Approaching its 10th year, TOOK (The Only on King), with its fully realized farm-to-table philosophy, devoted acknowledgement of the local terroir and support of local farmers and producers, was the personification and outstanding archetype of the virtuous up-to-the-minute Ontario restaurant. According to several sources the landmark TOOK has ceased operations. The restaurant will be missed by its legions of fans. We wish Paul Harding and staff best wishes in their future endeavours.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
The Kitchen Brigade at Restaurant Ninety-One:
BACK ROW: Sous Chef Joshua Blackmore, Hannah Mach, Kyle Newman, Pastry Chef Jordan Walsh, Dennis Davidson
FRONT ROW: Executive Chef Angela Murphy, Sous Chef Kris Simmons
Lemon-Ginger Pickerel with new parsnip and carrot preparations, lemon dust, edible blossoms,
black sesame vinaigretteL
Windermere Manor’s Restaurant Ninety One launched in the late spring. Situated on a secluded acreage, in a building that formerly housed Windermere Café, the venue has been extensively remodelled, and blends the allure of a century old manor house with contemporary style and modern amenities. A natural refuge, roaming wildlife, including deer and wild turkeys, is a common sight on the grounds. Executive chef Angela Murphy explores the concept of Modern Canadian Cuisine with the culinary brigade, and the menus reflect the significance of the appellation.
The charming and hospitable general manager, Brenda Brandt, describes the elegant Windermere Manor as somewhere between stately and quaint. The website says, “The baronial estate, built in 1925 by John E. Smallman, is an accurate architectural reflection of Tudor England and a fitting tribute to his father Thomas, a founding member of The Imperial Oil Company. Although slightly refurbished, inside the Manor retains its feeling of a by-gone era.”
Murphy and Chef Josh Blackwell and the culinary team have built on a sustainable culinary philosophy and farm-to-table sensibility which showcases a selection of innovative seasonal dishes and tasting menus. Chefs use elements from the kitchen garden and obtain additional high quality ingredients from trusted local purveyors.
Conceived the previous winter, and built in April 2010 by registered local apiarist Rick Huismann (owner of Huismann Apiaries near Union), the Windermere Manor Bee Village produced its first honey harvest that same year. The Bee Village now comprises 23 colonies. Each hive serves as home to one queen bee and approximately 70,000 worker bees. The bees feast on a diverse variety of plants and flowers so the honey produced has a flavour truly exclusive to Windermere Manor. The honey is used extensively in the kitchen and is also available for purchase. Don’t forget to order a glass or pitcher of Windermere Honey Stung Ale.
I attended the soft opening of the restaurant with one of my colleagues— truly an exceptional experience. The dishes were innovative, prepared and presented with flair and keen attention to detail. It was the perfect calibration of seasonal flavours.
Restaurant manager Colleen Murree, who has a long history of bar and service management, came to the Windermere from Fanshawe College, where she taught courses from service standards to mixology. Brandt’s and Murree’s benchmark for detailed, intelligent and enthusiastic service continues to be met through specialized, ongoing training and with the help of customer feedback surveys. Servers do not have to go to the kitchen to ask about ingredients for clients with food allergies or special dietary restrictions — they are trained and already able to answer customers’ questions about the food and how it is prepared.
Chef Murphy pursued academics out of high school and has a double major degree in Humanities and English Literature. “With that ‘lucrative’ degree I got a job as a university administrator at Carleton University and then at the University of Waterloo doing the type of administrative work that could be done in the first forty minutes of the day, and spent the rest of the day watching YouTube videos, the slow moving clock, and my life fade slowly into misery,” says Murphy.
Murphy has ambitions to be a food writer. It is why she wanted to go to culinary school in the first place. She applied and was accepted to the Stratford Chefs School. “I had always wanted to get my hands dirty and flex my creativity on a daily basis. At that time I was a vegetarian and had spent my late teens and early twenties experimenting with the world flavours and ingredients prevalent in vegetarian cuisine. I became interested in food politics and even hopped on the 100-mile diet bandwagon for six months.”
