Sunday, October 15, 2017

Thaifoon - London’s Premiere Upscale Go-To Thai Restaurant

Manisay Visouvath and Fouzan (Rafael) Beg are the proprietors of Thaifoon, downtown London’s upmarket Thai restaurant. The restaurant remains a family affair. Visouvath is the youngest sister of Eddy and Alex Phimprhrachanh’s mother, Arounvaty, who is the head chef at Thaifoon and the matriarch of a Thai food dynasty in the city. Several of Arounvaty’s sisters have opened successful Thai restaurants in the city after being mentored in the kitchen by her. 
 Visouvath was born in the Southeast Asian country and came to Canada with her parents in 1980. Rafael is from Hyderabad India. (Hyderabadi cuisine comprises a broad repertoire of rice, grains and meat dishes and the skilled use of various spices – Indian cuisine has a longer, slower burn, rather than the sharper, built-up spiciness of Thai cuisine.) 

Thaifoon’s with-it and tasteful take on the ancient Thai culture, with a décor that honours the past while embracing modernity, has earned both raves and admiration. The restaurant continues to set itself apart with bang-on exuberant flavours and an eye for detail and presentation.

The 38-seat restaurant is a tasteful and refined take on the ancient Siamese culture, with a soothing décor and a rich palette of browns and blacks with golden accents and pleasing Thai iconography. The minimalist room is sleek, with a sexy, Buddha Lounge style soundtrack, rich dark woods and ultra-soft leather banquettes with cushions. The kitchen’s oeuvre is a consistent showcase of Thailand’s regional flavours of hot, sweet, sour and salty, honouring tradition while embracing modernity. Thaifoon is careful to give you just the level of spicing you want. The restaurant is popular with vegetarian and gluten-free clients. 

Won-ton bundles are flawless — well-executed crispy and crunchy parcels of chili-infused minced chicken accompanied by a ginger and plum sauce. The Avo Moon Shine dumplings with fragrant minced chicken, tamarind and cashews are served with fresh sour cream and avocado dipping sauces. Savoury curries surpass expectations with richness and variations on spiciness that are tempered with velvety coconut milk and fragrant aromatics The pad Thai continues to be properly prepared with perfectly cooked noodles, firm tofu with a silky interior, egg, crisp bean sprouts, scallions, fragrant cilantro, minced peanuts, lime juice and the crucial sweet and sour tanginess.

The secret to their success is sticking to the basics of authentic Thai cooking and offering a mixture of spicy, sweet and salty but also rich coconut flavours mixed with fresh herbs like kaffir, lime leaves and lemongrass. Coconut milk is the foundation of the Thai curry. Rafael tells me that they use pure coconut milk and do not dilute their coconut milk like many other restaurants in the city. 

Arounvaty has kept her recipe grounded in how she was used to making and eating pad Thai back home — rice noodles cooked with fish sauce, sugar, tamarind, a few other spices and a touch of soy for the caramel colour. This summer they subtly tweaked signature dishes like their pad Thai and pad gra paw to offer more of a street style version of these dishes.
Thaifoon continues to receive raves and praise for their consistently well-prepared cuisine and responsive, knowledgeable service. Coconut and green tea ice creams are made in-house. 

This is London's premiere upscale go-to Thai restaurant. There is a top-shelf cocktail list, mangotinis, lycheetinis and Mai Thais, and an above average selection of imported beers and complementary wines. Singha beer, a pale lager, pairs nicely with the spicy flavours of Thai cuisine. There are plans for an exotic, secluded patio that will front on Carling Street. Thaifoon offers an extensive menu for dine-in, take-away and delivery. 

120 Dundas Street (East of Talbot)

Lunch:  Mon to Fri 11:30am – 2:00pm
Dinner: Sun to Thu 4:30pm – 9:00pm
Dinner: Fri to Sat 4:30pm – 10:00pm

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Where to Eat Chinese in London, Ontario: Dim Sum, Noodles, Dumplings, Duck and Congee

Yue Minjun (born 1962) is a contemporary Chinese artist based in Beijing, China. He is best known for oil paintings depicting himself in various settings, frozen in laughter. A couple of prints of his work hang in the dining room at Wing's Kitchen.


A distinction should be made between regionally-inspired Chinese restaurants and ubiquitous Canadian-Chinese immigrant-owned diners that still until recently were the norm across Canada. Canadian-Chinese cooking grounded in Cantonese tradition, quickly adapted to the food and taste preferences of whatever locale Chinese immigrants established for themselves. The improvised dishes they created, like chop suey, are dismissed as “not Chinese” by experts of the culture.

When Canada’s explicitly discriminatory race-based barriers on Chinese immigration grew less stringent, restaurants serving more authentic Chinese cuisine started to replace the hybrid Canadian-Chinese restaurants, especially in larger cities. These restaurants crossed regional borders, fusing Cantonese, Szechuan, Shanghainese and Hunan cuisines, and more often than not, tossing a few recognizable Canadian-Chinese staples on the menu for good measure.
Colleagues of mine like to seek out restaurants that don’t blatantly cater to wai guo ren, “foreigners”. Over the years, I have benefited from their guidance. I grew up squeezing packets of China Lily soya sauce over deep-fried egg rolls and chicken chow mein. The most authentic expression of Chinese cuisine is often withheld from the inexperienced non-Chinese palate. To these colleagues, Canadian-Chinese is a bastardized cuisine with a brief vocabulary of standard sauces, altered cooking times, and interloper ingredients — in general, techniques and ingredients designed to make dishes blander, thicker, sweeter, and less offensive to the Caucasian palate.

There are a myriad of restaurants in London that offer genuine Chinese food, with only a few that we patronize regularly offering consistency in authenticity, quality, service and price. Interestingly, the area around Wonderland and Oxford Streets has become a hub for Asian food. Due to the popularity of Canadian-Chinese food, often the most authentic Chinese restaurants pay homage to the genre. When you go out for authentic Chinese food, ask about the “traditional Chinese” dishes on (or off) the menu.

