Monday, April 25, 2016

Love Letter to Black George, Karac and Kantina




BY BRYAN LAVERY









Black George like its predecessor Kantina has been one of those independent businesses that thrive on creativity, dedication and commitment enhanced by well-honed and sophisticated culinary points of view. Both incarnations have been meccas for serious food and wine enthusiasts in Downtown London. I have enjoyed many memorable meals in both these establishments.

Owner Miljan Karac built the former Kantina’s stellar reputation on innovative Balkan-inspired cuisine, prepared from scratch with farm-to-table ideals. There is no denying the deftness, innovation and instinct that both Karac and his former chef Danijel “Dacha” Markovic originally brought to the table.

Over the last six years, Karac has offered some of the most strikingly realized and highly characterized cutting-edge cuisine imbued with farm-to-table ideals around.  At Kantina Markovic reinterpreted classic Balkan–inspired cooking with a fresh twist in the chic but casual Talbot Street restaurant.

Just last year Kantina was relaunched as Black George to great success with chef Courtney Noble at the helm. Karac's culinary teams have always taken great pains to ensure the cuisine bears the marks of authenticity of the hands that made it. Over the years, Karac and his team have served exceptionally good food, at accessible prices combined with intelligent and friendly service.

Karac has remained true to his strengths and culinary philosophies and Black George has been the natural evolution and maturing of him as an innovator and restaurateur. Now other ideas and opportunities are calling Karac, and other restaurateurs and colleagues will be left to continue to carry the farm-to-table torch in London’s culinary scene
.
“The decision to do so was not an easy as a lot of love and effort has been put into making this place a great restaurant. As one door closes, another one opens and sometime soon, an eclectic establishment will open in this space”, says Karac in a recent e-mail. 

In the meantime let’s support Karac and Black George until it officially closes on May 14th 2016. Who knows what is on the horizon.


Black George
349 Talbot Street, London
519-672-5862
www.blackgeorge.ca

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Interview with Joe Duby from Blu Duby


Interview with Joe Duby from Blu Duby

BY BRYAN LAVERY

Blu Duby is an unpretentious restaurant in downtown London that celebrates honest food and wine, a sophisticated atmosphere, friendly service and hospitality. Owners Joe and Cheryl Duby have established a loyal clientele by creating a welcoming ambience where patrons can come and enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail at the bar, a couple of appetizers or a full dining experience, in a casual yet stylish setting.
Creating a restaurant that others talk about and willingly recommend to others is paramount for restaurant success. The Duby’s are more interested in serving you a good dinner than in doing culinary gymnastics to compete for a spot in the gastronomic Olympics. Quite simply, the restaurant is aiming to feed its customers well by combining accessible artful cuisine and an eclectic wine list. Their tagline: “A remarkable experience designed to accommodate every budget.” The result: a sleek and very successful operation with a family-friendly global-inspired menu appealing to a broad demographic.
Joe Duby is a natural-born raconteur and a well-known restaurant professional with many years of experience and a good friend who is proficient in all aspects of the restaurant business. I sat down to talk with Joe about his thoughts on the current state of the restaurant business.

Do you have any kind of particular restaurant management style, or philosophy?

I guess I tend to take more of a hands-on style rather than a laissez-faire approach to management. Although I trust my staff implicitly, I believe that constant coaching to improve is very important. Starting with good people has been the key to our success. Investing our management resources in training good employees to be excellent employees is much more efficient than trying to make average team members good.
Our team is like family to us so we take a personal and proactive approach to help them in their personal lives as well as their working life: we encourage them to invest and budget, lead healthy lifestyles, and deal with the stress of the business in productive ways. I usually assume the role of mother, dealing with the day-to-day management of the restaurant while Cheryl, acting as the father of the family, steps in as the big gun in resolving some of the more major issues.
Our goal is to help staff achieve their personal and professional goals to ensure that the Blu Duby remains viable and continues to provide a good living to more than thirty families.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given as a restaurateur?

Consistency is the hallmark of excellence. The experience that we offer should be the same regardless of the day and time, whether we have five tables in the restaurant or 50, whether guests have joined us for a beer and an appetizer or a five-course menu with wine pairings. Continually providing great service, food and atmosphere make a restaurant excellent. It’s a difficult thing to achieve and we strive to get there.

How is the restaurant business changing?