Murphy spent time working in Stratford at a few restaurants, including the short-lived, hyper-local and much touted Pan Tapas Grill with chef Jordan Lassaline. The small plates restaurant was just slightly ahead of its time. Murphy also worked at the former Church Restaurant under executive chef David Hassell who had been mentored by his predecessor, chef Amédé Lamarche.
“The Church Restaurant was large and busy and refined. The fine dining cuisine used many molecular elements. The work was grueling, the atmosphere was competitive, the hours were long, and the pay was scarce. I learned a lot about the industry and I became aware that this type of lifestyle was unsustainable. I wanted to create a better, healthier place for myself and others to work in. I love the work, I love the pressure and the intensity and the culture and the food, but it became obvious that working the way I was would lead to burn out if something didn’t change,” states Murphy.
She relocated to London and started a small catering business called Handcraft Catering, while working in administration at Western. “I catered private dinners and events large and small. It was a great time when there was business. I created custom menus for clients and got to cook dishes of my own creation. I loved working for myself and being able to co-ordinate the entire event. However catering is an unreliable business. I am not terrific at selling myself or drumming up contracts, terrible at charging clients and acting as a business woman. I am much happier cooking and putting time and effort into a beautiful product,” states Murphy.
At the former Windermere Café, Murphy worked alongside and was mentored by Chef Kristian Crossen (formerly of Braise and Langdon Hall), who created innovative menus true to his farm-to-table philosophy and whose subtleties and strengths revealed that the integrity of the ingredient is always paramount.
The menus at Restaurant Ninety One pay homage to Modern Canadian cuisine. Picture perfectly seared duck breast with potato soufflé, chamomile and fennel and black mushroom jus, or braised and roasted lamb with toasted oat purée, honeyed turnip, olive crème fraîche, pickled strawberry and wheat grass jus. There is also local rainbow trout with gin cure, puffed wild rice, sorrel, sea buckthorn berries, dill and crème fraîche. The honey lavender panna cotta with black fruits, grapefruit pearls, violets and selgris is out of this world.
Murphy says, “A dedicated focus on creating all things in-house has translated to house baked sourdough bread before every meal, a completely in-house dessert menu featuring a variety of ice creams and pastries, and house cured meats and charcuterie. Creative vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options are also available.” There is a stunning custom-made chefs’ table for dining.
Reservations are recommended and private dining rooms can be arranged upon request. There is a delicious Sunday brunch, live jazz on Friday nights and plenty of free parking.
Roasted Lamb Loin with golden beet puree, polenta, fennel, blistered cherry tomatoes
and sassafras jus
200 Collip Drive
Western Discovery Park (off Windermere, West of Western Road)
200 Collip Drive
Western Discovery Park (off Windermere, West of Western Road)
Monday–Thursday 7:00 AM–9:00 PM
Friday 7:00 AM–10:00 PM
Saturday & Sunday 7:00 AM–9:00 PM
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner & Sunday brunch.
Friday 7:00 AM–10:00 PM
Saturday & Sunday 7:00 AM–9:00 PM
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner & Sunday brunch.
Monday, September 19, 2016
"The Girls" A bevy of Rhode Island Reds.
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 stonetown 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 summer 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.
Transvaal Farm Guest House Interior
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
After garlic is harvested it needs to be cured.
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
Canada 150 will be a year-long celebration in 2017, the sesquicentennial of Canadian confederation. Nearly fifty years ago the Canada Pavilion at Expo 67, Canada’s centennial celebration in Montreal, contributed to strengthening a powerful cultural unity. At the time the pavilion’s two restaurants were seen as providing a national culinary narrative. Restaurant La Toundra, operated by CN Hotels, served a Katimavik (which means “meeting place” in the Inuktitutlanguage) Special that included chilled Okanogan apple juice and “Tourtière Chateau” with buttered peas and Saratoga chips. This was followed by Coupe Innuit [sic].This conceptualization of a Canadian cuisine was viewed as an all-encompassing initiative containing regional dishes and traditions derived from the multiculturalism of the nation.