Chinese restaurant menus almost everywhere in London, ON, are wide-ranging in scope and minimalist in detail. Menus are not overwhelmingly helpful to the uninitiated and generally toned down for Caucasian palates. Stock photographs adorn menus and sometimes hang on the walls. These photos generally guide you to the Canadian-Chinese chop-suey cuisine of chicken balls, sweet-and-sour pork and sweet-and-spicy General Tao’s chicken instead of the authentic fare. Not surprisingly many Chinese restaurateurs frown on the deep-fried chop suey cuisine and if pressed will make interesting and disparaging remarks about the cuisine. Nevertheless, the take-out and delivery business is quite lucrative and does not stop them from giving the public these easily and quickly prepared versions of Chinese food.

Brief Overview
The recently opened Nov8  located in the Costco plaza at Wonderland north of Oxford is serving some of the city's best authentic/modern Chinese food. Perhaps the best and most consistent dim sum is at London Chinese Restaurant, located in the strip mall at Oxford and Wonderland, where the former Sears Outlet was located. They have dim sum carts and serve all day. (I will write more about the London Chinese Restaurant) in a later post. Wings Kitchen at Highbury near Cheapside serves some of the best dim sum in the city. I recommend you go there from Thursday to Sunday for the best experience. The Golden Dragon in Byron is known for the best crisp, dark-golden skin Peking duck. Pre-ordering the barbeque duck or Peking duck in advance is recommended to ensure that you have freshly barbequed duck. Congee House is a favourite and known for its Cantonese dishes and congee. Jasmine House is a modest restaurant with its own local quirks and ambitions. It is an interesting offering, with a window on Sichuan cuisine and showing Londoners the nuance and variety that lies beyond garlic and the blast of heat from and flavour from chilies.Located in a small plaza at 1030 Adelaide St N.and Cheapside it serves some very good Sichuan dishes. The Five Fortune Culture House is known for its Yunnan-style home cooking with Sichuan and Guizhou influences not formulaic Chinese restaurants serving Anglo-genres conceived by old-style Taishanese and rural Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional Chinese recipes to suit local tastes and available ingredients.

The Spring (You Yi Cun)

Spring is a Mom-and-Pop business operated by Jiang Quam Liu and Yue Hao Yang. Yue has been cooking professionally for over 30 years. Don’t confuse Spring, half a block west of the Palace Theatre in the Old East Village, with The Springs on Springbank Drive. The menu, inspired by Mandarin and Cantonese cookery with a selection of Canadian-Chinese cuisine. (Mandarin cuisine is often used to refer to cuisine from Beijing) Cantonese cuisine (廣東菜) also known as Yue cuisine or Guangdong cuisine, refers to the cookery of China's Guangdong Province, particularly the provincial capital, Guangzhou (Canton). It is one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisines. This unassuming culinary gem in the heart of Old East London offers amazingly food served with pride and attention to detail.The dining room at Spring is unremarkable; it approximates the ambience of eating out in a modest home with serviceable chairs and black Arborite tables which are separated from a living area room with a hutch. The kitchen is behind the living area. Liu is gracious and quick to laugh. Signature dumplings–house-made pork & chicken – are bathed in broth with celery and bok choy. We like the sautéed Asian eggplant. The Stirred Duck in Five Flavours with boiled potatoes are a commingling of sour and sweet flavours. There is a selection of dim sum offerings. 

768 Dundas Street East 
519 266 4421
Hours: 11:30 to 10:30 PM daily
Closed Wednesdays

Nov8 is a brand new, contemporary Chinese restaurant in the premises formerly occupied by Nov8 Sushi, located in the Costco plaza at Wonderland north of Oxford.  The owners of Nove8 are expanding the definition of Chinese food by skillfully combining traditional and contemporary sensibilities – in the décor, cooking and presentation. Try the stewed pork belly over onions with roasted garlic. Ask for the hot, salty and crispy chicken sparked with ginger, sesame oil and dried hot chilies. The combination works beautifully especially if you like heat. Crisp-tender baby bok choy with meaty, earthy shitake mushrooms glazed in oyster and soya is a great juxtaposition of flavours and textures. Caramelized Chinese yams (also called cinnamon-vine) are caramelized so well that it looks like a thread is coming out from the sugar syrup. Look for unexpected spins on region-specific dishes with an ever-changing paper menu printed in both Chinese and English.
701 Wonderland Rd. N.

Alex and Wing Ip

Wing`s Kitchen/ Đồng Khánh (Seafood Restaurant)
Located near Highbury and Cheapside, Wing’s Kitchen (aka Đồng Khánh Seafood Restaurant) is located in the same plaza as the 24 hr drive-thru Globally Local. The 15 month old Wing`s Kitchen offers a large selection of dim sum options as well as standard Cantonese dishes and a few Thai selections. Dim sum is a late morning and lunchtime food. This is one of a few restaurants with a fresh lobster tank offering fresh lobster at reasonable prices. The owners Alex and Wing Ip are long time London restaurateurs who previously owned Green Tea Japanese, Asia Gourmet and Green Tea Asian Cuisine. Wing was a seafood buyer in Hong Kong for over 30 years. There is a hybrid Canadian-Chinese menu available all day. Pecking duck is served in two courses. A whole duckling fried to crispy and carved tableside is served with finely shredded scallion and cucumber on steamed rice crepes. This is followed by crystal fold wok-fried minced duckling, vegetables, and fried noodles wrapped in lettuce leaves for $36. On our initial visits we stuck to the dim sum menu. This is dim sum without the carts. Our expectations were initially surpassed with the attention to detail, portion sizes and juxtaposition of flavours and textures. This is not the "factory" dim sum you'd find at the huge dim sum restaurants in urban centres. We are told that everything is prepared fresh from scratch. When ordering, the key is to ensure a mix of cold, hot, spicy, salty, sour and soothing dishes. The highly-regarded, elderly dim sum chef only works 4 days a week. I suggest visiting on the weekend when he is on hand and everything is super fresh and meticulously prepared and presented. Plump steamed har gow (shrimp) dumplings, seafood and taro dumplings and the braised eggplant stuffed with shrimp are sensational. I strongly suggest you save room for both the taro spring rolls and fragrant curry baby squid (cuttlefish). Also, don’t miss the steamed soft and fluffy barbecue pork buns that melt-in-your-mouth. Made in-house lotus mooncakes with salted duck egg yolk were out of this world. We also like the coconut mousse red bean cake. We received a 10% discount for paying cash
1141 Highbury Avenue. N.
519 659 8888

