If you’re looking for a world-class meal in a one-of-a-kind historical setting in Ottawa, Beckta Dining & Wine is where you’ll want to go.
Located at 150 Elgin Street in Ottawa’s downtown core, this is “Beckta 2.0,” as the well-known restaurant moved to its new location from Nepean Street this year, after a three-year search for a new home. “When we were approached about taking over the Grant House space, it just felt like the perfect fit,” notable Ottawa restaurateur and owner of Beckta, Stephen Beckta, said in an interview with Ottawa Tourism.
The building in which the new “Beckta,” as it’s known locally, now resides was originally built in 1875 for Dr. James Grant, his wife Maria Grant and their 11 children. It was also the home of the University Club from 1921 to 1970 and Friday’s Roast Beef House, another staple Ottawa restaurant, in more recent years. Due to its history, the grandiose house is protected under the Ontario Heritage Act, meaning that many of the home’s original features are still intact.
These original features such as crown moulding, rough red brick walls, ornate baseboards and window trimmings, now work in harmony with the restaurant’s new sleek and modern décor. “This [house] had all of the intimacy of the old home we were at on Nepean Street, but it had a different sense of grandeur, a different sense of luxury that fine dining should really offer,” Beckta said.
The new location also creates a sense of nostalgia for Beckta himself, who was born in Ottawa and raised on Elgin Street. “This is kind of home for me,” he said.
According to Beckta, what makes the Beckta dining & wine experience unique is a real focus on fine dining, which applies to every aspect of the diner’s experience from the graciousness of the staff, to the restaurant’s décor, ambiance, the glassware, cutlery and of course, the food itself.
“We’ve really doubled-down on fine dining and all the things that go along with it,” Beckta said. “Everything is done to mirror the extraordinary experience that the chef is putting together on the plate.”
If you’re going to Beckta and you’re not sure what to have, why not savour one of its delectable Tasting Menus that offer a five-course or an eight-course option with optional wine pairings for both?
Beckta noted that these new, more “interactive” tasting menus, which offer more delicious courses and more choices, are a result of the restaurant’s new, larger space and its new kitchen. “This is something we were never able to do in the past because we didn’t have the facilities to be able to pull it off,” Beckta said. He added that with these menus, guests can “create their own adventure.”
Beckta’s by reservation only dining rooms are located on the restaurant’s main floor, featuring original Grant House fireplaces, windows and new, modern art by Canadian artist Andrew King. But if private dining is what you’re after, Beckta’s second floor offers four private dining rooms, including an intimate, six-person room overlooking Elgin Street through the building’s charming and historic Juliet balcony.
Beckta, who also owns Play food & wine in the ByWard Market and Gezellig in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood, also stays connected to Ottawa’s walk-in diners with a more casual wine bar located in the back of the Beckta restaurant.
“Most people only know us for our reservation only fine dining, but we really wanted to have another component, which is the casual, delicious, fine dining and bar food menu,” he said.
Beckta himself, started working as a busboy in Ottawa at 13-years-old, after which he fell in love with the restaurant industry and moved up the ranks to positions such as cook, server, Maître-D and sommelier. “I love working in restaurants,” he said. “I love the vibe of it, the excitement of it, and it just kept going.”
Beckta even spent time learning and perfecting his talents in places such as New York City, where he worked with celebrated Chef Daniel Boulud at Café Boulud and renowned restaurateur Danny Meyer at Eleven Madison Park, before returning to Ottawa to marry his wife, Maureen Cunningham, and finally open Beckta about 11.5 years ago.
Beckta noted that he loves Ottawa’s culinary scene because it’s “so supportive.” He added that as his restaurants are in Ottawa, the capital of Canada, he sees many international travellers who have dined at some of the best restaurants in the world.
“I love nothing more than hearing that they usually dine in Tokyo or London, and we’re on par with all the best restaurants there,” he said. “We’re keeping up with the best of the best in the world.”
Michael Moffatt is the Executive Chef at Beckta as well as at its notable sister restaurants Play and Gezellig. According to Beckta’s website, Moffatt spent many years working in renowned restaurants such as one of New York’s most iconic restaurants, The River Café, and the Rimrock Resort in Banff, Alta. He became Beckta’s Executive Chef in 2006.
The restaurant is well-known for its dinner service, but Beckta will start offering lunch service from Monday to Friday as of January 5, 2015. Beckta noted this is the first time lunch is being offered since the restaurant’s first few years of operation. “This is going to be a good addition to things,” he said.
Beckta noted that if he wasn’t a successful restaurateur, he’d probably pursue a career in construction after learning so much from the Grant House renovations, which he deemed to be “very challenging.” Beckta was the General Contractor for the restaurant’s new heritage location.
He said that among the many challenges of Grant House was a six-inch differential existing between the centre of the building and its outside, as well as not being able to move walls and having to preserve many important heritage elements. “There was the challenges of trying to honour what came before it in terms of the Grant family, the University Club and Friday’s, while still trying to update and modernize it,” Beckta said.
In terms of advice for a future restaurateur, Beckta said to be curious, hungry, ambitious and don’t limit yourself to a single trade. “I was never a contractor before I started building restaurants,” he said. “I was never a chef before I learned how to cook. I was never a sommelier before I started taking wine classes. Just try to explore and learn as much as you can, from as many people as you can.”
Whether you choose to visit Beckta dining & wine for lunch or for dinner, you can expect world-class cuisine and hospitality as Beckta himself, really works to connect with his staff and his patrons. “That’s really my role,” Beckta said. “Everything is driven by making sure people are having a great time, both at work and as they’re dining as guests.”
And as Grant House is featured on the Haunted Walk of Ottawa’s walking tours – the ghost of Dr. Grant is suspected to dwell in the house – you might wonder if Beckta is concerned? The answer is: “Not at all.”
Beckta told Ottawa Tourism that just this October, on Halloween no less, he celebrated one of the restaurant’s relocation milestones by drinking champagne from 140-year-old glasses that once belonged to the Grant family.
“I told Dr. Grant that we were going to take good care of his house and ever since then, everything seems to have been going swimmingly. So if there is a ghost, he likes us in his space,” Beckta said with a laugh.