Friday, August 15, 2014

Quality, Craft and Discerning Taste at the River Room and Rhino Bakery at Museum London

Quality, Craft and Discerning Taste at the River Room and Rhino Bakery at Museum London


North Moore Catering was born out of a longing while owner Jess Jazey-Spoelstra was working at Walkers in Tribeca in Manhattan.  Disenchanted with the catering at her wedding, Jazey-Spoelstra had an epiphany and decided to launch a catering company instead of a restaurant. She and husband Harmen and general manager, Sandra Doyle-Holden, set about building North Moore’s status as one of the city’s foremost caterers almost entirely on word-of-mouth.

Jazey-Spoelstra is a natural communicator with her finger on the culinary pulse. Like any effective entrepreneur, she has a particular charisma and an innate gift for training and mentoring skilled staff that can communicate her vision and deliver it with finesse.
When Jazey-Spolestra was offered the restaurant space at Museum London for the River Room, she and Harmen were initially reluctant. However, the room and the facilities were the proper fit for a caterer with the Jess’s entrepreneurial vision and creative talents. The River Room quickly became a success.
Her latest project is the upscale Rhino Lounge Bakery and Coffee Shop in the premises previously occupied by the gift shop at Museum London. The café is named after Tom Benner’s White Rhino sculpture that has stood watch on the grounds of the museum since 1987. There are strategically placed patio tables on the well -manicured front lawn and guests are also be able to sit by the beautiful pond on the west side of the Museum.

Jazey-Spolestra has a sophisticated design sensibility which is reflected in all her projects. It is about delivering elegance and the attention to detail. Smoky crystal chandeliers with dozens of multifaceted hanging crystals and custom-made black leather banquettes set the tenor. The space is designed to be multi-functional which will allow it to be repurposed for special and private events.

The in-house scratch bakery showcases pâtissièrie, cakes, pies, croissants, handmade doughnuts and hand-rolled bagels. Pastry chef Michele Lenhardt’s chic dessert offerings include: Goat cheese cheesecake, cherry and lemon tarts and her signature chocolate pâté. The café is licenced and the kitchen turns out grab and go sandwiches, paninis, charcuterie and there are plans to make tapas available on Thursday nights.
Jazey-Spoelstra focuses on providing innovative and cutting edge food experiences combined with extraordinary service which is her hallmark. She does not source products from the standard food suppliers but instead Jazey-Spoelstra selects each food item to ensure quality and freshness at each event.
She has a penchant for adding her own signature style by re-imagining food styles and cultures and says, “Quality has always been my number one priority, even if it means that my prices are higher than some competitors. At caterings, we still cook all the food fresh on site with a portable kitchen.  Everything is made from scratch and if we can't keep our standards because of budget constraints or venue constraints, then we won't do the event.”

Most of the ingredients are sourced locally whenever possible, but some iconic staples such as smoked salmon, caviar, bagels and cream cheese, are express-shipped by courier from the famed Russ and Daughters in New York. This is a testament to her desire to bring nothing but the best to the table for her clients.

Last May, Jazey-Spoelstra invited me to the River Room to sample Russ & Daughters hand-sliced smoked salmon which is only available once a year (the year prior it wasn’t available at all). The cold- smoked Gaspé Nova is a primal experience due to the combination of the fattiness of the fish and the mild smokiness. She served this delicacy with double hand- whipped, eat-it-by-the-spoonful, scallion-cream cheese and proper hand-made chewy bagels. We also sampled the complex and sensual mouth feel of Osetra caviar from sustainably raised Californian sturgeon. On another occasion she invited me to sample some new dishes. Well, nobody in this city does bone marrow the way the River Room does – oh, the deep and satisfying pleasure of eating pure rich hot bone marrow.

And, speaking of Russ and Daughters, Jazey-Spoelstra told me about an independent documentary called The Sturgeon Queens. The documentary’s recent release is timed to coincide with Russ & Daughters centennial this year.
The documentary features an extensive interview with two of the original daughters for whom the lox and herring emporium was named. 100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and her sister 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman both share anecdotes that encapsulate the Jewish immigrant experience: “hard work, humor, romance, and a little tsuris.”  Other participants include the 4th generation family members who operate the shop today. The film also features Herman Vargas, aka “The Artistic Slicer,” longtime employee, now manager, who represents the new wave of immigrants behind the Russ & Daughters counter.

North Moore caters cocktail parties, weddings, post wedding brunches, dinners at your home, corporate events or any occasion a caterer is required. Catering events have included cocktail parties with guest lists totaling 1500 as well as intimate dinner parties. 

“We are a full service catering company that takes care of the rentals, linen selection, floral, decor, backdrops, head table decor, wedding cakes and favours.  We assist with timeline, floor plan and planning. We take great pride in everything we do and do our best to ensure every event is perfect,” says, general manager, Sandra Doyle-Holden.

The River Room and Private Dining at Museum London REDUX


Art and food have always been synonymous. Restaurants located in museums have a loyal client base – patrons of the arts typically appreciate fine cuisine.  I have always had a special affinity for the London Museum and this particular room. In the last few years I have had some of my best dining experiences at the River Room.

The River Room and Private Dining, inside Museum London, has banks of tinted windows with the best views in the city. The windows overlook artist Ron Benner’s garden installation project, “As the Crow Flies,” as well as the Forks of the Thames and old courthouse. The River Room is a superb lunch spot that has put Museum London back on the local culinary map.