Daily Dim Sum 11 am to 3:30 pm
Monday 11am to 11 pm
Closed Tuesdays
Wednesday – Saturday 11am to 11 pm
Sunday – 11am to 9pm

 Wenbei Liang

Five Fortune Culture House
In downtown London Five Fortune Culture Restaurant proprietors Wenbei and Jie Liang Yin are part of the groundswell of restaurateurs offering an authentic dining experience. The cuisine, as prepared by Jie Liang and interpreted by Wenbei is, “Pure Chinese,” Yunnan with Sichuan and Guizhou influences. Aromatic steamed pineapple rice is popular among Dai people and the perfect side dish to soothe the heat of spicy offerings. In Jie Liang’s hands the fragrant rice has a stunningly delicate balance of sour and sweetness. A ripe pineapple is scooped out and the flesh is cut in small cubes and mixed with the scented rice and other aromatics. It is served in the hollowed pineapple shell with the leaf crown acting as a lid to keep the rice hot. Yunnan is the home to a vast range of fresh rice noodle soups and stir fries. Mixian or fresh rice noodles are gluten-free with a silky texture which absorbs flavours efficiently. Yunnan's best known dish, Crossing Bridge Noodles is a bowl of extremely hot broth served with a range of ingredients supplied raw to the table, including rice noodles, thinly sliced pork, poultry and fish, leafy vegetables, bean curd, aromatics and cilantro to balance out strong flavours, much like a hot pot. If you’re not familiar with these flavours, it’s an assertive dish. If you are, it’s simply enjoyably comforting. Spicy Tom Yum seafood pot has a sharp freshness and briny meatiness, deriving its pungency from lemongrass and pepper. Other specialities include thick, soft and chewy Udon noodles made from wheat. The green onion pie is flavoursome and reminds me of the Japanese savoury pancake, okonomiyaki. Try the jiggly iced congee and glutinous dia bao (steamed buns). The restaurant caters to the International students and gets extremely busy. When the restaurant is full the wait time for food can be exceedingly long.

368 Richmond Street
226 667 9873
Menu Changes Friday to Sunday
Hours can vary. Phone ahead.

Congee Chan

Congee Chan
 One of my favourite spots is Congee Chan on Wonderland Road. In ancient times, people named the thick congee, chan, the watery one chi or mi. The restaurant offers a large menu of Cantonese specialties prepared with fresh high-quality ingredients. A favorite, traditional congee is the thick, preserved egg congee with minced duck. The shrimp dishes are a notch above most Asian-inspired restaurants in London. This is traditional Chinese regional cooking combined with Canadian-Chinese cuisine with Americanized versions of modern Asian specialties like the deep-fried, sweet and piquant General Tao chicken. Congee Chan offers more than just congee and noodles, order the lobster with ginger and green onion chow mein, and the clams with black bean sauce. Congee Chan is comparable to the good congee/noodle/rice restaurants you'd find in Toronto. They serve set Chinese dinners for a reasonable price. The interior is contemporary, colourful, warmly lit and offers both booth seating and larger round tables. Congee Chan has servers who are knowledgeable, hospitable and efficient.
735 Wonderland Rd., North (Located in a strip mall behind Costco North across from Angelo’s).

Youjin Wang

SO INVITING Chinese Bakery

SO INVITING, the Chinese bakery across from the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market lives up to its name, especially with its hospitable owners. Yamei Min and Youjin Wang offer a variety of savoury hand-made dumplings (pot stickers) that include beef, chicken, pork, and vegetable. There are three types of sauces on offer depending on your palate. Recently, they`ve added chicken fried rice to the repertoire. There is a selection of not too sweet baking. The mooncakes with savoury bean paste cookies are a big hit.  Choose what you want, it's self-serve. The minimalist bakery is take away only, not dine in, the interior is exceedingly tiny and the prices more than reasonable.
876 Dundas
226 781 0788

"Annie" Yu Wang.

Vegan Dim "Sumday" at The Tea Lounge

The Tea Lounge will celebrate their 1st anniversary on November 16-18th. They will have a Tea & Wine Paring Event and a Tea & Cocktail event. During their 3 day celebration they will also be serving tea cocktails and tea-infused win. On November 19th The Tea Lounge will launch their Vegan Dim “SumDay”. Several varieties of teas will be served with various vegan plant-based dim sum. They will start with a seasonal (pumpkin congee), followed by a cold dish. Then continue with a steamed tray (buns, wraps, dumplings etc.) and finish with several tea-based desserts. Everything will be handmade by "Annie" Yu Wang.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Transvaal Farm & C'est Bon Goat Cheese : As Goat as it Gets

Kitchen Smidgen is a small bakery — a smidgen of a spot along the beautiful Thames in St. Marys operated by Cindy Taylor. Stop by for sweet and savoury treats; perhaps pick up some C’est bon cheese or Transvaal Farm preserves. Taylor’s cinnamon buns and scones have a bit of a cult following. 


To bond with the rural charm that defines Perth County, consider day-tripping by car and staying in farmhouses or farm guest houses. Agritourism, as it is defined most commonly, constitutes any agriculturally-based operation that brings visitors to a farm. Many agro-tourists have a strong interest in all things culinary. They want to meet the local farmers, artisans and processors and talk with them about what is involved in food production while getting an authentic taste of rural life.  

