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The Carleton works out the quirks 

The newest addition to Argyle's restaurant row has atmosphere, but pricey doesn't translate into perfection.

Just when I think there couldn't possibly be room to jam another restaurant on Argyle, along comes The Carleton, a joint venture by Mike Campbell and Mike Rhodes (formerly of MuchMusic and all-round music-guru types).

The Carleton is right on the corner of Argyle and Duke, in a historic building dating back to the 1700s. The decor honours the building's history by leaving some brickwork exposed and the original fireplace intact.

With a nod to history, The Carleton also looks to the future with live music: Great shows by true Canadian talents can be heard here such as the awesome Steven Bowers, who is launching his latest CD as we sit on the patio.

Typically, I don't like to eat outside on Argyle---smokers, spitters, the Harbour Hopper and other offensive creatures can make it unappetizing. The place is packed, though, and we don't have much choice tonight.

Despite the crowd, the service is very good and it's not long before we have a menu and a drink.

The Carleton's food offerings are OK. There's a small selection that seems to have no special direction or influence but with some things that catch our eyes.

First up, we order a caramelized onion tart ($8.25) and ginger shrimp ($8). The onion tart is on a pastry bed and is pretty good. It could be better, though, had the onions been further caramelized to bring out the sweetness and really deepen the flavour.

We love the ginger shrimp, especially the tomato and pickled-ginger broth that cries out for a piece of bread for dipping. There are at least half-a-dozen good-sized shrimp, so this appetizer is great value.

We have quite a wait for our main courses, forgivable given the number of people here.

There's lamb with potato and vegetables ($26.25) and steak frites ($21.25): Both meats are done incorrectly, although not too far off what was requested and so we forge ahead with eating.

The lamb is remarkably tender, with fairly large chops. Delicious fingerling potatoes are alongside. Our server sang the praises of the steak frites and she's spot on.

The 8oz steak is thick and marbled with fat, which adds to the flavour that's accomplished with a generous dry rub of Montreal-steak-type seasoning. And the frites, the tiny shoestring fried potatoes---oh, the frites: simply fabulous. I completely ignore the little ramekin of ketchup in favour of the extremely garlicky aioli (mayonnaise).

By now, it's dark outside and getting chilly, but we're not foolish women and we will be having dessert.

Banana bread pudding and chocolate marquis ($6.95) are, sadly, not worth the extra wait. The bread pudding is dry and bland, the caramel sauce is good, although there's not enough of it, and the whipped cream on the side tastes old.

The chocolate marquis is neither bittersweet enough to appease fans of dark-chocolate, nor milky enough for milk-chocolate-lovers to want more. It tastes like frozen chocolate pudding---not a good thing.

It's too bad. What is otherwise a good meal ends on a low note. And The Carleton is a little pricey. Our total, without alcohol, comes to $94.52 before the tip and that's harder to swallow than the bread pudding.

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