After a little more research, we found that The Whistling Walrus won the gold medal for “Best Pub Food” by the local View Magazine, as well as a silver medal for their In House Nachos and their “Fresh PEI Mussels.” It certainly sounds good – The Hamilton area has a pretty decent selection of pubs with good food, so “best pub food” is a pretty big deal! Let’s dive in…
Ambiance & Decor
From the exterior, the Whistling Walrus is a bit of a confusing mix – pub features, such as the windows and colours, mixed with the generic North American “steak house box” look. Not shown in the picture is a small patio. The Walrus does market itself as a restaurant and pub though, so maybe it’s gotten the fused appearance it was going for.
Inside, the Walrus is set to look like an English pub – wooden pillars, large bar, dodgy carpet, and even a phone box! We were seated promptly and ordered from the impressive tap beer menu. We were particularly impressed with the large selection of Irish beer.
Drinks & Food
We choose one of the hottest days of the summer to check out the Whistling Walrus, and with temperatures reaching the high 30s, by the time we had arrived we were both craving a cold beer.
We choose a Kilkenny Cream Ale and a Boddingtons Cream Ale – both of which aren’t the easiest to find on tap in Canada, so it was great to see them available. Certainly a good start to the visit.
The Walrus has lots of daily specials (which I like to see!), and Tuesday was half price apps, so we figured we’d try their award winning nachos. The normal price of these nachos is $16 – a little above average, even for large, loaded nachos (especially when you consider the gold medal in nachos went to gallaghers, where their nachos are $11 + extras). Of course, at half price, $8 is a good price for a sizeable order of nachos.
The nachos are covered in cheese, tomato, green onion, jalapeno, lettuce, chicken, and chilli, all served on a fried taco shell – it certainly sounds good. Unfortunately, we thought the silver medal was undeserved. They certainly aren’t bad nachos – they’re just not much above average.
With nachos, the core is chips and cheese. You need to get that right before you dress the rest of it up. And when you do add the extras, they shouldn’t take away from that core. With these nachos, the amount of cheese was low and the coverage was sparse (made worse by the piled layering). As well, the toppings didn’t mesh well. Too much lettuce, bland chicken, and mediocre chili. I’ve yet to see chili on nachos that didn’t take away from them. Besides their flavor, the wet-oily base makes the chips soggy and takes away from the lovely cheesy-crunchy texture of nachos. Finally, the fried shell that the nachos are served on is a nice thought, but a simple tortilla would be much better – at the end of the meal, you have a pliable and edible (and not so oily) utensil to scoop up leftover toppings.
Well, not the worst start to the food, but we were certainly left with higher hopes for the entrees. The menu was split between a smaller “pub favorites” section and a more sizeable “standard” section, with salads, sandwiches, burgers, and wraps. In order to try some of each style, we ordered the Guinness Pie from the pub section and a Brisket on a Bun from the sandwiches and wraps section.
We’re both fans of thick, meaty Guinness pie – and have been spoiled by restaurants in Ireland (and one in Hamilton!) that do both the filling and pastry to perfection.
Unfortunately, the offering at the Whistling Walrus failed to excite. The dish arrived consisting of cold fries, a watery brown mixture and a fresh-from-frozen pastry oval balancing on top.
Undeterred, I took my first bite – only to taste an overpowering peppery, but otherwise bland sauce. What a shame. Chewing on a piece of gristle reassured me that the meat wasn’t of high quality, either. With a heavy heart, I sent it back to the kitchen. It was actually my first time every doing this in a restaurant, and I felt quite embarrassed – but the staff were very gracious and understanding.
So the Guinness Pie fell flat – what about the brisket? Luckily, not AS bad, but certainly still pretty disappointing.
The description on the menu is “Fresh cooked beef brisket, thinly sliced, piled high, covered with 40 Creek BBQ sauce, sauteed mushrooms, onions, smothered in swiss cheese, served on a kaiser bun.”
The description certainly sounds good, but unfortunately the sandwich wasn’t put together with quite the same enthusiasm as the above description. The meat was thinly sliced, but had a rubbery, made-from-frozen texture. The mushrooms and onions only seemed to be part of the sandwich as an afterthought. The only part of the sandwich that didn’t feel like it was skimped on was the cheese, but unfortunately that alone couldn’t save it. I finished the sandwich, but wouldn’t order it again.
Service at the Whistling Walrus was pretty mixed. On one hand, the servers and cashiers were friendly and polite, and extremely helpful. They were willing to exchange dishes with no hassle and were understanding about sending the dish back.
However, on the other, the staff didn’t seem to know anything about the menu and couldn’t answer any questions. Even more irritating, all three of our orders arrived within about 5 minutes of each other, which was slightly overwhelming. We didn’t have time to work on our nachos before our mains arrived, and by the time we moved to them they were no longer warm.
The Final Word
Overall, we weren’t very pleased with our trip to the Whistling Walrus. The food was disappointing. The service was mixed – friendly and helpful staff but poorly timed food. The beer selection was good, but that’s about it. Overall, we give it two out of five hammers.
Have you ever been to The Whistling Walrus? What was your impression?