In Perth County, culinary entrepreneurs continue to develop fresh takes on the farm-to-table ethos while examining the roots of local cuisine and developing new region-specific specialties and products. They characterize the entrepreneurial spirit of the modernist vanguard by re-imagining the food chain, safeguarding the terroir and adding their unique contributions to the collective Ontario culinary identity.

On a beautiful mid-September day, at the invitation of Stratford Tourism and the Ontario Culinary Alliance, I visited Transvaal Farm and the small on-farm family run C’estbon cheese business as part of the itinerary of a carefully planned FAM tour. The tour was geared to familiarize the press with many of the epic culinary attractions in and around Stratford and St. Marys, Ontario.

Down a bucolic backroad on the verge of the historic stone town of St. Marys lies Transvaal Farm at the end of a tree-lined driveway. The pastoral 50-acre farm has been home to Cindy Taylor’s family for over three decades. Cindy and her raconteur husband Scott McLauchlan are our formidable hosts on this informative and entertaining agritourism experience. The main elements of this adventure are a guided tour by Scott of the storybook property and farm gardens, a tour and a lavish farm-to-table breakfast prepared by Cindy at the guest house, and a tour of the small-scale artisan goat cheese plant operated by Cindy’s brother, owner and cheesemaker, George Taylor.

Shortly after our arrival we walk over to the chicken coop to meet “the girls” a bevy of Rhode Island Reds, and collect some freshly laid eggs for breakfast. Although they are excellent free range foragers, McLauchlan tells us, “the girls” need some protection from the late-night wildlife interlopers that prowl the farm.
Despite the intense hot weather we’ve had, part of the farm garden is overflowing with the bright greenery of nasturtium leaves and their vibrant edible flowers. There are plenty of hardy vegetables still in the field, especially colourful varieties of ubiquitous peppers and tomatoes ripe for the picking.

Back at the Transvaal Farm guesthouse the refrigerator is stocked with samplings of fresh, milky and satisfyingly tart C’estbon goat cheese, made on the property from a neighbouring herd of goats. There is farm fresh goat milk on offer and a delicious creamy goat yogurt that is like crème fraiche – “Not without similarities to Iceland’s super-trendy Skyr,” says Ontario Culinary Alliance, Community Manager, Agatha Podgorski  –  the yogurt we are told is still in the beta stage and we are the first to enjoy a sampling. Technically, the yogurt is a cheese with full-fat content.

Cindy a graduate of the Baking Arts program at George Brown College has outdone herself by crafting a selection of high-quality baked goods made in small batches using traditional methods from Transvaal  Farm’s fresh ingredients. These are the products that Cindy takes to the St. Marys Farmers’ Market on Saturdays in season. We are the recipients of much culinary largesse that includes her baking and Transvaal Farms preserves.

George is welcoming and willing to share his story. What began as a retirement project sixteen years ago – which George hoped would be able to sustain its own costs – became a successful artisan goat cheese operation that soon showed both sustainability and profitability. George famously swapped a flock of sheep for a herd of Toggenburg and La Mancha goats, and began crafting farmstead, small-batch, cheese- by-hand, using only the milk from his own herd to create his proprietary C’estbon chèvre. 

In time, George eventually relocated his goats to a neighbouring farm. Today, once a week about 5,000 litres of goat milk is delivered from a local producer, Hewitt’s Dairy, and the process begins. Not a single item goes off the property without George’s thumbprint on it. Authentic artisan cheese can’t be mass-produced: it is limited in quantity and has specific characteristics deemed to be specialty in nature.    

A sense of community and an entrepreneurial culture are important economic drivers in rural areas. Upwards of 80 percent of Stratford’s upscale chefs and restaurateurs purchase C’estbon chevre.

One of the experiences Cindy offers to farm guests is the opportunity to participate in an on-site hands-on culinary workshop. She offers workshops on preserving, home-made bread or pastry, chocolate truffles, and even making your own goat cheese. You choose which culinary experience you would like to partake in and Cindy will arrange a convenient day to make it happen.

The culinary tour of Transvaal Farm and the C’estbon cheese operations was both inspiring and informative. It reminded us of the strong links of like-minded entrepreneurs by talking about the things we all have in common — enjoying the benefits that we receive from a healthy entrepreneurial, artisan and agriculture culture. On another level it reminds us to embrace unique products that are locally conceived, locally controlled and as rich in local content as the distinctive terroir and time-honoured ways of preparing them of any given era.
4675 Line 3, St. Marys, Ontario

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Five Fortune Culture Restaurant’s Authentic “Pure Chinese” Experience


Although the ethnic cuisines of Yunnan province may not be particularly well known in the West, they are touted as being among the best regional eating experiences in China. There are 25 ethnic groups in this southwestern Chinese province, all contributing within their cultural cuisine subgroups. Agrarian by nature, Yunnan is the birthplace of tea. Yunnan’s northwest corner is said to be the inspiration for Shangri-La, as described in James Hilton’s utopian classic, Lost Horizon.

A recent surge of interest in ethnic and regional Chinese cuisine is reflected in the growth and popularity of Yunnan restaurants in both Beijing and Shanghai. Encouraged by an explosion in cultural tourism the boom is a result of China’s modernization strategy which has put Yunnan on the gastronomical map.

In downtown London, Five Fortune Culture Restaurant proprietors Wenbei and Jie Liang Yin (Jeff) are part of the groundswell of restaurateurs offering an authentic "pure" Chinese dining experience. This is not the formulaic Chinese restaurant serving Anglo-genres conceived by old-style Taishanese and rural Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional Chinese recipes to suit local tastes and available ingredients. The cuisine, as prepared by Jie Liang and interpreted by Wenbei is Yunnan with Sichuan and Guizhou influences.

