The Why: The Number One hotel in Canada according to some sources – Five Diamonds, Relais et Chateau Rated, an off-the-beaten path gem, and an ever changing menu crafted by Chef Jonathan Gushue focused on the best local ingredients available – it seemed a perfect way to end our trip spanning from Toledo to Montreal and back.
The Reservation: A call to the hotel and restaurant’s reservation line one month in advance – clearly unnecessary as we were one of only three groups dining at the hotel that evening, but with such an aggressive agenda for the trip I figured it was best to plan in advance.
The Space: There is much to be read and much to be seen on the Langdon Hall property; for those interested I would direct you here – http://www.langdonhall.ca/viewpage.cfm?PageID=6. Originally constructed in 1898 and still harboring many of the charms of the old estate including the stables, the gardens, rustic furniture and plethoric numbers of fresh flowers plus silver, crystal, and linen this is definitely a grand old estate well that has been immaculately maintained and manicured throughout the last century – it is beautiful and serene, befitting its Relais et Chateaux designation.
The Service: Elegant and formal but decidedly lacking the polish and charm of many similar restaurants I was actually somewhat surprised by the fact that only a single captain and server were working the room that evening. Perhaps an effect of the season or low number of diners there were periods where water went unfilled, plates sat empty, and presentations were bobbled that I simply would not expect from a restaurant of such stature.
The Food and Drink: 2 Iced Teas, a non-alcoholic beverage, Amuse, Complimentary Bread Service, 3 Three-Course menus, a cheese supplement, and mignardises.
Lavender White Hot Chocolate: Generally not a fan of floral flavors this was highly recommended by our server and actually quite excellent, a light perfume of lavender with rich smooth sipping chocolate.
Dressed Rabbit with duck liver mousse and Endive: In my opinion the best bite of the evening, this complementary amuse was perfect – the lean tartare of rabbit melded together by the creamy foie gras while endive and crisp onions kept it vibrant.
House White and Wheat Bread with Salted Aged Butter: A top ten all time bread service, particularly considering there was only two options – the quality here was in the butter. Rich and decadent – literally as flavorful as an aged cheese and as good as many in Paris I really have no idea how much of this I ate, but I do know the bread was replenished twice and the butter thrice…and I don’t think the ladies were responsible.
Rhubarb, Baby Greens, Caviar Vinaigrette, Kohlrabi: Yes, it was fresh. Yes, it was boring. No, I didn’t order this.
Cod Tongue with Sunflower, Roasted Onion Broth, Hedgehog Mushroom: This I did order but unfortunately it did not fare much better than the salad – an effect of too heavy a hand with the salt and spices leading to the flavor of not only the tongue but also the mushrooms being lost to the overly aggressive broth. Admittedly the best textured cod throat/tongue I’ve ever had with the collagen nicely melted and tender, allowing them to actually shine would have been ideal.
Potato Fondue, Basil, Herb Chips, Sallers: This was awesome – probably more butter than potato and beautifully accented with the herbal elements while the crispy root vegetables added texture.
Chicken, Roasted Ramps, Sauce Allemande, Parsley Root: My mother often orders chicken at fine dining spots and generally it works out, rarely more so than here. Sourced from local farms and beautifully brined and roasted this was a superlative bird paired with early season ramps, roots, herbs, and a nutty sauce that melded everything together – a sauce no doubt bolstered by the quality of the house butter.
Lobster, Partridgeberry Jus, Baby Beets, Parsnip, Red Onion, Rainbow Chard: My aunt’s selection and everything the cod tongue could have been – perfectly executed lobster in a vegetal melange that reminded me of the cuisine out in northern California in terms of its freshness, refinement, and balance. At times bitter, at others earthy, but all the time with a slight overlying sweetness that played off the natural flavors of the shellfish.
Roe Deer, Chickweed, Venison Bacon, Navet, Mustard Greens, Sunflower Crumble, Natural Jus: My selection – served medium-rare by Chef’s choice – was small in portion but impressively lean and perfectly gamey, but even cooked perfectly still a bit dry. Having bathed other proteins in sauces and broths it is hard for me to determine why Gushue opted to go with largely dry accoutrements on this plate given the natural leanness of small deer but all-in-all it was a poor choice, particularly at a $44 price tag.
Assiette de Fromage with nuts, local honey, Partridge Berries – Le Cendrillon and Riopelle: At $9/oz I was simply happy to finally see an All-Canadian cheese cart in Canada and thankfully both selections were excellent, particularly the vegetable ash coated goat’s cheese with a bit of funk that paired perfectly with the honey and raisin bread.
Dark Chocolate Toffee Bar with Coco Nibs, Soused Cherry Ice Cream: By far the best of the desserts that afternoon, this was dry like a Kit-Kat yet melted like a semifreddo on the tongue. Bittersweet but bolstered by the intensely sour ice cream everything here from temperature to texture to taste was nicely balanced.
Pine Scented Lemon Sponge Cake with Toasted Marshmallow and Citrus Frozen Yogurt: My mother ordered this for the citrus…she enjoyed it. To me it tasted much like Pine-sol smells. Texturally interesting to be sure, but most assuredly not my style.
Wild Rice Brulee with Partridge Berries, Ginger Crumble, Buttermilk Sorbet: This could have been so much better if the rice had been more thoroughly prepared – instead what I received was something like a sweetened rice pilaf that had been lightly torched to add a bit of crunch and, for the third time that evening, presented with partridge berries. Understanding the limitations of “local/seasonal” on one hand but at the same time disappointed by the redundancy this was another place where texture trumped taste…and at $16 per dessert that simply wasn’t good enough.
Chocolate Bouchons and Lime Marshmallows: Free, simple, and tasty – the brownies especially decadent and still warm and gooey.
The Verdict: In many ways befitting of its tremendous accolades I couldn’t help but depart Langdon Hall a bit disappointed. For many reasons a ‘destination meal,’ including location, sourcing, and setting the simple fact of the matter was that for over $100/pp after tax and tip there were just too many uninspiring courses at too much cost. While I don’t doubt that both the front of the house and Chef Gushue’s team in the kitchen can turn out an exemplary experience at Langdon Hall it would be hard for me to guarantee it to anyone based on my one experience and even harder for me to justify a return visit unless I otherwise found myself in the area.