Winnipeg's Clementine offers a creative take on a classic brunch
Blurring the lines of what you may consider brunch, chef Chris Gama pulls plenty of flavours from around the globe and works them into an array of dishes that rarely disappoint
If you happen to have enough room left for dessert after a meal at Winnipeg's Clementine, it would be recommended. It's also easy to spoon into a velvety yogurt panna cotta topped with orange segments, freeze-dried raspberry drupelets, hemp hearts and a refreshingly cool granita and forget for a minute that you've technically just had brunch.
Owned by sisters Carolina and Raya Konrad and chef Chris Gama, Clementine is an unsuspectedly beautiful space in Winnipeg's Exchange District. Light exposed brick walls, black-and-white zig-zagging floor tiles, a large open-concept kitchen and street-facing windows all help this below-street-level concept feel surprisingly airy. A neon sign, in cursive on the back wall, offers glowing encouragement. "Eat this, it'll help," no doubt an homage to people seeking sustenance proceeding a late night out.
This restaurant produces one of most memorable brunches a person can have in Canada.
Let's face it, the average morning-focused eatery is predictable at best. A few types of Benedicts, some pancakes – perhaps incorporating ricotta if we're lucky – frittatas, a breakfast hash … Not to say that these dishes can't be filling at their simplest, but without the flair of creativity eating at one over another usually is less about the food and more about how long the wait is. And we all know that every brunch spot, good, bad or dreadful, usually boasts a queue.
Predictable is one of the last words you could use to describe the Clementine experience. Sipping the chilled The Dude, made with a tonka-bean-infused milk, bourbon, Kahlua and espresso while mulling over the menu is a pleasant alternative to a traditional morning cocktail. Likewise, house-made sodas, such as hibiscus and lavender or tamarind and lemongrass, are interesting non-alcoholic bubbly worth cheers-ing to.
Blurring the lines of what you may consider "brunch," Mr. Gama pulls plenty of flavours from around the globe and works them into an array of dishes that, at times, feel somewhat unconventional, but rarely disappoint. With the most expensive item ringing in at a reasonable $13, the value here is also extraordinary.
"It all starts with something traditional, but our aim here is to serve dishes to people that they would not be able to easily make at home," explains the chef. "Generally speaking, breakfast and brunch menus are not something that people apply a high level of technique to and that's what we're doing here."
One of Mr. Gama's favourite creations here is the duck chilaquiles, a spin on the Mexican classic that combines confit duck meat with homemade chile colorado sauce, avocado cream and tortilla chips before topping it with shredded lettuce and a fried egg. The result is a rich, and mildly smoky bite that is perfectly comforting on a cold morning at the tail end of the winter season.
Eating porridge was something you might begrudgingly have done before leaving the house to go to elementary school, but there are no eyes to be rolled over with this restaurant's spin on the Canadian morning staple, Red River Cereal. Made with a mix of local grain, a dollop of sweet pineapple butter, coconut, berry compote and cashews it's a deceivingly simple dish and a perfect start to your day.
The smoked Manitoba arctic char with macerated cucumbers, roe, dots of crème fraîche and fresh horseradish garnish on golden, crispy potato "cake" (more like a rectangular croquette) is, more or less, a reimagined smoked salmon blini and a masters class in balancing textures and temperatures.
A tomato, coconut and mushroom curry simmers in the kitchen for a large part of the day and when ordered, is spooned onto a toasted slice of the restaurant's impeccable sourdough, which is baked daily, along with a fried egg and fresh cilantro.
Even the eggs Benedict here is far from predictable, seeing poached eggs on top of slabs of tender, braised bacon and a buttery black-pepper biscuit before being lovingly saddled with cider hollandaise and finished with fresh dill.
On top of all of this, the restaurant's service levels are exceptional. Since Carolina Konrad also co-owns the popular Spanish restaurant Segovia, Clementine holds their service staff to contemporary evening dining standards. Much like applying higher-level technique to morning food, this is a rarity in this kind of concept.
Mr. Gama also goes on to say that the Konrads have also placed a strong emphasis on Clementine's coffee program as it's also not common to see a high-volume daytime eatery offer well-crafted Americanos, cappuccinos et al.
"It's really hard to classify what makes the best restaurant. I try not to think about that too much," says Mr. Gama when asked why the restaurant has been so well-received in its first two years of business. "The most important thing we can do as owners is doing our best to put a lot of thought and care into every aspect of this restaurant."
Can a brunch restaurant also be considered one of the country's best restaurants? Judging by Clementine's impeccable consistency and continually ingenious creations, it certainly could.