Social media, I believe, is the biggest change to the restaurant industry in the past decade. Every shift is under scrutiny; both fantastic experiences and failures are there for every prospective guest to see. While I used to think of it as a challenge, Cheryl has convinced me that it is really a positive aspect to the business. Before social media was prevalent, if the guest had an issue with their experience, they would most likely just never return. Review sites, Facebook, and Twitter give a restaurant an opportunity to make adjustments to policy, change items that aren’t working, and coach staff. More importantly, it gives the restaurant an opportunity to make amends for a poor experience. Every restaurant, and every business, is going to make mistakes. A couple of our most loyal patrons have had a rocky first visit and given us a second chance. Our job is to make sure that second chance isn’t a wasted opportunity, and so far, we’ve been very successful with this.

Let’s talk culinary influences. What are the big ones for you?

The politically correct culinary geniuses that I should be referencing are Canadian chef icons like Susur Lee, Mark McEwan, and David Rocco. I respect these chefs immensely, and understand the passion, knowledge and hard work it took to get to where they are. I tend to like the simpler fare of chefs like Michael Smith and David Adjey. I think that we often forget the critical talent that we have here in London. Chef/restaurateurs like Steve James and Chris Squire, restaurateurs like Tania Auger and yourself who put King Street on the map as a restaurant destination in London. Also the current brigade of talent like Kristian Crossen, Andrew Wolwowicz and our very own chef Jamie Craig and sous chef Graham Stewart. Chefs like these show me that we are able to be creative, forward-thinking and dynamic in our own backyard. When designing new menus, we sometimes play off items we have seen other local chefs try. It is always a collaborative effort where everyone at the Blu Duby’s participation is required, not simply encouraged, but expected.

Blu Duby has been a very successful concept — you have exceeded the naysayers’ expectations. What are your longer-term aspirations?


This has been largely due to the wonderful staff and patrons, many of whom I consider close friends. I knew that we needed a diverse and extensive menu to fill a 126-seat restaurant. Coupled with hot, fresh food, a beautiful venue, and attention to detail in every respect (Cheryl finds it amusing that we line up all of the wood grains in the same direction and use a string to ensure tables are in the right spot in the restaurant), we hedged our bets in our favour as much as possible.
As for the future, we will continue to grow and learn and improve. I don’t believe in maintaining the status-quo, so we are always looking for a new idea, a new menu item, and a different way to do things. This is always in the effort to make our guests’ experience “remarkable.” If opportunities for expansion present themselves, who knows what the future holds?



Blu Duby
32 Covent Market Place, London
519-433-1414
www.bluduby.com 
Monday–Thursday: 11:30 am–11 pm
Friday & Saturday: 11:30 am–1 am
Sunday: 3 pm–9 pm

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Lush Life: Le Rendez–Vous Dining and Cocktails





The Lush Life: Le Rendez–Vous Dining and Cocktails


BY BRYAN LAVERY

Every serious restaurant is an expression of taste on the part of its chef and owners, a balance of principles and concessions in an effort to offer a brief but memorable experience to the patron.

The collection of stylish restaurants around the Covent Garden Market and Budweiser Gardens continues to expand with the opening of Le Rendez-Vous, and the more understated London Wine Bar which opened last fall beside Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium. Both businesses were initially held up by delays in building inspection during last year’s strike by the city’s inside workers.

Le Rendez-Vous (briefly The Dirty Martini – turns out to be a ubiquitous name with possible legal ramifications) is a lush supper club style restaurant with innovative modernist cuisine. It is located in the former bank building that was more recently the home of the micro-distillery Black Fly Beverage Co., and the Villa Resto-Lounge.

 It is almost impossible to imagine a more urbane and sexy place to dine than the Le Rendez-Vous in London. We love the reel-to-reel sound system and the sultry jazz/rock stylings. In the evening the restaurant has a vibrant energy and attracts a social scene centered on the long granite bar. The lighting is sophisticated, and wherever you are seated the views are unobstructed.

The art deco premises at the corner of Talbot and Dundas have been refurbished and decorated with dark wood bookshelves, Venetian-style glass chandeliers and quilted white faux-leather banquette seating and matching ultra-modern chairs with chrome bases. 

The long bar along the east wall with overhead mirrors is a dominant feature. The tapas/snack menu and the large windows that open to the street cater to the later-night target audience spilling out of Budweiser Gardens events. The windows provide visibility from inside out..

