Much like his namesake, the Duke of Wellington is a fighter.
For over 40 years, the venerable British pub in Waterloo town center has been a welcoming place to enjoy live bands, a few pints and time with friends. Recently there have been a series of battles – years of TLR building, COVID and moving – but, in its new home, the historic pub maintains the same resolve.
“If someone had told me three years ago that food would be the reason the Duke of Wellington survived, I wouldn’t have believed them because we weren’t known for our food,” says co-owner Desi Fatkin.
But it’s the combination of their menu and cooking skills that has helped The Duke hold its own against the competition and see the pub through the pandemic.
Last spring, while still in the Atrium, swirling rumors about new owners turned out to be true. The new owners plan to raze the Bavarian-style building for a new development. Relations with them are good – the Duke has the option of returning once construction is complete – but, in the midst of the pandemic, the Fatkins have decided to relocate the pub.
“Every time we watched something, it disappeared the next day. This place has come. It was a bit smaller, but it’s uptown, right on King Street, where we’d rather be. It worked very well for us.
The 50-seat plaza is about half the size of their previous location. And while there’s a shiny novelty, there’s also history: the curtains; the old kitchen doors at the entrance to the room; the harlequin-patterned stained glass windows mounted on the wall.
As I wait at the bar to get dinner, old friends are chatting about football (real football, not the one where the players use their hands) and a musician is getting ready for his afternoon concert. Live music remains a big part of the place. Acoustic and spatial limitations mean that, for the time being, soloists, duos and trios perform from Thursday to Saturday and occasionally on Mondays.
Before the first confinement, we could only have the dishes from the kitchen in the atmosphere of the pub. But, as the COVID pendulum swung the dining room doors from closed to open, their take-out menu of bar and pub fare occupied the kitchen.
Executive Chef Alex Pawlik’s story at Duke began 17 years ago, first as a dishwasher and then as a line cook. He came back after culinary school and progressed. He curated a menu with plenty of choice for traditionalists and those wanting something more contemporary.
“Attitudes towards pub food have changed. They’ve broadened their horizons, looking for something a little different, but they’re still looking for comfort food,” says Fatkin.
Comfort is found in their well-stocked two-page menu among shepherd’s pie, pub curries and burgers. The dish of the day, Steak and Stout Pie ($15), has a rounded sauce wrapping tender steak and mushrooms in a flaky, golden crust. Accompanied by mashed potatoes and tender, crunchy garlicky vegetables, it took me back to high school and college parties at the old location.
A customer favorite, Fish ‘n’ Chips (one piece, $14), features a hearty serving of steamed tender haddock coated in a thin bubbly crust of beer batter. He sits on a mound of golden chips. It did not disappoint, but the requested coleslaw and tartar sauce was missed. The next time.
Accompanied by grainy mustard, each bite of their Scotch Eggs ($10) combines a crispy breadcrumb coating, soft sausages and soft-boiled eggs with good gooey yolks. Jackfruit tacos ($12) will satisfy lighter cravings. The smoky and sweet hickory barbecue sauce coats the plump jackfruit shreds, contrasting with the tangy fresh mango salsa. Finishing a meal with their Sticky Toffee Pudding ($6)—rich, moist, and smoky—is a good thing.
My not-so-latent history buff smiles slyly knowing the Duke of Wellington is at Waterloo. I smile now too knowing that they are still a place to enjoy live music, a pint or two, and their cooking turns out some solid dishes to enjoy with friends.
The Duke of Wellington
100 King Street South, Waterloo
Hours: Sunday: 9 a.m. to midnight; Monday to Wednesday: 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursday and Friday: 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday: 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Menu: Traditional and contemporary British pub food. Vegetarian and gluten-free options (the flour is in the kitchen). Daily specials. Menu posted on website and Facebook. The kitchen closes when the pub closes.
Drinks : 19 draft beers: mix of British imports, local craft beers and popular selections. Beer, spirits, wine and cocktails available on delivery.
Payment: Cash, debit, Mastercard, Visa, American Express.
How to get your food: Dinner: reservations recommended for groups of six or more. Updated COVID safety information can be found on their website. Take-out walk-in.
Pre-ordered pickup: Order by phone or online on the site.
Delivery: Skip the dishes, UberEats. Free home delivery to addresses in Kitchener and Waterloo on weekends.
Accessibility: Good. Ramp to front door (but no automatic door opener). Accessible toilets. Tables can be moved to provide additional space for wheelchairs etc. The menu is clear and easy to read. Ion and bus stops a few steps away. Free parking (street, surface lots) a few steps away.
The law project: $57 for two sharing dishes and mains; a dessert.