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Nov 12, 2012 07:14 PM

...I'm not so sure Langdon Hall is the best restaurant in Ontario, regardless of the "guides."

Pictures in the blog, text as below:

The Gist:

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 - 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.

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  1. I don't think most Chowhounds would be able to agree on the best restos in Ontario. I think Langdon Hall would be listed on most "top 10 fine dining restaurants in Ontario" lists. Eigensinn Farm and Langdon Hall are usually listed as the top restaurant experiences outside Toronto. A couple places in Niagara Region and a couple places in Stratford are also known for their talented Chefs.

    Re: pricing
    Any fine dining restaurant in Ontario that's located outside Toronto will have a smaller market, with less turnover, and often higher food costs. In London and KW, the better upscale-but-not-fine-dining places are charging $27-$45 for mains that tend to be equivalent to moderately-priced, upscale casual restaurants that wouldn't have made it onto your Toronto shortlist (such as Globe Earth), that keep their mains under $30, which seems to be the ceiling for good, but not exciting, mains (as in chicken supreme, arctic char, duck breast) in TO.

    Langdon Hall has a relatively small market west of Toronto. It is seen as a luxe weekend getaway by many people in southwestern Ontario (and to some in the Greater Toronto Area), so I would think most of their customer base sees the fine dining as part of the splurge, and wouldn't consider Langdon Hall to be overpriced when they already might be paying $40 for lamb chops at a conservative bistro in London or Windsor. I would think the demographic at Langdon Hall also tends to be a little older than the demographic at Splendido, so that might have an impact on some of the menu and ingredients.

    Langdon Hall and Rundles Restaurant (which is open June-Sept during the Stratford Festival) are the only restaurants I can think of that still offer a relatively formal fine dining experience southwest of Toronto. When I dine at places like Langdon Hall or Rundles, I figure I'm helping to support the local economy- not just the restaurant owners, but also the Chef, Sous Chef, kitchen staff, servers, the local farmers, etc. The local economies outside Toronto need all the help they can get.

    For Ontarians who live 100+ km from Toronto, it probably is a better use of time and money to splurge at Langdon Hall, rather than drive or pay for a train ticket to Toronto every time they'd like a somewhat formal dining experience. That being said, I don't think I'd expect Langdon Hall to impress someone who has had the opportunity to dine at Per Se and beyond! :-)

    Sorry you weren't impressed.

    4 Replies
    1. re: prima

      Awards and praise bring expectations no matter where a place is located, but I see your point.

      1. re: uhockey

        I agree with what you're saying, but I tend to lower my expectations when I'm outside a large city in North America, even if a particular resort or restaurant had been praised.

        Outside Toronto, Langdon Hall is pretty much as good as it gets in Ontario.

        I tend to lower my Ontario-outside-of-Toronto fine dining expectations to roughly the same expectations I'd have in a mid-sized city in Ohio or upstate New York. ;-)

        I'm not sure how the Relais and Chateaux list worked, but I'd take their lists with a grain of salt, since they have an interest in having you visit their properties.

        Most of the better quality restaurants in mid-sized cities like Cambridge/Waterloo/London are going to be roughly equivalent to the better quality restaurants in cities like Toledo or Buffalo. Based on my quick trip to Cleveland in Sept, I thought some of Cleveland's more creative (but casual, compared to Langdon Hall) restaurants are on par with Toronto restaurants.

      2. re: prima

        Luckily for us, my husband and I live in the area and have treated ourselves to the food and setting of Langdon Hall numerous times. It's not that much more costly than other nice restaurants in the area but the ever changing menu makes it especially nice to be able to experience different choices. Now, if I just want a plain old steak at $36+ - I can get that anywhere. I don't think people thinking of dining at Langdon Hall think about the price. And the grounds at this time of year! We were there Sat and the snowy setting made it even more enjoyable!!!!

        1. re: AussieLover

          Everyone thinks about price, regardless of financial resources, in one way or another when dining out. Even the ultra-rich don't want to feel ripped off.

      3. IIRC I have yet to see a Toronto chowhound who really liked this place - but it's not my thing at all so I'm not paying that much attention. I am curious if you checked out any chowhound reviews? Seems like a better source of info for your tastes, uhockey, than these other awards and lists you speak of.

        10 Replies
        1. re: julesrules

          I enjoyed the food, but thought the service was bordering on abysmal, which was opposite of my expectations (well, perhaps I didn't quite think the food would be 'abysmal, I just didn't think it would be 'great'). In any case, subsequent discussions with industry folk reveal that there's not much incentive to work all the way out there (from multiple sources), so that may account for the poor service.


          1. re: justxpete

            Re; incentive to work at Langdon Hall
            Not everyone wants to (or is able to) live and work in TO, justpete!

            1. re: prima

              I didn't say that. I'm just relaying information. It seemed to support what you were saying yesterday.

              1. re: justxpete

                I wasn't trying to suggest that the Chef or staff have less incentive to work at whatever they're working towards at LH. I was trying to explain why I expect less bang for the buck when dining outside TO.

                Interestingly, poor service is rarely an issue for me when dining outside TO, even though the servers outside TO often make a lot less from their tips than their TO peers.

                I know several Chefs and Sous Chefs who choose to work outside TO, despite the fact that choice means they are making significantly less money, and living in less exciting locales. :-)

                1. re: prima

                  Nor was I.

                  I was just relaying information. They say that the most talented among them work and live in TO, for the reasons you stated. Of course, others don't want to live or work in TO, and elect to work outside TO. Perfectly understandable on all accounts.

          2. re: julesrules

            I don't just follow what chowhounders suggest - like or dislike critics/lists, there is a reason those folks are paid to make such things and they are generally at least somewhat useful.


              1. re: MissBingBing

                This is false regarding the Forbes guide, much as it is for Michelin.


                1. re: MissBingBing

                  No they are not. There is nothing more frustrating for industry people who actually have earned their accolades to hear this point of view thrown around. Their is nothing worse for restaurant insiders to know the truth of how it actually works, to have to entertain an idea that is substantiated on nothing but perception. Before voicing an opinion, you should at the very least make sure it's a somewhat educated one. To all of us who know better, it's just irritating, and actually really unfair to the chef and restauranteur.

                  1. re: cyrilcooper

                    Dear Restaurant Insider, are you suggesting there are NO economic considerations in the choices made in ANY of the Guides, and that it is ALL about the food?

                    And Restaurant Outsiders have to believe you and not profess any doubts on the matter because otherwise you will insult them by calling them irritating, without giving them any concrete facts or evidence?

                    SO persuasive. You obviously DO know better.

              1. re: bytepusher

                You've got to wonder how much that meal cost. At least presentation wise, that's way fancier than what the average patron receives.

              2. According to Chatto, Gushue is leaving Langdon Hall. Jason Bergerter, formerly of Auberge du Pommier is hired on.


                2 Replies
                1. re: happycamper

                  Jason Bangerter (just in case anyone is searching).

                  And the move is definitely confirmed.

                  1. re: Dean Tudor

                    Oh wow. Didn't know about the move! Thanks all for the heads up!