The name Muir is Scottish Gaelic for “sea”, and it nestles right on Halifax harbour. Concrete steps lead into the water from the Hotel’s courtyard to attract kayakers and brave swimmers in the warmer months. But it would come as no surprise if hardy Maritimers did not wait for Spring to take the plunge.
Just meters away is the Historic Properties, a group of waterfront buildings that feature Victorian-Italianate façades dating back to the late 1700s and early 1800s. Restored by the Armour Group, a Halifax real estate and investment company, they are poised to have another big hit on their hands with Muir Hotel.
This is one of the most pedestrian-friendly areas of the city, as it incorporates the Halifax Harbourwalk — 4.4 kilometres of boardwalk complete with views of the harbour and seawall. It’s dotted with restaurants, shops, outdoor sculptural art, the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, and even public hammocks overlooking the harbour that invite peaceful lounging in the summertime.
Ocean View, Muir Hotel
Brian MacKay-Lyons, the principal architect of Muir, is from my hometown of Yarmouth, and his reputation of “born of this place” design is firmly in evidence, inspired by marine forms and Maritime life. Some materials employed throughout (such as Muntz metal, commonly used in shipbuilding), and locally quarried sandstone and granite, are sourced just outside the city. The talented Toronto designer, Alessandro Munge, has created interiors and unique furnishings that complement the sense of place.
The best way to describe a stay at Muir might be that it embodies understated elegance from the minute you are greeted by the valets at the front door, to the morning of your check out.
Art is everywhere, inside the splendid interiors and outside. The common areas as well as each guestroom display original landscape paintings by twenty-three Atlantic Canadian artists; and all the Queen’s Marque public areas boast the sculptural work of seventeen nationally and internationally known artists. This homage to the importance of art in our lives is uplifting.
Not simply a luxurious place to sleep, the signature restaurant at the Muir is named Drift. Chef Anthony Walsh (of O&B in Toronto) is its Creative Culinary Lead, and Executive Chef Steven Kwon and Chef de Cuisine Jamie MacAulay are the team leaders.
We’re expecting culinary fireworks. The menu is unmistakably Nova Scotian but with a few novel twists. My Mother’s Hodge Podge, a cream-based stew made with the fall’s freshest vegetables, is re-interpreted by Chef Walsh to include Oceanic treasures such as Digby scallops, haddock, and clams.
We’re in lobster country. Order the Nova Scotia Lobster Cocktail as a starter, and let the spiced tomato and horseradish dressing deliver a bit of a kick to your taste-buds. A traditional pot pie becomes a local delicacy, when instead of chicken, it’s plump with juicy Yarmouth lobster, the whole creamy melange encased by flaky pastry made by a very light hand.
The Chef steers a course directly to the Acadian comfort food known as Rappie Pie (rapure in French). A dish Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers are intimately familiar with, Rappie Pie is essentially a potato and chicken pie (minus a pastry crust), the liquid from the potatoes is removed, and the remaining potato pulp is reconstituted with hot broth and then baked. Like traditional dishes in every corner of the world, it’s prepared differently depending on the village or town where it’s cooked. At Drift, the twist to the traditional Rappie Pie is the addition of parsnips and mushrooms.
Prince Edward Island mussels are tossed into fresh spaghetti, made velvety with sea urchin butter, and spiked with garlic and tomato confit. Diners are loving the butter roasted halibut and slow-cooked sustainable blue salmon. Anthony Walsh must be enthralled with this king’s ransom of fresh fish and seafood to play with. Meat lovers are not forgotten with tenderloin steak, lamb roast and burgers are all on the à la carte menu.
The blueberry is one of Nova Scotia’s oldest exports. Drift pays smacking-good lip-service to its Hot Blueberry Grunt, capped by a generous scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Also known as “slump” or “fungy”, the dessert is actually tea biscuit dumplings cooked in blueberries.
Elsewhere in Muir is BKS, a speakeasy-style bar reserved for guests only. It’s an intimate, convivial space that opens onto an elevated waterfront terrace that juts over the harbour. This is sure to be a hit in the summer months for Muir guests and their friends. “Historically inspired” cocktails are on the menu, with savoury small plates by Chefs Bill and Cori Osborne.
We enjoy an onion and caraway bread with quark, a fresh acid-set cheese made in-house, as well as crab cakes topped with wild tonburi or ‘land caviar’. (Tonburi is a Japanese preparation that involves boiling and soaking green and black kochia seeds. It’s often served with smoked fish or blended into a mayonnaise.)
The Muir is situated in Armour’s newly built Queen’s Marque District on Lower Water Street. The newly opened, 109 Autograph Collection Hotel and Marriott Bonvoy member is a splendid addition to Halifax, one of Canada’s favorite cities.
Bruce Bishop is a freelance writer and novelist whose latest book, Uncommon Sons, is available on Amazon and Kobo. www.brucebishopauthor.com