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“It should be better”

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Cafe Du Centre National Des Arts
Ranked #1,596 of 2,766 Restaurants in Ottawa
Price range: $31 - $50
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Dining options: Breakfast, Late Night, Reservations
Dining style: Casual Elegant
Neighborhood: Byward Market Area
Cross street: Albert
Ottawa, Canada
Level 6 Contributor
151 reviews
93 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 127 helpful votes
“It should be better”
Reviewed April 2, 2012

From my perspective, there's a problem with a restaurant which is more about the chef than it is about the food. It's even more of a problem when this is a publicly-owned facility which is an integral part of a tax-subsidized performing arts complex. There are circumstances where a renowned chef can legitimately own and operate his or her own "signature" restaurant, but this is not one of them. However the dye was cast when Michael Blackie was hired as executive chef and discussed his approach in an interview which discussed his plans for "a new comprehensive menu that more reflects the café nature of the restaurant, with Michael Blackie's flair . . . ."
He was bringing himself prominently into the equation, just as he did in providing Le Cafe patrons with his own personal brand of Michael Blackie bottled water.
One could perhaps live with this more easily if Le Cafe was continuing to live up to the sterling reputation it enjoyed during the years when the late Kurt Waldele was executive chef and made Canadian cuisine memorable and respectable. Over the years Blackie has proved an inspired chef — his period at Ottawa's Brookstreet Hotel is legendary — but from the perspective of this patron, something's not quite working at the NAC, Although the menu can be pretentious, the quality of food remains good, if not spectacular. But the portions are not generous, and given the prices, you are nagged by the feeling that you are getting less than full value.
The question of value extends to the uneven quality of service. It can still be outstanding in the old NAC tradition, but it can be also problematic and sometimes a bit perfunctory and superior in its attitude towards some diners. If you don't want a drink before dinner or wine with your meal, you should not be penalized; the server has no business scuttling off immediately and remaining out of reach for 15 or 20 minutes, thereby depriving you of the opportunity to order your food. This happened to our party during one of our visits last year. The staff can also be quite cavalier in delivering the basics — ice water, bread, tea or coffee at the end.
As someone who has eaten here for more than three decades, the above is written more in sorrow than anger. But there are reasons why I have not been there since the autumn. I felt that last year I was getting less than I had a right to expect.
However, the most critical problem has been a failure to meet the needs of patrons who are there to attend a performing arts event later that evening in the same building. When you make a dinner reservation, Cafe management is scrupulous about asking you whether you're attending a performance and will advise you of the appropriate time for said reservation. This is a welcome policy, but it doesn't always work well in execution. You can arrive in reasonable time for a meal, but you can still find yourself in a frantic rush at the end in order to make it upstairs for a performance. It's not unusual to have to cancel a dessert or coffee order because of the slow service. And you may have to be prepared to get onto your feet and prepare to exit in order to activate your server into delivering your check — and then there can be further delay before you can pay.
In the Cafe's defense, it has to be pointed out that given the pre-concert or pre-theatre circumstances governing most evening dining, there will be enormous pressure on staff during the last half hour preceding a performance. But that's not really an acceptable excuse: it's a need that the restaurant should be geared to meet. Every restaurant in Stratford, Ontario, is programmed with the knowledge that most of patrons dining between 5 and 7.30 p.m. will be headed for one of the Stratford Festival's four theatres and an 8 p.m. curtain. Stratford's restaurants, whether luxury establishments or more humble diners, adjust their operations to meet these obligations. The NAC should do likewise.

  • Visited October 2011
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
2 Thank travelling1935
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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64 reviews from our community

Visitor rating
Rating summary
Date | Rating
  • English first
  • French first
  • Italian first
  • Any
English first
Ottawa, Canada
Level 6 Contributor
462 reviews
177 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 182 helpful votes
“Excellent food, great atmosphere, elegant decor, beautiful views!”
Reviewed March 29, 2012

A varied and unusual menu that changes a few times a year. Food is always very good, portions are reasonable.

Love the table cloths, elegant tableware and the presentation of the food.

Always interesting and tasty desserts.

This place is wonderful after a show...

Visited October 2011
Thank CharlesSeems
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Level 5 Contributor
56 reviews
37 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 64 helpful votes
“Excellent service and location prior NAC performances!”
Reviewed March 28, 2012

Service was excellent! I had the Thirty day aged AAA Ribeye and my husband had the Lamb 2 which were prepared to our liking . I enjoyed my selection which consisted of 2 small portions of tender beef but my husband was a bit disappointed with his portion of five little round pieces of lamb - he found his portion too small and the lamb lacked flavour. In his case he would have been happier with the Ribeye. The bread was delicious. In spite of my husband's disappointment, we enjoyed our outing and had time for a short stroll along the canal prior to attending the NAC performance that evening.

  • Visited March 2012
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Thank OttawaVictoria_bc
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Gatineau, Canada
Level 3 Contributor
11 reviews
5 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 8 helpful votes
“Great experience”
Reviewed March 27, 2012

The price is high but the quality of the food worth it. sometimes certain element of a dish are not excellent but overall it is an experience

Visited March 2012
Thank morinsori
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Ontario, Canada
Level 5 Contributor
70 reviews
53 restaurant reviews
common_n_restaurant_reviews_1bd8 67 helpful votes
“Variable Service for Solo Diners”
Reviewed February 17, 2012

I have eaten at Le Cafe many times over the years, usually as a solo diner, prior to a performance. Almost always with a reservation, by the way.
I would describe both the quality of the food and the quality of the service, as "variable". Another reviewer, also a solo female diner, wrote that her food wasn't to her standard and the service she received there, as a solo diner, was poor. I have had that experience at Le Cafe butI have also had some pretty good, although not excellent, meals there. The prices are high, but rightly or wrongly, you paying something for the ambience as well as for convenience. It is the convenience that brings me back, not the food or the service.
I have also been invited to sit at the bar, where meals are also served on performance evenings, with an early reservation during which I requested a window table in the dining room. On other occasions, I have been seated in the dining room, although never beside a window overlooking the canal, as a solo diner.

  • Visited December 2011
    • Value
    • Atmosphere
    • Service
    • Food
Thank CanadianHere
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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