Torontonians have earned the right to be a tad cynical about the opening of yet another ye olde Irish/Scottish/English pub, with their mini-kilt-clad babes, sweet potato fries and calamari rings. But Ted and Mary (née McGugan) Koutsogiannopoulos, along with executive chef Bryan Burke, are hoping to bring something a little more authentic with McGugan’s, their new Scottish tavern on Gerrard Street. The trio, which is also behind Hank’s, Wine Bar and Great Burger Kitchen, secured the place late last summer, and has been sweating away to get it ready for launch ever since (indeed, Burke and Koutsogiannopulis did the woodwork themselves). We dropped in to check it out.
A proud Scot, Mary McGugan had been ruminating about opening a pub of her own since 2006. The two-story space (a former flower shop) is warm in deep reds, greens, dark wood with salvaged Mennonite floor planks. In addition to the main dining room, there’s a room for private functions, a rooftop patio and a backyard lounge—a total of 258 seats in the summer. Before opening the place, Burke flew to Scotland to get a handle on real Scottish food. “It was horrible,” he confessed. “Everything was deep-fried. Even the pizza. But, what I discovered was the essence of what Scottish food can be.”
The menu of elevated pub grub contains the usual suspects—fish and chips ($14.95), caesar salad ($8.95)—but there are also quirky Scottish delicacies. Chef de Cuisine Don Gingrich rolls haggis ($12.95)—ground lamb, oats and spices—into bite-size balls, dips them in a house ale tempura batter and deep-fries them golden. His wee Scotch eggs ($12.95 for five), meanwhile, are hard boiled quail eggs, wrapped in house-ground sausage and fried. Gingrich is a stickler for doing everything from scratch: roasting bones for stock, soaking raisins in scotch for his butter tarts, hand cutting fresh fries, blending duck livers into pâté and whipping up all vinaigrettes, jams and sauces. He even infuses local honey with Scottish heather flowers.
At the bar, there’s an impressive list of Scotch and whiskey—40 to 50 labels, depending on the day, including a 20-year-old Dun Bheagan’s Rosemount from the Lowlands of Scotland (there are only 762 bottles released every year). Manager and Wine Spectator award–winning sommelier Brian Michael works to pair the scotch and whiskeys with the kitchen’s local products. “That’s why,” he explains, “there are only three imports on tap: Innis and Gunn, Guinness and Kilkenny. The rest of our selections of drafts are all micro-brewed Ontario craft beers.” Next up for the team of industry vets behind McGugan’s: an Italian place called Aprile Bambina, two doors down at number 1054.
McGugan’s, 1058 Gerrard St. E., 416-901-9859, mcgugans.com