Many feel that an emblematic Canadian cuisine is an abstract concept, indefinable due to the contradictory nature of Canadian identity. Indeed, ours is a complex identity, and paradoxically includes vast cultural and culinary differences. For many years serious attempts to define a national cuisine have either met with derision or devolved into stereotypes.
If you were to ask most people about what is meant by Canadian cuisine, many would respond with the stereotypical dishes like cod tongues, prairie oysters, Nanaimo bars, poutine, tourtière, back bacon, Montreal-smoked meat, butter tarts, seal flipper pie or fried bannock – a bread introduced to First Nation communities by Scottish settlers.
For some years now chefs across the country have been redefining Canadian cuisine. Chef Arron Carley is one of them. At The Bruce Restaurant in Stratford, Carley celebrates the food and ingredients of Canada every day. Chef uses the moniker New Canadiana to describe his evolving cuisine. He notably served as a sous chef to Jason Bangerter at Luma before Bangerter became executive chef at Langdon Hall. For three months Carley interned with René Redzepi’s team at Denmark’s famed Noma. On his blog, The Noma Intern, Carley says, “The knowledge you gain from staging at a restaurant like Noma will last you for the rest of your life and is easily worth three months of commitment.” Returning to Ontario, he worked as a sous chef under John Horne, executive chef at Toronto’s Canoe restaurant, before accepting the executive chef position at The Bruce Hotel in June last year.
Carley is, no doubt, acutely aware that Stratford is a town that can be very critique-heavy. He boldly ventures where few chefs have the resources or support to go and his determination and curiosity is matched by his talent. He is unwavering in his journey to take the Canadian culinary landscape and inculcate it with both his personal style and a narrative that is receptive to the local terroir and changing seasons. Carley and a team that includes sous chef Sam Santandrea and pastry chef Gilead Rosenberg continue to re-evaluate Canadian cuisine by looking to First Nation’s food culture and what early settlers ate in the wilderness. Foraged wild ingredients are intrinsic to The Bruce’s culinary identity. Any foraged ingredient used at The Bruce Hotel is sustainably procured by either Carley or the dedicated in-house forager Phil Phillips. They like to define and reinterpret “Canadiana” on their own terms rather than emulate their mentors.
Chef does not use lemons, black pepper or olive oil in his kitchen. Instead he uses indigenous alternatives with complex flavour profiles. Catkins, the bitter buds of the green alder plant, are what Chef uses instead of pepper. The Bruce has its own in-house bakery run by Chef Ian Middleton, an apiary, and a culinary garden in the back of the hotel with heirloom vegetables and forgotten herbs like rue (herb of grace), angelica and bronze fennel (which is actually black). This allows Carley to make a powerful culinary statement. Chef uses birch syrup in some of his dishes for an intense sweetness and depth of flavour. Carley likes to live and breathe his ethos.
The Bruce’s most iconic dish “Spuds in Dirt” is Carley’s way of paying homage to the ubiquitous poutine. Chef uses mini marble potatoes that are compressed by beer and cedar jelly (made from the juice of young cedar tips) and slow cooked sous-vide. The potatoes are tossed in wild leek vinaigrette and then buried in a mixture of peanuts and sumac. The spuds are then topped with dehydrated smoked beef fat, cowder (a powder of dehydrated marinated beef, sea buckthorn and black garlic,) and a pudding made from Glengarry’s Celtic Blue Reserve. The dish is finished with fried rosemary and burnt herb and ale jus.
Picture wild ivory salmon from the pristine waters of the Queen Charlotte Islands with goose barnacle, snap peas, beluga lentils, wild ginger broth, sea asparagus, Ontario edamame, fennel purée and kelp oil. Another signature dish is the Quebec Cerf du Boileau, venison striploin with charred and brined carrots, golden beets, reindeer moss (it’s actually funghi), Saskatoon berries, green alder jus (reminiscentof black pepper) and beet purée. At a recent tasting the house-cured charcuterie served on a locally-procured walnut board included lardo, saucisson, coppa, confit of beef tongue, pig’s head terrine and cold fermented Mennonite summer sausage.
