BY BRYAN LAVERY
Recently, my nephew Nicholas and I were guests of Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa. For our culinary road trip we were provided with an all-new Lexus 2016 RX350 from Lexus of London. We drove to Stratford for a delicious repast of chicken and waffles at The Red Rabbit restaurant and a trip to the Slow Food Market, arriving at Langdon Hall at three in the afternoon.
As we turned into Langdon Hall’s discreet driveway and drove up the winding road, we passed through wooded acreage dusted with a light snowfall and arrived at the 75-acre hilltop estate’s main house, which is the centerpiece of the estate.
Built in 1898 as the lavish summer retreat of Eugene Langdon Wilks, (a great-great-grandson of John Jacob Astor), the imposing main house is inspired by Georgian and Classical traditions of the Federal Revival Style.
The property, with its expansive gardens and Carolinian trails, is situated in the countryside just outside the hamlet of Blair, which is now part of Cambridge. Langdon Hall is manifestly what food guides used to call a "restaurant destination" but it also offers guests an impressive experience with luxury suites, Victorian gardens, conference rooms, reception areas, a full-service spa and an outdoor swimming pool. A recently added $7-million wing provides an additional six luxury suites, as well as an event hall and an enhanced 10,000-square-foot spa.
Executive Chef at Langdon Hall, Jason Bangerter, is an influential culinary maverick on the national cooking stage, with international credentials, as well as a dedicated advocate for sustainability and seafood conservation. Both his early and present affiliations colour his cooking repertoire.
Bangerter cemented his reputation at the Auberge du Pommier in mid-town Toronto, and later at the O&B Canteen and LUMA at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. In 2015 Bangerter was awarded the International Rising Chef Award in Paris from the illustrious Relais & Châteaux, and recently Langdon Hall was acknowledged for being the only restaurant in Ontario to have achieved the CAA 5 Diamond award for excellence in 2015.
Relais & Châteaux is a global fellowship of independently owned and operated luxury properties and restaurants. Prospective and current members are evaluated by the Paris-based group's traditional "five C" motto: caractère, courtoisie, calme, charme et cuisine. Langdon Hall easily meets the standards for all five criteria.
Since Langdon Hall began its conversion into a hotel in 1987, the main house, cloister suites and the stables provided accommodations with a current total of 58 guest rooms. My cloister suite was comfortably and tastefully appointed with a generous seating area, king-size feather bed, wood-burning fireplace and bathroom, complete with a deep soaking tub, walk-in shower and private dressing area. After unpacking I was gazing out of the large picture window which overlooked the grounds. At first glance, I admired what appeared to be a majestic deer statue, when it unexpectedly turned its head. The realization suddenly dawned on me that this was one of the many wildlife creatures that roam freely on the property.
The restaurant is well-known for its terroir-driven Ontario cuisine, using the estate’s acreage as inspiration for the seasonal menus. This is complemented by an extensive wine cellar. Wine is a large part of the restaurant’s credo and prestige, with over 1,000 globally sourced bottles and VQA’s on its extensive list.
At seven7 pm, we dined in the newest of the three dining rooms, the Orchard Room. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide a pleasing garden view. The whitewashed, white-linen dining rooms are très soigné in the truest sense of the expression.
It was our good fortune to arrive at Langdon Hall during truffle season. Chef is a self-confessed funghi and mushroom aficionado who dedicated time to speak in-depth about his seasonal truffle tasting menu and how the kitchen sources the seasonal delicacies from Italy, Croatia, France and Australia.
An amuse that began our tasting experience was a luxurious hen liver parfait accompanied by a primordial-flavoured black truffle and crispy hen-skin cracker that Chef referred to as his version of “chips ‘n’ dip”.
My starter was a finely minced and seasoned quenelle of veal tartare with paper-thin slices of Jerusalem artichoke, golden raisin and garnish of rounded nasturtium leaves. Nicholas ordered an artfully arranged sugar-cured trout elevated with red cabbage, crab apple and buttermilk.
A deliciously pungent black-as-night truffle crème de volaille accompanied by parmesan shortbread followed.
At my request, our waiter inquired if I could partake of two meat courses, and subsequently suggested game for my entrée. I decided on the elk served with bone marrow parsnip, foraged mushroom, orchard apple and young juniper. Two lean and tender elk chops with accompaniments arrived, cooked to a succulent and stunning medium rare.
Nicholas selected farmer Murray Thunberg’s heritage hen served with Savoy cabbage, salsify, smoked onion and a savoury jus. Bangerter told us, “Thunberg’s small-scale organic farm specializing in quality heritage meats and heirloom vegetables is practically on the doorstep of Langdon Hall.” In addition, there is a stellar network of farmers and producers in the area that complement the property’s own comprehensive gardens. Both our entrées showed off Chef’s extraordinary facility with taste, texture and colour.
Our engaging Maître d’ broke the top of my perfectly-risen quince soufflé with a spoon and poured warm apple cider caramel into the interior for “additional decadence”. Nicholas wisely chose peanut butter sablé, with puffy clouds of Rosewood Estates honey mousse, and chocolate fudge. At the end of the meal a plate of mignardises, also known as petit fours, were served. The selection included profiteroles, squares of caramel, and shortbreads with Saskatoon berries.
The attentive down-to-earth discourse and wine pairings by sommelier Brie Dema were a top-drawer experience. Sommelier Faye MacLachlan later explained Langdon Hall’s wine platform by e-mail, “The wine program is fundamentally a reflection of our core values and commitment to excellence. The program is structured to provide a global selection, represented by producers on our list that embody the same commitment to quality and passion for their craft.”
I also asked MacLachlan about reports that she is creating a variety of barrel-aged specialty cocktails made of blends of fruits, herbs, and roots from Langdon Hall’s gardens, with Head Gardener Mario Muniz. MacLachlan said, “It was like going flavor shopping on the grounds of Langdon with a walking botanical encyclopedia. Mario’s knowledge of the huge variety of both cultivated and wild species is amazing.”
There is an expectation of a particular standard of care in a restaurant befitting a well-run luxury hotel. Langdon Hall has achieved a reputation for setting the benchmark in Ontario when it comes to offering the highest pinnacle of hospitality. Luxurious facilities aside, the most impressive measure of Langdon Hall's excellence, besides chef Bangerter’s cuisine, is the level of genuine hospitality and friendly service.
FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY
FRIDAY, SATURDAY, SUNDAY
Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa
1 Langdon Dr., Cambridge,
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.