Many Yunnan dishes are typified by bold flavours, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of chili peppers and garlic of bordering Sichuan province. Southern Yunnan takes its influences from Vietnam, Laos and Burma and many dishes have a similarity to Thai cuisine. Meat commonly plays a supporting role as a mere seasoning to the vegetables.

Aromatic steamed pineapple rice is popular among Dai people and the perfect side dish to soothe the heat of spicy offerings. In Jie Liang’s hands the fragrant rice has a stunningly delicate balance of sour and sweetness. A ripe pineapple is scooped out and the flesh is cut in small cubes and mixed with the scented rice and other aromatics. It is served in the hollowed pineapple shell with the leaf crown acting as a lid to keep the rice hot.

Yunnan is the home to a vast range of fresh rice noodle soups and stir fries. Mixian or fresh rice noodles are gluten-free with a silky texture which absorbs flavours efficiently. Yunnan's best known dish, Crossing Bridge Noodles is a bowl of extremely hot broth served with a range of ingredients supplied raw to the table, including rice noodles, thinly sliced pork, poultry and fish, leaf vegetables, bean curd, aromatics and cilantro to balance out strong flavours, much like a hot pot. If you’re not familiar with these flavours, it’s an assertive dish. If you are, it’s simply enjoyably comforting.

A trio of fish are offered whole, with head and tail intact. The choices were salmon, tilapia and a deep- sea fish with an untranslatable name. I avoid farmed fish so we chose the untranslatable-named fish. Jie Liang’s grandmother provided the recipe which is a thirty-six hour process from start to finish. The fish is wrapped in foil and steamed on the grill which keeps the firm interior moist and intact, the outer skin of the fish was candy-sweet and caramelized with green onion, soya, ginger and garlic.

Spicy Tom Yum seafood pot has a sharp freshness and briny meatiness, deriving its pungency from lemongrass and pepper. Other specialities include thick, soft and chewy Udon noodles made from wheat. The green onion pie is flavoursome and reminds me of the Japanese savoury pancake, okonomiyaki. Try the jiggly iced congee and glutinous dia bao (steamed buns). You will never need Sriracha again, once you’ve tasted Wenbei’s homemade, hot and spicy, red pepper dipping oil. She jars it and sells it in the restaurant.

Chinoiserie and other decorative arts and imagery decorate the dining room, giving personal expression to Wenbei and Jie Liang’s former lives in China. The purpose of a “culture restaurant” is to be an emissary and to facilitate the exchange of Eastern and Western cultural values. On selected evenings there is traditional song and dancing on a small stage that flanks the dining room. Wenbei, a former fashion designer, has an excellent singing voice.

Wealth, health, longevity, love, and virtue are the five good fortunes. Five also happens to be the name of their former business portfolio in China which they wanted to extend to include this restaurant. The investment projects included Five Fortune Herbal Cuisine (herbal cuisine restaurant), Five Fortune Very Ethnic (traditional embroideries and clothing), Five Fortune Arts (Chinese art and paintings), and Five Fortune Clothing (clothing design and production of ramie cotton produced from the nettle plant).

Hoping to live a more peaceful life, the couple travelled nearly eight thousand miles to start a new life in a strange land. Wenbei, who comes from a lineage of doctors, cites Norman Bethune, who is enshrined as a national hero in China, as an influence on their decision to immigrate to Canada. Famously, Bethune’s accidental death from septicemia evoked Chairman Mao Zedong's essay "In Memory of Norman Bethune," which urged all Chinese to match his spirit of responsibility and humanitarianism and became required reading for the entire population.

Jie Liang, who studied to be an art designer belongs to "Dai" a Tai cultural group from Yunnan that traditionally adheres to Buddhist principles. At Five Fortune the servers are intelligent and hospitable students that understand her vision and speak English. Service is welcoming and helpful with the kinds of detail about the dishes that can be hard to find in some Chinese restaurants. The restaurant caters to International students and gets extremely busy. When the restaurant is full the wait time for food can be exceedingly long.

There is a saying in Yunnan, “We will eat anything with four legs except for a table,” says Wenbei. Jie Liang’s translation of Yunnan cooking both pays respectful homage to the culture and, in the hope of making it more accessible, takes the most minor liberties with it. An epigram on the menu states, "The fragrance always stays in the hand that gives the rose..." 

Five Fortune Culture Restaurant
368 Richmond Street
Menu Changes Friday–Sunday 
Hours can vary. Phone ahead for times.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Tea Rituals & Michelle Pierce Hamilton and Yixing Tang's The Tea Lounge

Yixing Tang and Michelle Pierce Hamilton. Photo: Spencer Drake


Tea sommelier and nutritionist Michelle Pierce Hamilton and her business partner Yixing Tang opened The Tea Lounge in a small charming house on Piccadilly Street east of Richmond. They recently launched a menu of cold drinks, iced teas and vegan-friendly lattes. Matcha, London Fog and cinnamon-orange spiced tea lattes are available hot or iced. There is afternoon tea service one Sunday per month. Book a sitting at the monthly Tea Flight Nights to experience a comparative tasting. A small in-house scratch menu and baked goods and healthful snacks from Petit Paris Crêperie & Pâtisserie, Boombox Bakeshop and Bliss Specialty Foods add to the experience.

London may be part of the explosion of indie cafés serving small-batch coffee roasts, which are part grab-and-go café and part bakery, but we’re a community of dedicated tea enthusiasts too. And now, with the rise of the wellness tea market, we are seeing several innovative tea-inspired concepts. These indie hot spots are about tea craft and accessibility and offer us a well-curated selection of ethically-sourced single-origin teas, blends, tisanes and infusions.

The upswing in the popularity of tea translates to enhanced flavour profiles, and blends that add fruits, flowers and spices for a richer experience. Pairings of tea with herbs, spices and fruits for beverages, tea-infused jams, condiments, and desserts, cocktails, cold brews and ferments are all on-trend.