 The small plates/tapas offerings guarantee plenty of choices for the after-hours crowd. A large quenelle of beef tartare with sherry gel, brik pastry crackers, egg yolk, watercress, and smoked marrow was a success. We also loved the cod cakes and the confit of duck.

The formerly tiny kitchen has been extended and the cooking equipment upgraded with six burners, a convection oven, salamander, grill, heat lamps and a defined pass.

               Chef Ashton Gillespie is a Fanshawe alumnus with a long stint at The Only on King and shorter stretches at North Moore Catering, and the now defunct Splendido in Toronto. Time spent at Yours Truly in Toronto gave Gillespie an insight into the Korean and Chinese culinary canon, evident when he fuses unexpected ingredients into his cooking.

On our first visit we were greeted warmly and professionally by both the owner Ridvan Dani and the front of house manager Luca Monti. The women sipping cocktails at the bar told us that the personable Monti is a big draw. Many of you may remember Monti’s hospitality from his years at the London Ale House. He is also a local actor and Artistic Producer of Iglesia Productions Theatre Company.

The service here is intelligent and friendly with waiters wearing  crisp white shirts, red ties and  long black aprons. The livery matches the ambience — it’s clean, professional and sophisticated.

 Le Rendez-Vous features an inventive menu whose mantra is local, farm to table and organic. The restaurant management offers many incentives to get you through the door. We loved the $35.00 prix fixe menu.

We started with the blood orange and beet mousse with beet meringue, compressed blood orange and mounds of finely ground nuts, which the menu referred to as nut soil. The plate was a very modernist offering and far from the typical and ubiquitous beet salad paired with goat cheese that has replaced the tomato and mozzarella salad in popularity. Adding beetroot juice to the meringues makes them fluorescently pink and tends towards the bijou.

Octopus, immaculately grilled, was tender with a good bite, thanks to Chef’s deft touch. It was served with candied fennel, watercress purée, roasted squash and blood orange vinaigrette and a purple potato. The mix of colours made the dish pop and was visually stunning.
The strip loin was perfectly cooked, flavourful, tender, presented in an eye-catching manner. The grilled (cellared) leeks were robust and a nice counterpoint to the steak, complementing the meat nicely. All of the flavours harmonized well together. Butter poached radishes were a creative accompaniment, and the sweet potato was a welcome change from the standard offering. On the current menu there is an excellent rib-eye and delicious arctic char.

In the past year the city’s cocktail scene, whose revival has lagged behind those of Toronto and Stratford, has blossomed. The bar does not take a back seat to the kitchen. The cocktail menu pays homage to the martini. All the signature martinis are named after downtown London restaurants: Abruzzi, Che Resto Bar, Black Trumpet, Blu Duby, The Church Key, La Casa, Tasting Room and Waldo’s.

We are always happy to hear about a new wave of chefs shaking up the established food scene. Ashton Gillespie is among London’s latest up and coming chefs with big futures.


Le Rendez-Vous Dining and Cocktails
109 Dundas Street
519-204-0173
www.lerendezvousldn.com
TUESDAY–THURSDAY  5:00 PM–11:00 PM


FRIDAY & SATURDAY  5:00 PM–2:00 AM








Toronto’s Culinary Hot Spots 2016








Toronto’s Culinary Hot Spots 2016

BY BRYAN LAVERY

What is more exciting than planning a culinary getaway to Toronto? Here are a few recommendations and tips for navigating the vibrant and ever-changing restaurant scene and some of Toronto’s hottest culinary tickets.

Park your vehicle. There is an efficient transit system that makes it easy to get around the city. More than that, Toronto is a walkable city of many communities with great restaurants, markets and culinary retailers.

Located on Front Street and operating since 1803, the St. Lawrence Market is heralded as the world's best food market by National Geographic. The other must-see is Kensington Market, another noted gastronomic attraction, and colourful vestige of the area’s storied history. The market is an expansive multi-cultural culinary scene sprawling across numerous blocks to the west of downtown’s vibrant Chinatown. Both markets remain a fundamental part of Toronto’s epicurean culture, even for the most jaded of visitors.