The space, which has had a checkered past in its thirty years of operation and had been closed since the demise of On the Forks in November 2010, now has the clubby ambience of a Manhattan restaurant, with its casual, tailored décor and New York brashness. This is the latest venture by Jess Jazey-Spoelstra and Harmen Spoelstra, co-owners of North Moore Catering. 

The charismatic Jess Jazey-Spoelstra is a culinary dynamo, a true restaurateur and the city’s premiere caterer. When Jazey-Spoelstra was offered the restaurant space at Museum London, she was initially reluctant. However, the room and the facilities at Museum London are a natural fit for a caterer with Jazey-Spoelstra’s flair, vision and experience. Jazey-Spoelstra has built a reputation quickly as the city’s premiere caterer, almost entirely on word-of-mouth from a glittering retinue of well-heeled clients.

Like any successful caterer/restaurateur, she has a particular je ne sais quoi and an innate talent for picking and mentoring professional staff who can communicate her vision and deliver it with aplomb and finesse. Hers is an impressive achievement.

The venue was refurbished (including the old curved ceiling) and elegantly tailored and renewed to host special events. The setting is stylish and relaxed, the colour scheme is warm and inviting, the textural elements are glass, leather and crisp white linen, and the glassware is Reidel. The dining room has seating for 85 patrons and has an attractive curved bar with faux white leather stools at the entrance. The walls are lined with beautiful photos that pay homage to Jazey-Spoelstra’s days in New York. The River Room’s inspiration, as with most things related to Jazey-Spoelstra’s culinary endeavours, harkens back to the time (2001-2007) when she worked in Tribeca in Manhattan.

The restaurant is located in Museum London and just steps away from the Budweiser Gardens, Covent Garden Market, and the downtown dining and shopping district. It attracts the local who’s who, lawyers and judges, the ladies who lunch, and the culinary set, despite some of its less conventional attributes. It has quickly become the brunch hot spot. Yes, there are glass ketchup bottles and high-quality jars of hot mustard on the tables.

Jazey-Spoelstra’s hands-on culinary philosophy is to create exceptional food at reasonable prices. The menu has over a dozen dishes on offer on the brunch prix fixe menu, including sublime Eggs Benedict with perfectly poached eggs and delicious hollandaise; classic Cobb Salad with grilled chicken, crisp bacon, blue cheese, hard-boiled egg, chopped tomato and cucumbers; Brioche French Toast of the Day; and Prime Rib Beef Hash, with peppers, onions, potatoes and prime rib, topped with two soft-boiled eggs and accompanied by signature greens.

Brunch is served with a basket of warm mini-muffins and fresh-baked, melt-in-the-mouth cheddar scones, as well as coffee or tea and your choice of a glass of red or white wine, mimosa, Caesar, bloody Mary, screwdriver or domestic beer.

Everything on the lunch menu is prepared in-house from scratch. Spolestra is always on top of her game. Signature features include handmade pasta, such as gnocchi, pumpkin ravioli, and hand-pressed tagliatelle.  We have had the opportunity to sample all three: perfectly executed ricotta gnocchi with gorgonzola and porcini (not on the menu) was other worldly, tagliatelle with lemon was deliciously understated, and pumpkin ravioli with chestnut sage cream was sublimely delicate.

Signature Seafood Crêpes, with crab, shrimp, scallops and cognac cream, Quiche (Jess’s mother’s recipe with Michele Lenhardt’s pastry), and New York-style deli sandwiches, all accompanied by a spectacularly composed signature side salad, round out the menu. The pastrami Reuben sandwich is quintessential New York deli, with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, Russian dressing and crispy dills. The Cobb Salad (Los Angeles's Brown Derby closed its doors long ago, but this classic salad, invented in 1937 by the restaurant's owner) is classic. On one visit, pot pie with braised duck, okra and Andouille sausage is a delicious riff on the definitive gumbo preparation.

I have attended events where mouth-watering passed hors d’ oeuvres included: Dijon crusted lamb lollipops, smoked salmon gaufrettes on home-made potato chips; colossal black tiger shrimp shooters; mini yorkies with sliced beef tenderloin and a selection of miniature desserts.

The desserts are prepared by über-pastry chef Michele Lenhardt (former co-owner of Black Walnut Café and pastry chef at the AGO). Lenhardt’s Goat Cheese Cheesecake, Cherry Tart and Lemon Tart are all classics. Chocolate Pâté is rave-worthy, as is Semifreddo. Lenhardt brings River Room’s signature Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee dessert to a whole new level. The made-to-order apple fritters are served hot, with caramel dipping sauce. Beignets (deep-fried choux paste) are served hot, with bacon fudge and vanilla cream. If you are a connoisseur of classic pastry and dessert, you have come to the right place – Lenhardt is unparalleled in the city and consistently brings dessert offerings to a whole new level.

The black-uniformed servers are welcoming and enthusiastic, as well as being professional, attentive and knowledgeable. They are among the finest in the city. The service adds to the experience.

The River Room is also open in the evenings for private dining, weddings, dinner parties, cocktail parties, holiday parties, and business dinners.

The River Room cafe is open Tues.–Fri., from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday for Brunch.  

                   Open for lunch, brunch and dinner during Londonlicious.  

Museum London, Ridout Street North, London, (519) 850-2287

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