The Tea Lounge

Certified tea sommelier and nutritionist Michelle Pierce Hamilton and her business partner Yixing Tang opened The Tea Lounge in a small and charming house on Piccadilly Street east of Richmond Row last fall.

Millwork shelving showcases an interesting selection of unique and traditional teaware. The focal point is a 10-foot “Wall of Tea,” featuring over 100 hand-selected teas from around the world.

The café has many seating options, including a rustic conference table with over-sized hand-carved dining chairs for groups and classes. A long crimson sofa accents the Indo-Asian decorative features of the eclectic central lounge. There is additional seating on the front porch in the warm weather.

Tang and Pierce Hamilton offer a premium tea service experience, serving ethically-sourced single-origin teas and tisanes from around the world, as well as retailing striking teaware. The pair offers traditional Chinese, Japanese and English teas, each with its own teaware and serving style. Chinese “grandpa style” is another option on offer. Or you can simply get a quick cup to go. Guests can sip meticulously-sourced teas while experiencing their choice of traditional or contemporary style tea service in the laid-back lounge.

Whether you’re in the mood for a tasty treat, wholesome ingredients, or have food sensitivities, delicious baked good and healthful snacks from Petit Paris Crêperie & Pâtisserie, Boombox Bakeshop and Bliss Specialty Foods add to the tea experience. A menu of light and nourishing food offers a daily wholesome made-from-scratch soup prepared by the culinary team at The Spruce on Wellington just around the corner. Other items include organic Mason jar layered-salads with names like Plant Protein, Fruitoxidant, Kitchen Sink, Greek Out and Sexy Mexi.

There is an “All ’Bout Cheese Board” featuring a selection of local Ontario artisanal cheeses like Gunn’s Hill Cheese, served with condiments, nuts and other accompaniments that they switch up, to keep things interesting. For the plant-based crowd, the “Nuts for Cheese Board” features a selection of ­artisanal, handcrafted, and vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews.

What makes great tea? Pierce Hamilton believes, “It starts with excellent quality leaf, with permission to naturally unfurl and fully reveal its flavours and aromas. Not crushed or crammed into a little bag or a ball.” The tea lounge owners create blends that don’t diminish tea’s nutrients, antioxidants and essential oils. They do the legwork, sourcing and selecting teas and tisanes from around the globe. An informative and exciting schedule of classes and events is also part of The Tea Lounge experience.

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi's Modern South Vietnamese Cuisine

By Bryan Lavery

This sleek and urban-chic downtown hot-spot has a sophisticated palette and an upscale mix of contemporary Asian-inspired motifs, art, cuisine and ambiance. Chefs combine the freshest ingredients with traditional flavours to create a unique menus designed to promote communal dining.

From a design perspective, the attention to detail is carried through in many small but striking ways such as the design of the cutlery and dishes, seasonal exotic floral arrangements and the various choices of seating arrangements. The mosaic tiles around the bar have a chameleon-like ability to change into a myriad of palettes, creating a swanky, sexy cocktail lounge vibe with a colour changing remote control. Lighting can also be adjusted to set the mood particularly in the far end of the dining room, where private booth seating provides an intimate and comfortable dining experience.

The cuisine is sophisticated and pushes culinary boundaries without breaking the tenets of traditional South Vietnamese cuisine. The flavours are multi-faceted and subtle and the dishes have plenty of visual appeal. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour.

The cooking is delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of India. 

The signature Crispy Spring Roll at Tamarine is made with chicken, pork, or a vegetarian version served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The restaurant is also known for its crispy Torpedo Rolls, made with shrimp and crispy Imperial Rolls with shrimp, pork, wood ear (a type of fungi) and glass noodles, which are also served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The Vietnamese use fish sauce to enhance the flavour of their foods, much the same way we use table salt, and it pretty much goes with everything.
Compared with its cousin, the egg roll, the spring roll is smaller, with much less filling. (Phan tells me that the “spring roll” is all about quality, not quantity). However, the terms “spring roll” and “egg roll,” like “spring roll” and “fresh roll,” are often used somewhat interchangeably and incorrectly. It can be quite confusing.

Fresh rolls are referred to by several different names, including “salad roll,” “fresh spring roll,” and “summer roll.” Sometimes the word “Vietnamese” is added at the beginning of these words; for example, “Vietnamese roll” or “Vietnamese spring rolls.” It has been my experience that on the North American west coast, many restaurants refer to fresh rolls as “crystal rolls,” “soft rolls,” or “salad rolls.” Fresh rolls are easily distinguished from similar rolls in that they are not fried and that the ingredients used are different from (deep-fried) Vietnamese egg rolls.

“Spring rolls” take their name from the freshness of the spring season with all the seasonal ingredients, and frying would, of course take away that element. At Tamarine, they offer fresh Spring Rolls with a choice of barbecued chicken or shrimp, vermicelli, crispy pastry heart, fresh mint, lettuce, and sprouts, all rolled in soft rice paper and served with peanut sauce.

Tamarine also has its own version of Pad Thai. Although it is the national dish of Thailand and has been known in various incarnations for centuries, the dish is thought to have been introduced to Thailand by Vietnamese traders. Tamarine’s version is a choice of wok-tossed chicken or beef with rice noodles and bean sprouts, finished with a spicy tamarind sauce and cilantro lime, and garnished with crushed peanuts.

“Tamarine is a second-generation restaurant. It is our interpretation of how Vietnamese food has evolved,” says co-owner Long Phan. “Our food is as symbolic as it is traditional. You can be anywhere in the world and authentically showcase our heritage with our cuisine.” The cooking remains delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of both China and India.

Words can describe the atrocities that Vietnamese “boat people” suffered when they decided to flee their homeland in crudely built boats, sparking an international humanitarian crisis. When Quynh and Nhi’s father Tan Pham wanted a better future for his family the authorities caught wind of it his first attempt to escape the country landed him 20 months of hard labour in jail. Subsequent attempts yielded him no promises to get him where he wanted to go. In 1990, he escaped Vietnam literally with the shirt on his back and that was the price he was willing to pay for a better future for his family. At that time there was no possible future for his family it was either poverty or death. The survivors sometimes languished for years in refugee camps. More fortunate ones were taken in by countries like Canada.