The modernist plating techniques at The Bruce are acutely complicated with numerous components – emulsions, foams, ferments, sauces, powders, vinegars, berries, herbs, mosses and painterly smears – layered and aesthetically presented in ways that are both balanced abstracts and edible topography.
Carley is also an aficionado of older Canadian cookbooks. He recently introduced me to The Northern Cookbook, edited by Eleanor A. Ellis and illustrated by James Simpkins. The book was initially published in 1967, as a Centennial project by the Education Division, Northern Administration Branch, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.
This interesting canon on indigenous cookery offers guidance on nutrition along with recipes that are sometimes out-of-touch with the availability and seasonality of certain ingredients. “The purpose of this book is to record facts about some of the wild game, game birds, fish, fruit and vegetables available in Canada’s north (which includes not only the Arctic and sub-Arctic, but the northern lake and forest regions of all the provinces), and to suggest methods by which these foods may be prepared and served. To include recipes for all of the indigenous foods would be a mammoth task, but I have tried to include enough to be representative of a cross section of this vast land…,” states the preface by Ms. Ellis.
Interesting recipes include Arctic muktuk chowder (the traditional Inuit/Eskimo and Chukchi meal of whale skin and blubber), reindeer bourguignon, and casserole of seal served with fiddleheads or fireweed leaves. Among other dishes are sweet pickled beaver, partridge paprika, ptarmigan with orange ice, smothered muskrat and onions, moose chili con carne, elk burgers and Newfoundland seal flippers.
Each region of Canada with its own indigenous people has used their resources and traditional food preparations to develop unique versions of these dishes. Canadian chefs like Carley are acknowledging that Canadian Cuisine can be defined by its ingredients as much as by its traditions. We have come a long way since the Katimavik Special. Now the idea of the New Canadiana needs to percolate through the population in much the same way as the idea of eating locally and sustainably has done.
The Restaurant at The Bruce
89 Parkview Dr., Stratford,
89 Parkview Dr., Stratford,
Lunch: 11:30 am–1:30 pm
Dinner: 5:00 pm–close
Dinner: 5:00 pm–close
Lunch is served Sunday and Monday in The Lounge.
The Lounge is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as late night.
The Lounge is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as late night.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
BY BRYAN LAVERY
When dining in Stratford, I can’t help but be drawn to restaurants that authentically support farmers, vineyards, and food purveyors by featuring quality local ingredients and products. I also like to take note of the ambience, whether the cutlery is polished, and the wine and food knowledge of the service staff. Great restaurants give a lot of thought and attention to their wine and cocktail lists and, most importantly, to genuine hospitality.
For many years the culinary opus at Bijou has been a front-runner in Stratford for inspired, locally-sourced cuisine. The bistro has built a following as a destination restaurant for providing a good local taste experience. Mark and Linda Simone purchased the legacy restaurant last year and added a new entrance on Wellington St. and a small bar in the front area. Chef Max Holbrook has moved on to Downie Street Bakehouse and Dion Lach is the new chef.
The farm-to-table inspired blackboard pre-theatre dinner menu is prix fixe, offering three courses for $58.00. Chef and his team offer a globally-inspired menu of small plates that is available after 8:00 p.m. Duck confit with gnocchi and fresh Monforte Dairy curds is a knock-out, as is the house-made lobster ravioli. There is a superior cheese plate of Monforte Dairy selections. Bijou also serves a “Global Dim Sum” Sunday brunch that is offered à la carte for easy sharing. 74 Wellington Street (front), 105 Erie Street (back), 519-273-5000, www.bijourestaurant.com .