The revitalization of former industrial neighbourhoods like the Junction with its proximity to High Park has meant a proliferation of upscale restaurants, stylish cafes and indie bars opening along Dundas Street West. The Junction neighbourhood was ostensibly dry until 2001, and the elimination of prohibition has had an irrefutable effect by attracting a new hip demographic. The Indie Ale House brewpub in the Junction is perfect for craft beer aficionados, who like beer flights or quality upscale food offerings, or maybe just want to pick up a growler to go. Praiseworthy spots in the ‘hood are Cool Hand of a Girl, Nodo, and Bricco Wine Bar. Other standouts are Honest Weight, a New England-inspired fishmonger/seafood spot, and a gourmet take-out sandwich shop, Cut the Cheese. The Hole In the Wall is cozy venue for live music, craft beer and cocktails. Don’t forget the Junction Farmers’ Market on Saturdays.

Chef Rob Gentile and his partner’s third and most sophisticated restaurant is the style-driven 100-seat Buca Yorkville, on the main floor of Yorkville’s Four Seasons condo tower. A personal favourite, Buca Yorkville has a stylish Italian design sensibility and a seafood-focused menu. The initial Buca, squirrelled away down an alleyway on King Street West, is still one of the city’s great osterias. And Bar Buca, Gentile’s chic aperitivo/snack bar at King and Portland reflects the mouthwatering diversity of the Italian foodscape in Toronto.

A new and great place to check out is the tiny, recently opened southern French-inspired Charbol, located in the refurbished 20-seat back dining room of what was previously Le Trou Normand. Until this past summer, Le Trou Normand was Yorkville’s oldest French restaurant, where I once worked with a young Susur Lee during the restaurant’s heyday. Speaking of Lee, he recently opened the upscale comfort-food-style Frings with rapper Drake, on King Street – where it remains difficult to get a reservation. 

David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar started the “Lucky Peach” empire and that’s why dining at the Toronto outpost attached to the Shangri-La Hotel on University Avenue is de rigueuer before venturing to Chang’s other restaurants, Daishō and Shōtō. With innovative takes on what would ordinarily be considered street food, Noodle Bar’s signature specialty is ramen with pork belly and shoulder, fish cake, and egg — and of course its famed fried chicken. Be sure to pick up a copy of Lucky Peach, a quarterly food and lifestyle journal.

Interesting restaurants paying homage to the nostalgic underpinnings of Canadian food culture are Actinolite, Boralia, Richmond Station and Edulis.

The ingredient-focused and technique-driven Richmond Station is just south of Richmond Street, off Yonge Street. Chefs Carl Heinrich and Ryan Donovan have a daily chalkboard menu.
 
What started with a few independents on Ossington has morphed into many resto/bars locating in the in the area in the last couple of years. We appreciate chef Justin Cournoyer and co-owner Claudia Bianchi’s venerated Actinolite restaurant, which was decreed by Toronto Globe and Mail dining critic Chris Nuttall-Smith as “one of the most essential places to eat in Ontario, if not in Canada.”

At Boralia, on the southern part of the Ossington Strip, chef Wayne Morris and Evelyn Wu offer top notch dishes inspired by indigenous peoples and early settlers — think modern riffs on Canadian frontier food.

Another Ossington hotspot is the 40-seat Bellwoods Brewery located in a repurposed garage. The beer is brewed on site and it’s an alternative spot to pick up a growler.

Chefs Michael Caballo and Tobey Nemeth’s Edulis is a much acclaimed gem located below the King West beaten track on Niagara Street.

The Wychwood/Hillcrest Village is another foodie favourite hub, forging the longest corridor of the most ethnically diverse culinary establishments in mid-town. The southern barbeque at The Stockyards, sustainable ocean-wise certified fish and chips at Sea Witch, and modernist spins on Indian cuisine at Pukka are all highly touted.

The area is also home to Artscape Wychwood Barns, originally built as a streetcar maintenance facility in 1913. The converted heritage building is a community centre and cultural hub with a mix of amenities including arts, culture, food security, urban agriculture, environmental and other initiatives. The Stop’s Farmers’ Market at Artscape Wychwood Barns on Saturdays attracts foodies and neighbourhood denizens with its diversity of quality farm fresh food and artisanal products.

The range of choice in Toronto, gastronomically speaking, is endless

Local Food Skills and the Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship Program at the London Training Centre

 Culinary Education:  Local Food Skills and the Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship Program at the London Training Centre

BY BRYAN LAVERY

Since 2002, David Corke has been the Executive Director of London Training Centre (LTC), an award winning, non-profit social mission driven organization, which applies market-based strategies to self-fund programs and initiatives that help people have a positive impact in the community.

 Corke is a highly-respected and fervent food educator with a rock-steady commitment. He is a long-time proponent for local and sustainable food systems, from both a civic and economic development viewpoint.