It has been a long journey for the family to get where it is now but adversity instilled a solid work ethic and team spirit that is evident in how they operate their restaurants. After making a name for herself at the Trail’s End Market with her hand-rolled, high quality spring rolls and stir fry’s, Du Bui (Quynh and Nhi’s mother who has always been in charge of quality) parlayed her signature spring roll eventually into what her son-in-law, Long Phan refers to as “the birth of two restaurants.”

Wrapping spring rolls in lettuce leaves and including fresh herbs in the bundles is a vestige of the original civilizations that existed before the centuries of Chinese influence in Vietnam, and is practised with delicacy at both Quynh Nhi and Tamarine.

118 Dundas St, London
Tuesday– Saturday 5 pm–9pm
Friday Lunch 11 am–2:30pm

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Where to Eat Vietnamese in London, ON: Fresh Rolls, Pho & Noodles Rule


The genius of Vietnamese cooking lies in the adaptation of foreign influences to develop a distinctly unique and subtle cuisine with contrasting flavours and textures. Sour ­flavours are balanced by salty ones, and sweet notes are tempered by heat from chilies and ground pepper. There is a dependence on rice; noodles figure prominently and a wealth of fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables. As in China and East Asia, the Vietnamese serve their rice in bowls with chopsticks. Meat is an accompaniment rather than a central offering.

The Vietnamese custom of wrapping fresh rolls and spring rolls in lettuce leaves and fresh herbs are a remnant of the original cultures that existed before centuries of Chinese influence. The Chinese contributed many culinary techniques including their art of stir-frying using the wok; the French left their traditions and penchant for aromatic filtered coffee with condensed milk and crème caramel; scented ingredients like lemongrass were embraced from the Thai culinary repertoire; and the spicing techniques and aromatic infusions of curry-inspired recipes are suggestive of India. That is the short-list.

Pho, a popular street food in Vietnam, is a deeply-flavoured broth with long rice noodles, fresh herbs and thin slices of meat most often accompanied with a side of bean sprouts, peppers and lime wedges. Pho has become the mainstay of many Vietnamese restaurants. In London, students have given Ben Thanh and Pho Haven cult-status due to pho’s hearty, meal-in-a-bowl, comfort food popularity and its relative affordability. Thuan Thanh  serves probably the best pad Thai and most authentic pho in the city. I will be writing about them shortly. Here are a few Vietnamese restaurants in London, ON that dyed-in-the-wool foodies brag about.

The Vietnam Restaurant
My introduction to pho and subsequent comparisons are based on the delicious concoctions that have a fragrant undertone, accompanied by thin slices of rare beef, which they have been serving at The Vietnam since my first visit twenty years ago. The Vietnam is located across from the former Kellogg’s factory that is being repurposed into a new multi-use attraction to be known as 100 Kellogg. Long Duc Ngo has been the welcoming hands-on proprietor of this long established Vietnamese restaurant since 1994. The kitchen offers a selection of accessibly-priced noodle, rice and soup dishes. The substantive menu includes superb spring rolls, pho, sizzling hot pots, and many seafood and chicken dishes. Favourites include Pho Dac Biet, the signature combination beef, rice noodle broth with rare and brisket beef, beef balls and tripe with fresh herbs. The cold rice paper roll known as goi cuon is a perennial favourite. It is comprised of noodles, shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint and Thai basil, making this savoury easy to dip in a thick sauce of peanuts and soya.
1074 Dundas St, London
Tuesday–Thursday 11am–9pm
Friday 11am–9pm
Saturday 12pm–10pm
Sunday (Closed Temp)

Thuân Kiêu 
Established in 1996, Thuâ.n Ki`êu is family-owned and operated and has developed an ardent and devoted fan base over the years for Chen’s (or Chu’s — he goes by both) hands-on approach, his ability to remember his regulars by name and his traditional Vietnamese cuisine.
For years the restaurant was located in cramped premises at Huron and Sandford Streets. The new incarnation has a slick urban sensibility with a variety of seating options. The ambitious menu offers a range of traditional/non-traditional Vietnamese dishes that reads like an encyclopedia. Some dishes reach out to other parts of South Asia. Due to its updated high-concept business model, it has lost some of its intimacy but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The service is very attentive but when it gets crowded, and it does, things at TK’s can go a bit haywire.
The appetizer to order is the Bo La Lop; the parcels of grilled lemongrass-infused beef wrapped in grape leaf are exceptional. At Thuân Ki`êu, they are zealously creating quality food using traditional cooking methods and techniques to impart the essence of Vietnamese cuisine.
1275 Highbury Ave N., London
Monday–Saturday 11am–9:30pm
Sunday 11 am–8:30pm

Quynh Nhi 
For well over a decade the family-run Quynh Nhi (named after siblings Quynh and Nhi) has garnered a loyal patronage and prospered because of its responsive service, consistency and traditional Vietnamese cuisine. The updated forty-seat restaurant is situated off the beaten path, next door to an auto repair garage at the corner of Wharncliffe and Riverside. Quynh Nhi built its formidable reputation on its spring rolls. The signature Crispy Spring Roll is offered with chicken, pork, or in a vegetarian version served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The restaurant is also known for its five different types of spicy pad Thai on offer. 
55 Wharncliffe Road N., London
Monday–Saturday 11am–9pm

