Old imperial glory alive and well-lived on James Street North
Ventura’s Signature Restaurant | Hamilton, Ontario
This article also appears on TripAdvisor and Urbanicity.
The owner, Virgilio is a complex individual. Having worked in engineering, military and restaurant kitchens in Portugal and its colonies in Africa, he decided to open a pub in 1997 on James North. At the current location, albeit a smaller area. It occupied a fraction of the space of today’s restaurant.
Less than two years later he expanded to what the restaurant is today. It took countless days, weeks and months of painstaking work to imprint his personal touch and his obvious love for all things maritime. You will find wood models of ships of old with various shapes and sizes.
Hanging on the walls of this cavernous place, you will see ceramic renderings of the 15th century explorers’ vessels with sails adorned with the cross of Malta, silent memories of a time of imperial expansion and conquest in what was known as the new world. Back then Portugal was a dominant sea fearing nation in search of new overseas possessions.
The tables are set in an elegant way with white covers, there are two bars used primarily by staff except that on occasion you will see patrons enjoying a glass of bubbly at the bar near the kitchen.
This place is quite unique, located next to the Armouries on James Street North, standing like a mansion out of a thriller movie. It has character galore and in summertime opens up to the sidewalk through overhead rolling glass doors.
If you sit down with Virgilio, he will detail for you all the engineering issues he had to solve including the amazing feat of moving a heaving beam all on his own. Resourceful and tenacious, he is proud of his restaurant and what it has to offer. After all this is a labour of a lifetime.
The menu is composed of authentic Portuguese appetizers and mains. It includes fish, seafood and meat dishes. In summertime you may decide to just enjoy the good weather and the breeze brought in by the open overhead doors and go for appetizers in a tapas style. Try cod fish cakes, Portuguese rissois filled with shrimps and add the grilled chourico, and maybe conclude with an assorted Portuguese cheeses platter, you may pair all this with the white or red housewines, they are very good value.
Now if time is of no concern, I would order two famous dishes; The fisherman’s Mariscada and/or the “feijoada de marisco”. The former is a seafood feast platter with a mixture of king crab legs, green new Zealand mussels, jumbo clams all sautéed in a white wine garlic sauce. The latter derives its name from the Portuguese word for beans – “feijao” and is a beans stew very popular in Portuguese cuisine but is usually made with pork meat. While in Northern Portugal they use white beans, in Brazil where “feijoada “ is a the national dish they make it with black beans. Well at Venturas the feijoada is made with seafood, a version originating in the Algarve region in the southern part of the country.
Although his roots are in the northern region of Aveiro, the cuisine reflects more than one district and region. Such as the “carne pork Alentejana” a pork dish srved in clay pot originating from the Alentejo region in the Evora district. And of course you will also find the famous beef a casa the steak with a sunny side up egg on it.
A word on wine. The wine list does not cover all Ventura’s has to offer. If you want to ask the owner for a premium Portuguese wine and give a description of the type you would be interested in he would always be delighted to offer options.
For instance if you want a well balanced wine, complex and elegant he would often recommend northern wine region products but if on the other hand you prefer a bold, full body red then southern regions maybe your best bet. I found Virgilio to be very knowledgeable in both gastronomie and wine.
The last word must cover the Fado. It is a song and music genre from Lisbon and Coimbra. It could be equated to blues but that is a reductionist view although it gives a sense. It developed apparently from the longing for people who go at sea either fishing or on long journeys. The origin of this art is not entirely clear but Ventura’s features Fado singers with dinner on a regular basis. The next one being January 30th , 2016.
When one explores any given cuisine, it opens a window on a culture and a treasure trove of new things to learn and appreciate, every visit to this place is an opportunity to step back in time, enjoy a décor inspired by history and sample foods from old Europe.