The Bruce Restaurant
The dining rooms are white linen, chic with comfortable square-backed upholstered chairs and settees. This is the top tier of dining; the tasting menus are loaded with the ingredients which that term evokes. Chef Arron Carley previously served as sous chef to Jason Bangerter at Luma, now executive chef at Langdon Hall. He interned with renowned chef Rene Redzepi at Denmark’s Noma, a Michelin two-star restaurant, which has been named “Best Restaurant in the World” four times. Returning to Canada, Carley worked as a sous chef under John Horne, executive chef at Toronto’s Canoe restaurant before being head-hunted by The Bruce. Carley and his team are redefining New Canadian Cuisine. Think wild Haida Gwaii ivory salmon with Wabigoon wild rice, morels, nettle puree, fennel kelp oil and wild ginger broth or Boileau venison striploin with charred and brined carrots, golden beets, reindeer moss, Saskatoon berries, green alder jus and beet puree. They have dispensed with the prix fixe menu they offered the last two seasons. At the time of this writing there is a 4-course tasting menu for $95.00 and 6-course tasting menu for $115.00. Wine pairings are an additional $49.00 and $55.00 respectively. Breakfast, lunch and Sunday brunch are à la carte and The Lounge offers a separate menu. There is a stunning courtyard for al fresco dining. 89 Parkview Drive www.thebruce.ca
A refurbished keystone Alley Café has re-opened under the ownership of Kim Hurley and Anthony Jordaan. Stratford Chefs School graduates, executive chef Cortney Zettler and sous chef Tina Logassi’s menus are driven by local sourcing with an offering of rotating blackboard features. There is a dish at dinner called, 'three little pigs,' which showcases the delicious heritage pork from Church Hill Farms. Herbed crumbed schnitzel with wilted kale; pork truffled pasta with sage crema; and sausage braised cabbage are an early example of this dish. There is a vegetarian taco at lunch which is served open-faced on a grilled flat bread featuring produce from Soiled Reputation, Shallot Hill and other local producers that come to the kitchen door. A lunch feature called ‘meat and bread’ will showcase pork, beef, chicken, lamb and duck procured from McIntosh Farms and Church Hill Farms. We like the grilled “Buffalo” cauliflower with roasted radish, lentils, kale chips, pistachio puree and hot sauce. That is Buffalo meaning the sauce not the city. There is a small wine offering and a smart patio for al fresco dining. 34 Brunswick Street, www.keystonealley.com
Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall Hotel
The recently relaunched Mercer Kitchen, Beer Hall Hotel offers fifteen draft lines, Stratford’s only cask engine, and over 120 brands including award-winners, and hard to find one-offs that move very quickly. Over half the bottles are Ontario brews. The interior has been refurbished to project a casual more accessible ambience. They have added some communal tables to foster a sense of community and conviviality. In a conscious decision to eliminate any trappings of fine dining the service staff now wear jeans and custom t-shirts. The casual brasserie-style ambience is essentially inspired by the izakaya, the informal Japanese beer pubs that Chef Ryan O’Donnell frequented during his travels in Japan. O’Donnell’s collaborative well-thought-out menus feature items that are meant to be shared communally and are perfect for the lively, dynamic atmosphere. The all-day menu is divided into categories: fresh salads, small plates, medium plates, substantials, fried chicken & wings, sides, burgers & bowls, and desserts. The new 40 plus item menu (which includes some interesting sides and condiments) has Asian culinary influences and underpinnings. Some interesting cultural interpretations include Mercer’s tonkatsu pork schnitzel coated in panko breadcrumbs; chicken karrage (Japanese-style fried chicken) with lemon togarashi mayo; and improbably delicious steamed pork buns with spicy aioli, cilantro pickled onions, carrots ribbons and lime. There are also pig tails with chili potato salad, in homage to the Huron-Perth Germanic heritage with buttered biscuits and baked beans. Pastry chef Simon Briggs who is also an instructor alongside O’Donnell at Stratford Chefs School is also part of the high-functioning 18 member kitchen team. Comfortable guest rooms that have had a recent face-lift are located above the restaurant. www.mercerhall.ca
The Mill Stone Restaurant