When it started in 1987, the LTC helped disenfranchised young people find employment in the food service industry. Since then, however, LTC has morphed into a cutting-edge and multifaceted organization providing food skills training, advocacy for careers in food service, and other services that range from computer training to banquet staffing.

Corke’s work in the non-profit sector was influenced by a successful 20-year career in the private sector. He owned and operated restaurants, as well as being employed by a large foodservice corporation in the highly competitive Toronto market.

I asked Corke his thoughts on why he thinks the restaurant industry is struggling so hard to find talent.

“I think the short answer is twofold. Speaking locally about the London and region market – one where many customers are looking for consistency of product and price point, there are a limited number of restaurants where skilled chefs do not quickly become bored. At the same time, as culinary educators and advocates for the industry we believe that the staff of an operation should be considered much more than a labour cost on the profit and loss statement. Our point: the restaurant business is about people so if the goal is a dining room full of guests having incredible food experiences, owners need the best people working for them. If restaurateurs want their operations to be “exceptional” then they have to be the “exception” — and pay more for the best.”

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has funded the LTC, for a second year, to provide a Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship program. The course, taught by expert chef instructors  Steve James and John Fisher, examines in depth safe knife skills, kitchen sanitation and safety, fundamental cooking principles, menu design, pastry baking and bread making practices, nose to tail butchery, identification and use of seasonal produce, stock and sauce making. Limited enrollment and small class size offer a better opportunity for an exclusive student learning experience. The first session began at the end of January, and the second intake will commence in June/July.

Last year’s pilot program was a success. Students were given four months of full-time practical instruction. This was by followed by 12-week paid work placements with restaurants such as Roco Taco, Bertoldi’s Trattoria, Dolcetto and The Red Rabbit, and with Chef David Van Eldik at the Convention Centre. Some participants have moved on into culinary programs at Fanshawe College. “A lot of chefs we approached in the community are willing to take participants afterwards for co-ops. If they take them on as an apprentice after the placement, there is also additional funding available to them,” says James.

Applicants are screened by James and Fisher and must demonstrate a commitment to the program. They are required have to an Ontario Secondary School Diploma or equivalent and be available to attend the program full time.

Guest speakers, including chefs and restaurateurs, are slated for each session. In the past, Stratford chef Simon Briggs has given pastry demonstrations. Chef Michael Smith has spoken about the profession and chef/restaurateur Mark Kitching has talked to students about setting expectations in the restaurant industry. This session, restaurateur Ian Kennard from Willie’s Café will teach about food costing. The students are also taken on field trips. Destinations have included Antony John’s certified organic farm and greenhouses ‘Soiled Reputation’; the Milky Whey Fine Cheese Sheep in Stratford for a cheese tasting; and Jill’s Table for an olive oil tasting.

The true essence of the LTC narrative is that they have achieved the whole seasonal cycle of our relationship with food. They are not only culinary educators and employment specialists; they are also farmers, retailers, caterers, food artisans, restaurateurs, funders and local food advocates.

The Local Food Skills program connects people to food. It provides solid food-based knowledge and provides participants with the opportunity to explore the idea of working with food as a job or a profession.  The program is a full-time three week course that provides skills training, industry certifications and learning experiences including fundamental culinary skills, foodservice styles, growing, harvesting and retailing food at a farmers’ market. Revenue from the wildly popular monthly Local Food Skills dinner put on by students supports this program.

Last spring, LTC launched The Larder, an online food store. Items are offered weekly, and might include croissants, Montreal-style bagels, specialty breads, and chicken and veal soup stocks; all are prepared by Culinary Program pre-apprenticeship students.

 Local Food Feasts Catering is another arm of the organization and operated by LTC with the support of the Local Food Skills program and the banquet staffing business known as Allumette. 

Feastival, the LTC’s fundraiser takes place annually. Last July, the popular event was a great success with artisanal food stations, guest chefs, live music, and Ontario wines and craft beers. Students of the Local Food Skills Program catered the event alongside special guest chefs and local food artisans like Las Chicas del Café, Railway City Brewing Company and volunteers from Les Marmitons London, who worked the pizza oven with chef John Fisher. 

 This year the Feastival will relocate to the St. Thomas Canada Southern Railway Station (CASO) for a sit-down “Harvest Dinner” for approximately 150 people on Friday October 7th. The dinner is a perfect way to celebrate seasonal local food while supporting Local Food Skills programming.
If you would like to attend one of the monthly Local Food Skills dinners, learn more about the program, or to share your thoughts and ideas about food, the staff encourage you to contact them.

