For 40 years, Oliver’s, nestled on Lakeshore Road East, on the main street of Oakville, Ont., has been the city’s go-to steakhouse of choice.
Under the watchful eye of co-owners (and husband-and-wife team) Nancy Knowles and Bogdan Bor, who’s been the driving force at Oliver’s for 38 of those 40 years, the restaurant has continued evolving to meet the needs of its discerning clientele.
For example, a renovation, about five years, modernized the space and relocated the bar. The result is a sleek series of rooms that manage to be contemporary and classic all at once, thanks to an understated palette of black and grey; black padded booths; brass accents; wood trim; and tastefully chosen décor accents such as up-to-date light fixtures and framed artwork.
Chef de cuisine John Lau, who’s been with the restaurant for almost as long as Bogdan, oversees a kitchen that brings rock-solid technique to bear on top-notch ingredients.
One night, the soup is puree of heirloom tomato and squash, an inspired combination that cleverly harnesses both ingredients’ inherent sweetness.
Thick slices of heirloom tomatoes, sugar-sweet and juicy, are stacked attractively and crowned with silky buffalo mozzarella. Basil vinaigrette adds fragrant herbal notes. It’s like summer on a plate.
Crumbled Roquefort and buttermilk blue cheese dressing, speckled with tiny pieces of smoky bacon, garnish a generous layering of ultra-crisp iceberg lettuce. Another salad, built on arugula, Stilton, pear, walnuts and a balanced port wine vinaigrette, is a model of its kind.
The kitchen grills three huge scallops until they’re brown-crusted and boast a deep smokiness. Animating the scallops is maple-smoked bacon and a velvety beurre blanc enriched with maple syrup.
Mains are equally superb. Prepared in the classic meuniere style (pan-fried and garnished with brown butter and lemon), Dover sole, flown in from Brittany, France, is firm-fleshed, mild and sweet. Brought in from Greece, branzino is exceptionally moist in its lemon/white wine butter.
Oliver’s, of course, is best known for its steaks. The kitchen only uses USDA Prime beef that it grills over charcoal. As a result of that charcoal grilling, the beautifully marbled 22-ounce Delmonico (boneless ribeye) is juicy, wears a nice char and features the deep mineral tang found in only the best steaks. Black truffle butter adds deeply earthy notes that partner well with silky creamed spinach.
Made-in-house desserts include a dark and not-too-sweet molten Valrhona chocolate cake; a rich chocolate mousse layer cake; and vanilla, honey and chocolate ice creams.
Greatly enhancing the experience is a team of polished and professional servers dressed impeccably in matching grey vests, white shirts, ties and black pants.
Oliver’s is a gloriously classic steakhouse template that gets every detail right.
The restaurant hosts private groups of up to 50 people in two adjacent rooms outfitted with a bar and washroom facilities. The entire restaurant is also available for corporate buyouts and seats 100.
— Don Douloff has been a restaurant critic for over 30 years and, during that time, has critiqued more than 1,500 eateries. In 1988, he studied the fundamentals of French cuisine at Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne in Paris, France. During his time in France, he furthered his gastronomic education by visiting the country’s bistros, brasseries and Michelin-starred temples of haute cuisine. He relishes exploring the edible universe in his native Toronto and on his travels throughout Canada and abroad.