Salt Spring Island,BC – Chefs Across the Water at Hastings House Country House Hotel

Event: Chefs Across the Water SeriesFeaturing Chef Marcel Kauer, Hastings House Country House Hotel
Event Date:
October 18, 2010
Restaurant: Hastings House Country House Hotel
Cuisine: French/Seafood/West Coast
Location: Salt Spring Island, BC (Gulf Islands)
Address: 160 Upper Ganges Road
Price Range: $50+

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 5
Service: 6
Ambiance: 6
Overall: 6

The Hastings House Country House Hotel is definitely reaching out to the foodie market as it introduces the first ever Chefs Across the Water Series 2010. It’s a series of dinners that took place over the summer at the Hastings House Country House Hotel in Salt Spring Island, BC. Each month features a prominent Executive Chef from one of Vancouver’s finest and best fine dining restaurants. The Executive Chef is invited for one exclusive day to prepare a 5 course dinner in the Hastings House kitchen that is open to locals and tourists to enjoy. The ticketed event and formal dinner promotes the use of fresh, organic, and local Salt Spring Island ingredients along with optional wine pairings featuring BC wines.

Thanks to fellow food blogger and good friend Sherman from Sherman’s Food Adventures, I was invited to the last Chefs Across the Water series. This evening featured French and Pacific Northwest cuisine by the Hastings House’s very own Executive Chef Marcel Kauer. Known for his Salt Spring Lamb, his dishes were also carefully prepared and presented. What’s extra special is that Chef Kauer uses vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers from the Hastings House’s kitchen garden, which is basically the restaurant’s backyard. I was very pleased to attend this night since it would be a rare opportunity for me to try it on any other day, considering it’s on Salt Spring Island.

To be honest, I had no idea where Hastings House Country House Hotel was before this event. When I heard the event was at “Hastings House” I imagined some super sketch area in East Hastings, however when I realized it was referring to Hastings House Country House Hotel in Salt Spring Island, everything was much better. Coming from Vancouver it meant either 2 ferries or a short plane ride, but believe me, it was definitely worth the trip.

Hastings House Country House Hotel is a luxury country resort, spa and restaurant. It’s named one of the “Top 20 International Hideaways”, “”Top 3 in Canadian Hotels” and under “1000 Things to See Before You Die”. I probably would have never discovered this hidden gem and gorgeous vacation getaway if it wasn’t for this event.

The ambiance is that of an old English country resort and the sit down dinner takes place in the Hastings House dining room. Although it feels a bit pretentious, it is cozy and quaint and the service is incredibly friendly. The dinners are intimate with small or group table seating and personal catering. Just because I was invited I honestly believe that everyone will be treated like royalty. I felt like I was on the set of Gilmore Girls having dinner at Emily and Richard’s house.

The Chefs Across the Water series is definitely a “high brow activity” for any food and wine enthusiast and it’s a perfect event for a romantic weekend getaway that is unlike anything you’ll find in Vancouver. From the personalized menus, to the description of each plate and wine pairing, and even the traditional English serving manners, it was truly a memorable experience that was well… worth documenting.

See my post on breakfast as Hastings House Country House Hotel here.

Ticket price: 5 course dinners: $100 (Optional wine pairings: $50)
For more details/reservations: Chefs Across the Water 2010 or 250.537.2362/1.800.661.9255

On the table:

Amuse Bouche: Vol-au-vent with Goat Cheese Camembert

I’m not really a fan of goat’s cheese especially if it’s extremely gamey in flavour. This was a super creamy and pungent goat cheese that was way too gamey for my palette. The vol-au-vent is a layered, crispy and hollowed out puff pastry shell that holds the filling. It has a touch of jam or sweetness to it, but the goat’s cheese is just so intense it’s all I can remember. For me it was a “thank god it was only a bite” appetizer.

Wild Pacific Salmon Tartar, Parsnip Chips, Fir Tree Honey and Parsley Oil – 4/6

Wine pairing: 2005 Blue Mountain Rose Brut

The presentation was gorgeous and all the flowers and the fir tree honey are actually from the Hastings House’s edible garden. The salmon was creamy with salty bites of capers and it was finished off with a little strawberry sauce. I couldn’t taste the strawberries as much as I could taste the fir tree honey, which had a sweet and earthy in flavour. The parsley oil and honey were a unique combination and it brightened up the flavours of the tartar which was quite basic otherwise.