 For more information please call London Training Centre 519-685-4331 or visit www.londontraining.on.ca

Friday, January 8, 2016

THOUGHTS ABOUT THE GASTRONOMICAL M.F.K FISHER AND HOW TO COOK A WOLF





BY BRYAN LAVERY

M.F.K. Fisher is the wry, critically acclaimed author of numerous gastronomically-minded books, several of which are considered literary classics. Her evocative prose, combined with an innate appreciation for food and cuisine, is no ordinary achievement, and helped define intelligent food writing in the twentieth century.

Fisher wrote some 27 books, including a translation of The Physiology of Taste by Brillat-Savarin.

How to Cook a Wolf was originally published in 1942, when the harsh impact of the Great Depression was still firmly entrenched in people’s minds, rationing and wartime shortages were at their peak, and financial prudence was the national state of mind.

In this book, a collection of essays whose title refers to the idiom “keep the wolf from the door,” Fisher imparts pertinent tips and helpful ideas that are primarily, but not entirely, of a culinary nature. Her musings about daily living provide valuable insights — sometimes unconventional — and she shows us ways to make do, and perhaps even prosper or at least set a fine table, even when “the wolf is at the door.”

The common-sense approach of Fisher’s anecdotal conversational narrative, sometimes tinged with irony, other times self-deprecating, is mostly an insightful antidote to surviving times when money is short, the pantry bare and the spirit depleted.

Fisher reminds us that poverty is neither a crime nor a sin, in chapter titles which include: How to be Sage without Hemlock; How to Boil Water; How to Rise Up Like New Bread and How Not to Boil an Egg. In the chapter, How to Keep Alive, Fisher offers an excruciatingly unappetizing recipe, for a dish she rightly refers to as sludge, and whose only meritorious claim is to maintain sustenance in the face of adversity. Particularly thoughtful for these economic times, this slightly dated but still relevant treatise reminds us that providing sustenance entails more than just merely getting food on the table.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Truffle Season - Road Trip to Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa















 


BY BRYAN LAVERY

Recently, my nephew Nicholas and I were guests of Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa.  For our culinary road trip we were provided with an all-new Lexus 2016 RX350 from Lexus of London. We drove to Stratford for a delicious repast of chicken and waffles at The Red Rabbit restaurant and a trip to the Slow Food Market, arriving at Langdon Hall at three in the afternoon.

As we turned into Langdon Hall’s discreet driveway and drove up the winding road, we passed through wooded acreage dusted with a light snowfall and arrived at the 75-acre hilltop estate’s main house, which is the centerpiece of the estate.

Built in 1898 as the lavish summer retreat of Eugene Langdon Wilks, (a great-great-grandson of John Jacob Astor), the imposing main house is inspired by Georgian and Classical traditions of the Federal Revival Style.

The property, with its expansive gardens and Carolinian trails, is situated in the countryside just outside the hamlet of Blair, which is now part of Cambridge. Langdon Hall is manifestly what food guides used to call a "restaurant destination" but it also offers guests an impressive experience with luxury suites, Victorian gardens, conference rooms, reception areas, a full-service spa and an outdoor swimming pool. A recently added $7-million wing provides an additional six luxury suites, as well as an event hall and an enhanced 10,000-square-foot spa.

Executive Chef at Langdon Hall, Jason Bangerter, is an influential culinary maverick on the national cooking stage, with international credentials, as well as a dedicated advocate for sustainability and seafood conservation. Both his early and present affiliations colour his cooking repertoire.

Bangerter cemented his reputation at the Auberge du Pommier in mid-town Toronto, and later at the O&B Canteen and LUMA at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. In 2015 Bangerter was awarded the International Rising Chef Award in Paris from the illustrious Relais & Châteaux, and recently Langdon Hall was acknowledged for being the only restaurant in Ontario to have achieved the CAA 5 Diamond award for excellence in 2015.

Relais & Châteaux is a global fellowship of independently owned and operated luxury properties and restaurants. Prospective and current members are evaluated by the Paris-based group's traditional "five C" motto: caractère, courtoisie, calme, charme et cuisine. Langdon Hall easily meets the standards for all five criteria.