The Mill Stone Restaurant is a new arrival in Stratford with seasonally-inspired lunch, dinner and late night menus using locally procured ingredients. The menu evokes the gastropub sensibility with rustic items like ham hock terrine house pickle, apple chutney, cheese savoury, house made bread; crispy pork jowl with arugula; salad and hot smoked salmon with horseradish mousse, peppered watercress and, toasted pumpernickel bread. Charbroiled Blanbrook Farms bison sliders with house-cured vanilla bacon, onion marmalade, brioche and triple cooked fries are extremely tasty. They make a superior Caesar salad. Chef Chris Powell received his culinary training in England and worked in the industry in the U.K. and Spain. His culinary repertoire includes pastry work and Modern European cuisine. There is a refined wine list and hand crafted cocktails. 30 Ontario Street. www.themillstone.ca
Monforte on Wellington
Ruth Klahsen’s down-to-earth three year-old osteria featuring a seasonally–inspired menu is larded with charcuterie and cheese boards, salads and many other in-house specialties inspired by a Monforte Dairy cheese. We love the unpretentiousness, the corn dog fritters with beer mustard, baked brin d’amour with honey and crackers; and the rich, buttery water buffalo ice cream. This is the perfect place for a grilled cheese or some comforting mac and cheese. Klahsen’s deep-rooted commitment to things sustainable, local and hand-crafted seems to continue to both fortify and nourish her creative drive and dedicated entrepreneurism. There is a charming intimate courtyard for al fresco dining where we have been feted by Frances, (the gracious manager), on several occasions. We love the friendly in-depth explanations about the provenance of each ingredient. On a recent visit her hospitality extended to trying to procure us some of the recently released Moonshine from Distillery 56. Now that is hospitality. The casual osteria is BYOW with a reasonable $15 corkage fee, or, if you order a glass of VQA wine, they will bring you a full bottle and charge you by the ounce for what you drink. 80 Wellington Street, Stratford
Pazzo Taverna and Pizzeria
This street-level ristorante proffers rustic Italian-inspired cuisine in a contemporary setting overlooking the Avon River. Stratford Chefs School alumnus, Yva Santini is celebrating her ninth season at Pazzo Taverna. Chef has a reputation for crafting authentically appealing cuisine that gratifies and stimulates, and reinterprets the Italian culinary canon with an eye to seasonality and the Perth County terroir. “Hand stretched burrata and house made pastas and gnocchi, make up the heart of this season’s menu.” All the pastas are made in-house by hand using Italian “00” flour. The restaurant showcases the simple, natural flavours of locally-sourced meats and produce in the Italian tradition combined with a diverse list of Canadian and Imported wines by the glass and bottle. The Pizzeria serves the best thin crust pizza in the area. This is where the locals hang out. 70 Ontario Street www.pazzo.ca
Since 1977, The Prune has been a Stratford favourite. The menu is prix fixe, offering 2 courses for $55.00, 3 courses for $69.00, or 4 courses for $79.00. This arrangement is meant to expedite the challenges of pre-theatre dining where theatre-goers arrive and depart simultaneously. Last year we got caught in the crush. The menu is designed for a prix fixe experience but is also available a la carte upon your request. Appetizer dishes might include chicken liver mousse, seabuckthorn and brioche; or asparagus and frisée salad, soft egg, chorizo, "piperade" vinaigrette. Traditional main dishes might include grilled skate wing with sambal, pineapple nage and cucumber; or glazed Muscovy duck, honey, star anise, currants and cinnamon caps. Grilled rib steak (for two), Swiss chard gratin, buttermilk onion rings has a supplement charge of $10 per person. Sides are an additional $8. There is a modest wine list this season. Charming outdoor dining on the patio under the tree. 151 Albert Street www.theprune.com
The Red Rabbit
“A locally sourced restaurant, run by workers, owned by workers, shared by the community,” pretty much sums up the Red Rabbit’s ethos. Chef Sean Collins terms his cooking as “Flavour First, Ingredient Driven.” Chef says, “We cook food we like to eat.” The lunch menu is served Sunday and Monday from 12 to 2:30 and it is also available 5 to 7, and Tuesday to Saturday from 12 to 2:30. At lunch there is superb creamy fried polenta and duck egg with chermoula. A proper breakfast is served with fried eggs, local pork, beans and focaccia. The heat quotient on the spicy hot chicken sandwich with sweet pickle, tzatziki, house-made bun and hand-cut fries keeps us coming back. The falafel plate is four perfectly prepared chickpea