Apr 24, 2009

Festival of Chefs 2009: Langdon Hall

Only an hour or so out of Toronto (depending on how you drive) there exists a little slice of paradise known as Langdon Hall. Surrounded by trees, flowers, lush lawns and fresh country air is the grand hotel, restaurant and spa. Passing through regal gates is like stepping into another time with hints of Jane Austen and L.M. Montgomery everywhere. History seems to be the heart of the place, but the stomach is the core and that's run by executive chef Jonathan Gushue.

The grounds - which are at once, romantic as well as warm and cozy - are not purely aesthetic, but also functional for foraging. Many of the kitchen's ingredients come from the land, from vegetables to maple syrup and even captured rain water from their well. This is true localism in the finest form, and the freshness can be tasted in every bite.

Because this was the final place to hit on the tour of Festival of Chef establishments, and because of the location, Breemer (that's me) and O-reagano invited fellow CheeseB-ers Big Cheese and his Big Cheesette to come and join us (and also chauffeur us). All four of us took the time to explore the grounds, poking our noses in the grand rooms of the main house, breathing in the warm welcoming smell of a burning fireplace, and examining the old photographs that hang on almost every wall.

The CheeseB team eventually found themselves in the Wilks’ Bar--just one of a possible number of rooms you might be seated at. There we dined with a lovely view of the lily pond (not too many lilies yet, but you could imagine how gorgeous it would be in warmer weather).

The feast began with an amuse bouche of parsley and ham terraine with horseradish and apple mustard which was explained quite nicely to us by a very friendly and informative server. We then dug into the fresh made bread, smeared with homemade butter, all the while sipping rain water from the well. Everything was simply deeelish and we only just got started!

For appetizers, the Big Cheese chose the wild fennel soup with double smoked bacon, le blanc and a burrata crostini (Gushue later told us that burrata is one of his favourite cheeses at the moment because of its freshness). Comments like “awesome” and “blows my mind” were heard uttered from Big Cheese between spoonfuls (he's such a noob in this journey :-p).

Fine fennel

Big's Cheesette opted for a salad of bitter greens with endive, radicchio, sour dough croutons, pancetta, heirloom apple, forfar dairy cheddar dressing, grain mustard. She was enthused that the dressing was quite nice, light and creamy.

I'm drooling just looking at this!

Both O-reagano and myself, Breemer, had the organic trout tartare with crushed avocado, crisp shallots, citrus-soy dressing. OMG! This alone is enough to come back for. O-reagano said that when you have something this exquisite, it’s a shame that fish is ever cooked. I will be having dreams of this dish for sure.

The mains were equally inspiring. Big Cheese had the Wilks’ bar fish and chips with celeriac remoulade, tartar sauce, watercress salad.

Not just your average fish and chips

Big Cheesette, being a vegetarian, had the green asparagus with egg noodle (which was made in house), grana padona basil and sweet peas.

Green and gorgeous

O-reagano was lucky enough to try both the seared digby scallops with sun gold beets, arugula, mascarpone, pickled red onion hearts and smoked prosciutto crumble AND char grilled king prawns with pickled baby leeks from the grounds, marinated tomato oil, roasted olives served with a small salad.

Sweet, succulent, scrumptious scallops

Regal king prawns

I opted for the New York steak sandwich “Arthur Reuben” with choucroute, 1000 Island-green peppercorn dressing, cave aged gruyere all on homemade sour dough rye.

A fabulous rendition of a "Reuben"

Now for the sweetest part of the gastronomic marathon: dessert! These were all so good and rich we simply had to share so no one would miss out on any of the flavours.

There was no way we wouldn’t order the only chocolate item on the menu, the chocolate honey bar decorated with caramel glass and chocolate shards.

Like a Mars bar, only infinitely better

There was a glazed poached Anjou pear atop a Langdon puff pastry with pear-vanilla puree. The puff in this pastry was purrrffect.

The passion fruit crème caramel with mango relish and passion fruit caramel was so so so (I can't even spit it out because it was so) divine.

As an extra special treat we had a white chocolate mousse with candied ginger and a sesame tuille. Again, this could be reason enough to return. I never would have dreamed of pairing ginger and chocolate but the result was scrumptious.

White chocolate heaven

Passionfruit Creme Caramel

Warning: try not to day-dream too much about these mouthwatering dishes as the menu changes every two or three months. That being said, I’m quite sure the next menu will be equally appetizing!

This concludes the establishment portion of the preamble to Festival of Chefs, but by no means is this the end. Stay tuned for profiles of the participating chefs as well as interviews and a photo gallery from every FoC day in May. Lots more gourmet to come!

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