Since Langdon Hall began its conversion into a hotel in 1987, the main house, cloister suites and the stables provided accommodations with a current total of 58 guest rooms. My cloister suite was comfortably and tastefully appointed with a generous seating area, king-size feather bed, wood-burning fireplace and bathroom, complete with a deep soaking tub, walk-in shower and private dressing area. After unpacking I was gazing out of the large picture window which overlooked the grounds. At first glance, I admired what appeared to be a majestic deer statue, when it unexpectedly turned its head. The realization suddenly dawned on me that this was one of the many wildlife creatures that roam freely on the property.

The restaurant is well-known for its terroir-driven Ontario cuisine, using the estate’s acreage as inspiration for the seasonal menus. This is complemented by an extensive wine cellar. Wine is a large part of the restaurant’s credo and prestige, with over 1,000 globally sourced bottles and VQA’s on its extensive list.

At seven7 pm, we dined in the newest of the three dining rooms, the Orchard Room. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a pleasing garden view. The whitewashed, white-linen dining rooms are très soigné in the truest sense of the expression.

It was our good fortune to arrive at Langdon Hall during truffle season. Chef is a self-confessed funghi and mushroom aficionado who dedicated time to speak in-depth about his seasonal truffle tasting menu and how the kitchen sources the seasonal delicacies from Italy, Croatia, France and Australia.

An amuse that began our tasting experience was a luxurious hen liver parfait accompanied by a primordial-flavoured black truffle and crispy hen-skin cracker that Chef referred to as his version of “chips ‘n’ dip”.

My starter was a finely minced and seasoned quenelle of veal tartare with paper-thin slices of Jerusalem artichoke, golden raisin and garnish of rounded nasturtium leaves. Nicholas ordered an artfully arranged sugar-cured trout elevated with red cabbage, crab apple and buttermilk.

A deliciously pungent black-as-night truffle crème de volaille accompanied by parmesan shortbread followed.

 At my request, our waiter inquired if I could partake of two meat courses, and subsequently suggested game for my entrée. I decided on the elk served with bone marrow parsnip, foraged mushroom, orchard apple and young juniper. Two lean and tender elk chops with accompaniments arrived, cooked to a succulent and stunning medium rare.

Nicholas selected farmer Murray Thunberg’s heritage hen served with Savoy cabbage, salsify, smoked onion and a savoury jus. Bangerter told us, “Thunberg’s small-scale organic farm specializing in quality heritage meats and heirloom vegetables is practically on the doorstep of Langdon Hall.” In addition, there is a stellar network of farmers and producers in the area that complement the property’s own comprehensive gardens. Both our entrées showed off Chef’s extraordinary facility with taste, texture and colour.

Our engaging Maître d’ broke the top of my perfectly-risen quince soufflé with a spoon and poured warm apple cider caramel into the interior for “additional decadence”.  Nicholas wisely chose peanut butter sablé, with puffy clouds of Rosewood Estates honey mousse, and chocolate fudge. At the end of the meal a plate of mignardises, also known as petit fours, were served. The selection included profiteroles, squares of caramel, and shortbreads with Saskatoon berries.

The attentive down-to-earth discourse and wine pairings by sommelier Brie Dema were a top-drawer experience. Sommelier Faye MacLachlan later explained Langdon Hall’s wine platform by e-mail, “The wine program is fundamentally a reflection of our core values and commitment to excellence. The program is structured to provide a global selection, represented by producers on our list that embody the same commitment to quality and passion for their craft.” 

I also asked MacLachlan about reports that she is creating a variety of barrel-aged specialty cocktails made of blends of fruits, herbs, and roots from Langdon Hall’s gardens, with Head Gardener Mario Muniz. MacLachlan said, “It was like going flavor shopping on the grounds of Langdon with a walking botanical encyclopedia. Mario’s knowledge of the huge variety of both cultivated and wild species is amazing.”

There is an expectation of a particular standard of care in a restaurant befitting a well-run luxury hotel. Langdon Hall has achieved a reputation for setting the benchmark in Ontario when it comes to offering the highest pinnacle of hospitality. Luxurious facilities aside, the most impressive measure of Langdon Hall's excellence, besides chef Bangerter’s cuisine, is the level of genuine hospitality and friendly service.

 

LUNCH
MONDAY–SATURDAY
12:00PM–2:30PM

Afternoon Tea
FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY

DINNER
DAILY 5:30PM–9:00PM

BAR
DAILY 12:00PM–9:30PM

Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa

1 Langdon Dr., Cambridge,
www.langdonhall.ca

 

BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.