fritters served with seasoned tabbouleh and tiny pots of harissa, tahini and garlic aioli. The prix fixe dinner menu offers roasted McIntosh farm whole duck with awesome red curry and sticky rice; hanger steak with pickled “local greens,” asparagus pancake and nitro hollandaise; sustainably-caught roasted lake pickerel and Shepherd’s pie with Churchill farms braised lamb and trappings. The prix fixe menu is available Tuesday through Saturday from 5 pm to 7 pm, offering two courses for $44.00 and three courses for $49.00. Small plates menu available Thursday to Saturday 7 to 9 pm. The Red Rabbit is known for Colonel Collins fried chicken and waffles. Its secret recipe of thirteen herbs and spices, maple syrup and carrot hot sauce, served with house-cut fries has made it a Stratford culinary staple. 64 Wellington Street
Photo by Terry Manzo
Stratford’s newest home for quality live music, dining, and events continue to play host to many touring and local Canadian artists throughout the summer season. The culinary team are passionate about creating and serving food that expresses the depth of Perth County’s food. Last year we began our visits with an exquisite Ontario Gouda Tasting. This year the kitchen is offering an Ontario Cheddar tasting. There is a sublime torchon of foie with apple, puffed grains, pecans and chervil for $20. Trout tartar is served with celeriac variations, shallot, herbs and Yukon Gold chips. Charcuterie boards are underpinned by technique and skill and the salumi has plenty of flavour. Offerings have included speck (smoked pork leg), lonza (cured pork loin), coppa (salt-cured from the neck) and rillettes. On the dinner menu typical offerings might be monkfish in crispy chicken skin with salsify, tomatoes, parmesan, arugula, and capers, or lamb shoulder with fava beans, charred zucchini, patty pan, pearl onion, and radish with lamb jus. There are some interesting late night après-theatre plates. It should be noted that there were 22 VQA’s on the impressive wine list at last glance. Upstairs, The Chapel features a 60-seat gastro lounge and a VIP balcony called Confession. In season Revival House features a smart patio. 70 Brunswick Street, 519-273-3424, www.revival.house
This is high-end contemporary French cuisine, artfully plated, with a world influence. Neil Baxter has been chef de cuisine at Rundles since 1981. Rundles has always been synonymous with classicism and a rarified level of oenophile sophistication.
There is a small and interesting table d’hôte featuring six appetizers, six main courses, and desserts. Appetizers might include smoked trout and pickled asparagus with coddled quail’s eggs, and dill cream; or rabbit and foie gras rillettes garnished with pickled cherries, pistachio yogurt, and violet mustard. Main dishes might include pan fried halibut cheeks, roast curried celery root, fingerling potatoes, capicola, and dashi (Japanese-style, clear sauce); or barbecued pork belly pickled cockles, steamed bok choy and sea asparagus. The table d’hôte menu features a selection from the appetizer section, a main dish, dessert, and coffee or tea for $114.50 per person. Wine, taxes and service are extra. An extensive wine list features vintages that range from small, local, boutique winery selections to those of the exceptional Grand Crus of Bordeaux. The Garden Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows, offers a relaxing ambience and the perfect lounge to enjoy cocktails before or after dinner. Open for the season to September 24, 2016. 9 Cobourg Street, 519-271-6442 www.rundlesrestaurant.com
Friday, July 22, 2016
Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Former owner of Kantina and Black George, Miljan Karac, closed Black George earlier in the summer announcing the Talbot Street location would be undergoing a dramatic concept change. Karac built his reputation on stellar Balkan-inspired cuisine, informed with modern farm to table ideals. Kantina was at the epicenter of Downtown London’s culinary cool.
After 5 years, Kantina morphed into Black George for a year, closed, and has more recently evolved to become Ritual Café. From recent conversations with Karac, Ritual Café is an alternative to the other independent cafés in the downtown Market district. The stripped down café has both the authenticity of an indie operation and a decidedly bohemian feel. Ritual Café officially opens on Friday July 29th, and there is no doubt that it will become a community hub. Expect local chefs to make cameo appearances in the kitchen for special pop-up events and dinners. In the meantime, follow Café Ritual on twitter @londonritual Stay tuned.
- Bryan Lavery