Primal should be up my alley simply based on philosophy and principle. Although I eat a healthy portion of vegetables, meat protein fills me in a way that puts a smile on my face and lulls me into a sleepy calm (I guess that’s probably a sign of overeating, but I never said I was smart.)
Primal has been open about four months and has taken over the space where Fiasco once was on Brenton Street. Although the tables, wallpaper and art have changed, the space overall has the same sort of flow. The wallpaper (recipes for the food, presumably,) and the large lion painting, make it approachable and unpretentious. I think this is what people call a gastropub.
The lion could also be symbolic of what size appetite you should have coming into this restaurant. The menu is extensive, and broken down into food type categories (raw, livestock, garden) rather than courses or portion sizes. The server explained that the prices were more illustrative of whether a plate was more of an appetizer or a main course.
I ordered calamari, beef biltong charcuterie, and beef short rib with sides, along with a light, sweet local draft to wash down all that protein. I’d usually go to wine, and the wine list was long and well constructed, but felt like going outside my usual comforts on this visit.
The chef’s background is in South African cuisine, explained the server, an this influences many of the cooking techniques and flavours, including the beef biltong. The biltong dry aged beef appeared to be a lean cut, like tenderloin, and was sliced across the grain into paper thin rounds and served with grainy mustard, grapes and crostini. The beef was very savoury and flavourful, almost more like game. It was seasoned just enough to brighten the funk of the dry aged beef. I could have done without the crostini, or would have preferred something with a softer texture.
Calamari is always a go-to on menus for me, though it takes a lot to elevate it from good to great, and is often simply a satisfying fried filler. It all too often begs for an accompanying creamy dip.
The calamari at Primal was near perfect. Just lightly breaded, and cooked to the ideal texture of firm and meaty, yet still a bit supple and chewy. It was tossed in a small amount of smoked paprika tomato sauce, not enough to make the batter soggy, but enough to give each piece flavour, and served upon a broad spoon stroke of curry aioli.
The beef short rib looked like something that Fred Flintstone would have throughly enjoyed. A pile of potatoes with au jus and broccoli were dwarfed by the large piece of meat, and accompanying bone, that crushed and hid the velvety mash. The size of the bone that bisected the beef short rib was comically big, and I thought, that’ll be a hassle, but the meat pulled away from it so easily that there was satisfaction to be had in that action alone. The meat was tender and saturated with sticky reduced sweetness, like molasses or brown sugar, mixed with salt from something like soya then the zing of aromatics and herbs. The outside of the meat was caramelized and crispy, and the inside soft, with fat that had rendered quite perfectly.The herb butter melted throughout.
As I finished, the bone was the icing on the cake, as the marinade had turned it into a big savoury meat lollipop. This last plate could have easily fed two, if not three, with appetizers.
The service was informed, the food delicious and the portions more than worth the price. I want to visit again, soon.
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