerous set backs from the beginning. 28 Lister has been plagued with more than its fair share of bad luck - from the nasty article in the Spec, to the death of the Executive Chef. I have hemmed and hawed about reviewing the restaurant since opening day. You see, I was invited to the soft opening a day before it was to open publicly. That unfortunately got cancelled but the owner offered to reschedule my reservation to the next day. My jaw dropped when I arrived at the host stand the following day to have there lovely hostess tell me they were not yet scheduled to be open. How odd, since the owner himself made my reservation - and where was he during this awkward moment - out to lunch the hostess said. No email or telephone call was made to inform me my reservation had been cancelled. This was a blatant disrespect of my time. I was ready to blacklist 28 Lister - but how could I knowingly blacklist a restaurant I had never dined at?
I decided to do what a food blogger does - write about the food. I wanted to judge this place for the food and not for the unprofessional behaviour of the owner. I'm glad I did, cause now I can save you guys the time & money. Don't bother.