Photos by Jennifer Cavanagh
Makita Kitchen Bar opened a few months back at the north end of the Glebe’s Bank Street strip. It’s the latest culinary contender in the area settled by Olga’s Kitchen and Erling’s Variety. The brainchild of two stalwarts of the Ottawa restaurant scene – Elliot Gosselin, formerly of the Manx and Caroline Murphy of Town – the Japanese name “Makita” translates to Due North reflecting both the restaurant’s location relative to The Glebe and the local neighbourhood vibe.
The low-key black exterior and sketched M lead in to a uniquely inviting and distinctive space. Comforting and airy, there is a lot to catch the eye: a beautiful series of polished high-top walnut tables run down the center of the room, vibrant rich blue banquettes add a splash of bold colour and exposed brick wraps the upper edges of the room and one wall. Japanese-inspired ink drawings by local artist Dan Metcalfe hug the lefthand wall while, across the room, sits a curved stone bar under an enormous ornate mirror. To its right, two generous polished stump-tables call out, “here is a place to spin tales and secrets.” The design comes together to create a soothing and relaxing atmosphere further complemented by superior acoustics – so often overlooked – which absorb and softly echo sound off brick, canvas and wood. Hats off to quality design!
The wine list offers a handful of reds, whites and bubbles alongside sake, imported and local craft beers and cocktails. We started with cocktails followed by a solid South African Chenin Blanc. Stand-out cocktails include the Makita Caesar featuring a Korean twist of Kimchi and a togarashi (Japanese spice blend) rim and, while the vodka-based Nikkei, initially threw me off with its girly colour it was an absolute delight – a creamy blend of egg whites and fragrant spices. This bar definitely has it going on.
The menu has just over a dozen offerings. Some small plates and some larger meals. It’s a creative selection – mostly pan-Asian but including playful interpretations of familiar North American fare such as fried chicken and waffles.
The shrimp toast being sold out, we plumped for spring roll and pork buns. The pork and shrimp spring rolls – two to a serving – are delicious. The crisp aromatic bites are meaty. Of the three pork buns, the green curry coconut pork was the clear winner, followed closely by the novel falafel with garlic aioli and turnip, which was a surprising hit. The pork belly version was unfortunately dry and lacked the promised hoisin bbq sauce.
We shared the green papaya salad and couldn’t resist the fried chicken and waffles! The generous green papaya salad is fresh and sassy though, to my palate, slightly too liberal with the fish sauce, which became slightly cloying as we finished off the dish. The chicken and waffle is unique – lovely crisp coating, juicy dark meat, served with kimchi coleslaw and maple hot sauce. This dish has a fearsome chilli kick perfect for those, like I, that like it hot. Though some at our table were using the waffle – soft and warm – strictly to cut that heat.
In short, the menu has some dishes that are more successful than others but overall Makita delivers a dining experience that is interesting, inventive and pleasant. Makita is a diamond in the rough which is no bad thing; an unpretentious and authentic eatery. The price point is perfect and we left satisfied and curious about the plates we’ve yet to sample.
Planning to travel due north again… soon.
Makita Kitchen and Bar
589 Bank Street