Primal time

It’s all about meat at Primal Kitchen, a spot for easy conversation and winter indulgence.

Primal Kitchen’s Henry VIII portion of short rib and unrivalled creamy mashed potatoes.
Primal Kitchen’s Henry VIII portion of short rib and unrivalled creamy mashed potatoes.

The first restaurant that I really loved in Halifax was The Libertine Cafe. My memories of it are hazy now, like all good memories of the late 1990s. I remember sunny warmth in the decor, paintings by local art stars on the walls, a friendly red-haired server, the shy smiles and awkward, fumbling compliments of first dates and really good potatoes.

Primal Kitchen is a world away from the days of the Libertine. In the more than 15 years that have passed, that space on Brenton Street saw the rise and fall of Fiasco, a one-time darling of local fancy pantses, which eventually got a bit lost in the noise once more and more restaurants in Halifax started demanding attention. Chef/owners Morné Van Antwerp and Sue Ann Lambert took over the business for its final gasps before breathing new air into the space with Primal's launch last summer.

Primal Kitchen focuses on meat. The menu will make a vegan blanche, from the housemade bison, rabbit and goose charcuterie to a menu where you can hunt boar and venison, and find the bellies, breasts, loins and legs from practically every neck of the animal kingdom.

While the menu sets itself apart in Halifax, there is something staid in the decor, which pulls from the Edison Bulb and Reclaimed Wood chapters of The 2010s Guide to Restaurant Design, which must invisibly exist in some plane that is only accessible to restaurateurs like, The Handbook for the Recently Deceased. The seating, though, is comfortable, which feels rare in new restaurants these days. The atmosphere is generally warm, and conversation comes easy. It's nice to sit in a space where you don't have to yell at your companion. It helps, though, that the restaurant is almost completely empty with only two other people in the space, seated across the room enjoying happy hour.

Two Tatamagouche Hippie Dippie draughts ($5) are already on the table when Allison arrives; I luckily stumbled in a few minutes before happy hour ended. Our server also brings over their house kettle chips—they are dusted with Cajun flavour, a slight bite of heat under a lick of salt. They're a great snack with the floral pale ale, and keep us sated until our food arrives.

We start with the bang bang chicken ($12), an appetizer of pulled, fried chicken slightly accented with julienned vegetables then tossed in a sweet-and-spicy bang bang sauce. The texture is slightly off—the chicken tends towards chewy dullness. A useless chipotle mayo is brushed onto the side of the plate with a dried husk of lime next to it. But the flavour of the bang bang sauce prickles with delightful heat and earthy sweetness and essentially rescues the dish singlehandedly.

I order my lamb chops ($32) medium-rare. They arrive unevenly cooked, a pinky-brown rainbow of rare to medium-well under an annoying cloud of haystack frites. There is a brightness and some earthy depth to the peri peri and chimichurri accents, an acidity that plays nicely with the sweet roasted carrots and beets on the plate.

The short rib ($29) is a beautiful plate, a Henry VIII portion in size and style—stalks of sauteed broccolini lie in a faint over a thick shard of bone sticking out of the gleaming hunk of fork-tender meat, head resting on a pillow of creamy, garlicky mashed potatoes that have no starchy rival I can think of. A pool of rich jus adds even more weight to the plate; it's winter indulgence at its best.

Our server remains attentive and welcoming even as we linger more than two hours over our meal. The restaurant never busies, which seems a shame. It's not perfect, but it's good. It's nice to see Brenton Street in good hands. And it's nice that there are still some really good potatoes.

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Primal Kitchen
1463 Brenton Street
Mon-Sat, 11:30am-10pm
Happy hour, Mon-Sat, 4-6pm