Many years ago – before I became immersed in the world of Fine Dining – I used to live in Toronto. In fact, I spent more than a decade in the city, and still have family there. And that was the purpose of this 3-day trip: a family visit. Although, as always, I was hoping to have a pleasant food experience or two, I had no specific restaurant in mind. As it turned out, @MijunePak had a surprise in store for me. She had organised a special lunch for me at Langdon Hall – acknowledged as one of the best restaurants in the country. I’d heard of it, of course, during my time living in Canada, but I’d never thought about visiting it. Now, though, a few hours before catching my return flight to the UK, I was to be honoured with a late lunch at the place, prepared especially for us by none other than Chef Jason, the winner of “Battle of Venison” in Iron Chef Canada. What a way to end my Toronto visit!
Describing Langdon Hall as a country house may be technically correct, but it hardly does justice to the sheer scale of the place and sense of luxury it exudes. Boasting more than a century of history, it consists of 75 acres of gardens and trails, dozens of guest rooms, excellent spa facilities – and, of course, a superb restaurant. And the man who runs this restaurant, Chef Jason, was there to greet us personally, on our arrival, and invite us to accompany him on a guided tour of the estate. So, armed with a glass of thoughtfully prepared champagne, we followed this super-friendly and humble star of the culinary world around the grounds, pausing periodically as he explained the hows and whys of all the fruits and vegetables he grew onsite. It was a fascinating half an hour tour, made even more fun by the edible treats which had been hidden at various spots along the way. It was certainly an innovative and interesting way to serve an amuse bouche – no wonder he suggested that we took a glass of champagne with us!
Once back at the property, Jason – knowing that we both had flights to catch – headed straight for the kitchen, while the manager steered us towards the dining room and one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had. It began with Taste the Garden – a colourful array of herbs and flowers, with beeswax fudge, served on a cracker and accompanied by a refreshing juice made with garden herbs. It was quite a complex dish, but then, all the dishes were pretty complex – Chef Jason’s cuisine is very elaborate. The tiny devilled Peewee hen egg, for example, was filled with truffle cream and covered with fresh slices of black summer truffle, while the asparagus was meticulously garnished with citron, lemon verbena, geranium gel and squid ink aioli. And the poached yelloweye rockfish was equally intricate, consisting of Pernod velouté, onion soubise and bronze fennel. The highlight of the meal, though, was the caviar on brioche, which had a layer of sous vide Ontario short rib between the caviar and the toasted brioche! Talk about luxury! The incredible succulence of the meat combined with the natural seasoning from the caviar and the buttery brioche in a way so memorable that I’m salivating as I write! The caviar was from Northern Divine, a company in British Columbia that produces organic and sustainable caviar from white sturgeon. As a final touch of indulgence, I got to experience Langdon Hall’s Signature Chocolate, which Jason created in Cacao Barry’s prestigious Or Noir lab in Paris. It offered a rich and complex blend of flavours, buttery and full, with a perfect balance of fruitiness and smokiness. A sophisticated and assertive finish to a wonderful meal.
First, I have to confess that, with many years of experiencing Michelin 3-star quality in Europe behind me, I didn’t think I could be impressed by a restaurant here in Canada. But I couldn’t have been more wrong – my experience at Langdon Hall was as good as I’ve had anywhere. Every aspect of the place is stunning, from the gorgeous grounds, through the incredibly attentive and welcoming service, to the creativity and quality that characterises every course of the tasting menu. As we drove away, I remember being amazed not merely that such a magical place actually existed in Canada, but that it was just an hour’s drive from Toronto, where I spent many years working. The university I attended is a mere 20-minute drive away. Unbelievable!
Of course, as if the experience of Langdon Hall itself wasn’t enough, I also had the honour of being served by a celebrity chef, who was friendliness itself throughout, and the pleasure of having the bubbly and delightful Mijune, the judge of Top Chef Canada, as a dining companion. The combination of the food, the surroundings and the people made this one of my most memorable meals of all time. Like a child watching a favourite cartoon, I wanted that meal to go on forever!