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi 

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi 
Tamarine by Quynh Nhi is the sibling restaurant and the evolution of the venerated Quynh Nhi. This is the new wave of modern southern Vietnamese cuisine that has undergone a coherent development, it has a technical almost architectural articulation, and the chefs are concerned with creativity and innovation. Menu offerings are intended to be mixed and paired in ways that harmonize and contrast flavours. Both the shredded mango and shrimp salad with chili lime fish sauce, mint, crushed peanut and pickled carrots, and the green papaya salad with fiery beef jerky, basil and sweet tamarind sauce are otherworldly. Tamarine is known for its crispy Torpedo Rolls made with shrimp, and crispy Imperial Rolls with shrimp, pork, wood ear (a type of fungi) and glass noodles, which are also served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The kitchen combines fresh ingredients with traditional seasonings to construct offerings designed to encourage communal dining. 
118 Dundas St, London
Tuesday– Saturday 5 pm–9pm
Friday Lunch 11 am–2:30pm

Chi Hi Vietnamese
Chef Trinh's modest Vietnamese Restaurant features traditional fare including banh mi (black bean, tofu or beef subs) pho, fresh rolls, spring rolls, vegetarian Singapore noodles, beef noodle brisket soup, and black bean tofu vermicelli. There is also jade cake, banana cake and a large plant-based selection. 791 Dundas Street (beside Aeolian Hall at Rectory) 519 601 8448 

Ben Thanh Viet Thai Restaurant 
This popular Viet-Thai restaurant boasts meal-in-a-bowl specialties and vegetarian options at accessible prices. Cooks prepare your meal a la minute with authentic quality ingredients. The casual dining rooms are airy and relaxing. For over two decades Ben Thanh has provided London with accessible Viet-Thai food. London has three locations.
517 York Street
655 Fanshawe Park West
1070 Wellington Road South

Monday, September 18, 2017

Growing Chefs! Ontario Headquarters & Food Education Centre


Andrew Fleet, Executive Director of Growing Chefs! Ontario, announced earlier this year that the former Auberge Restaurant at King and Maitland would be the new home for the ground-breaking program that unites chefs, growers, educators and community members in children’s food education projects. They have worked hard to transform the former Auberge du Petit Prince restaurant into an innovative Food Education Centre. It is a venue where Londoners, young and old, can get excited about growing, cooking, sharing, and celebrating delicious healthy food together. 

The enclosed sunrooms, dining rooms and bar have been turned into teaching areas. Upstairs features an additional three intimate rooms that can be used for private functions, corporate meetings and teaching facilities. The outdoor patio has been transformed into a spectacular Learning Garden. 

Food literacy, when taken literally, means a person’s ability to correctly read food labels and Canada’s Food Guide and the aptitude to comprehend basic nutrition well enough to apply that knowledge to food preparation. Food literacy also includes understanding how food is grown and produced, where it originates, how production affects the environment and who has access to what types of foods.

The need to introduce food into school life is the most compelling at the primary level, when children are just starting to establish food preferences, make independent choices and influence their friends. Growing Chefs! was conceived in Vancouver B.C. by Chef Merri Schwartz in 2006, as she identified a need to articulate the story of the food we eat. Believing in greater engagement between chefs, farmers and the general public, she set out to educate children, families, and community members about nutrition, sustainability and healthy food systems. Schwartz achieved this by providing programs, seminars, and workshops in classrooms to promote local and healthy eating.

After working with Schwartz and recognizing the influence that Growing Chefs! was having in Vancouver, Andrew Fleet was inspired to launch the program when he returned to London, Ontario. Consequently, Growing Chefs! Ontario Classroom ­Gardening Project was established in the spring of 2008 at Tecumseh Public School. Fleet is the Executive Director of Growing Chefs! Ontario.

What was initially known as the Classroom Gardening Project has been redesigned as a full-school project. The Growing Chefs! team visits every class in each partner school allowing individual schools to contribute time and effort into the coordination piece of the programming. “Kids are well educated in our school system on health and they know they need to be making healthy choices but we don’t show them how to actually do that,” Fleet explains. “That’s the Growing Chefs! philosophy — you give kids a chance to cook real food with real flavour with a real chef.”

Katherine Puzara lead chef for the elementary school project, Fresh Food Frenzy, and Growing Communities. Puzara has redesigned and expanded the workshops and lesson plans, while working to challenge the perceived limitations of children and youth in the kitchen. The program invites individual grade 1-3 classes on a field trip to visit the Covent Garden Farmers’ Market. Students explore the farmers’ market, purchase ingredients, and share their findings with the class. Afterwards they prepare a delicious three course lunch in the Market Kitchen. This program gives students a unique opportunity to connect with local farmers and learn about the journey of their food from farm to table.

Students visiting the Education Centre on a field trip experience an authentic restaurant setting, explore the Learning Garden, and take part in grade-appropriate cooking activities.  In the restaurant setting, students can see the entire food system in action, from production to consumption and beyond. Field trips culminate with students sharing a meal they have had a hand in preparing a healthy and seasonal meal.

Over the years, who’s who of local chefs have participated in the Growing Chefs! program. The chefs include Andrew Wolwowicz from Craft Farmacy/North Moore Catering, who has been on the Board of Directors of Growing Chefs! since 2010,  Paul Harding of The Root Cellar, Dani Murphy of Blu Duby, Wade Fitzgerald of Fanshawe College, Mark Kitching from Waldo’s on King, Ryan Irwin of Fellini’s in Stratford, Yoda Olinyk of Yoda’s Private Catering, Yam Gurung of Momo’s at the Market and Patrick Dunham of Patrick’s Beans, to name a few. 

Based on the idea that education can alter behavior, Growing Chefs! and its many volunteers have made tremendous strides by changing the way many children perceive food and encouraging them to become excited about nutritious and healthy food choices.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

From the Archives: Chef Jason Bangerter and Langdon Hall Country House Hotel

"The restaurant is well-known for its terroir-driven Ontario cuisine, using the estate’s acreage as inspiration for the seasonal menus". - Bryan Lavery

By Bryan Lavery

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 7 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.

Afternoon Tea

DAILY 5:30PM–9:00PM
DAILY 12:00PM–9:30PM
Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa

1 Langdon Dr., Cambridge,