Caramelized Onion and Apple Bisque, Goat Cheese Crouton – 6/6

Wine pairing: 2009 Salt Spring Vineyards, Blattner White

This was my favourite dish of the night and probably the most well prepared bisques I’ve ever tried. It’s actually one of the best soups I’ve ever had. This was a contemporary bisque made with French execution and it’s one of Chef Kauer’s famous specialties. An authentic French bisque is made with seafood, so this was an interesting switch up.

This was a very rich, creamy and thick bisque with a smooth and even texture. It’s sweet from the sweet onions and apples and there was a perfect balance of both. It also has a slight tang coming from perhaps the wine or the apples and it was enhanced with the creamy goat’s cheese. The goat cheese crouton just melts into the bisque creating and even richer texture and the slight cheesiness was not overwhelming nor was it gamey.

Seared Local Pine Mushrooms, Bright Farm Leek, Orchard Pear and Smoked Albacore Tuna Ragout – 3/6

Wine pairing: 2006 Mission Hill S.L.C. Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon

Oddly enough this Albacore tuna ragout reminded me of Thanksgiving. It almost tasted like turkey or ham with a sweet leek and pear stuffing. The pear was a bit hidden, but it did add the sweetness which was quite obvious. Everything tasted fine, but it didn’t showcase the flavours of the tuna or the tuna as a ragout. It was well prepared and presented, but it didn’t do much for me and the description didn’t match the flavours. I think it was perhaps the simplicity of the dish and ingredients, it also didn’t build on top of the previous course, which was an extremely flavourful bisque.

Marinated Sable Fish, Lemon Polenta, Black Truffle Beurre Blanc – 3.5/6

Wine pairing: 2008 Mission Hill Perpetua Chardonnay

I ordered the Sable Fish as my main although Chef Kauer’s Salt Spring Lamb is the most famous must try dish at the Hastings House. Whenever possible, I will order and try everything on the menu, and since everyone else at my table ordered the lamb, I decided on the Sable Fish. I also strategized with Victor from Ho Yummy so I got to try his lamb and he got to try my fish. I love dining with fellow food bloggers.

The Sable Fish was moist, juicy, and cooked perfectly, although it is a very forgiving fish to prepare. I loved the brown sugar crust (which I could have used more of) he used to replace the crispy texture of the skin, however I do like the skin. I also which I could taste the brown sugar, because it added more in terms of texture, but not in flavour.

The Black Truffle beurre blanc was the perfect sauce to match this buttery fish, but I wish there was more because without it the dish was quite ordinary. I could taste the truffle but I could have used more truffle oil because the flavour was a bit inconsistent throughout the sauce.

The creamy polenta was quite tangy with lots of lemon juice and although it did lighten the dish up, I would have preferred it to be more savoury. Minus the fact that it was a beurre blanc sauce, the ingredients seemed to be used so sparingly that the flavours were a bit too light.

Grilled Salt Spring Island Lamb, Rosemary Rosti Potatoes, Grainy Mustard Jus – 6/6

Wine pairing: 2004 Osoyoos Larose

The lamb was superb and it is really a must try. It’s available on the regular menu and it’s Chef Kauer’s famous dish. I’m not usually a fan of lamb, because I fear it will be too gamey, but a well prepared lamb will come off as the texture and flavour of filet mignon with a slightly gamey aftertaste of lamb. This one was incredibly tender, buttery, not gamey and perfectly prepared. It was melt in your mouth delicious and it was matched with a grainy mustard sauce that was savoury, tangy, and slightly sweet from perhaps some reduced red wine. I could have used a little more spice, or perhaps a bit of a crust on the lamb, but the grainy mustard did add some contrast to the soft texture. I did prefer this main over the sable fish.

Hot Hastings House Garden Quince Souffle, Grand Marnier Creme Anglaise – 4/6

Wine pairing: 2008 Elephant Island Apricot

The 5 course dinner ended with a light souffle dessert. I love a good souffle, and this was a perfectly prepared souffle. It was definitely sour more than sweet and the use of the quince came off tasting like an orange more so than a cross of an apple and a pear. The quince was actually hand picked from the Hastings House orchard so it was a lovely Autumn dessert.

A well made French souffle is supposed to hold it’s shape, and this one held from beginning to end. It was a beautiful fluffy, soft, light and airy sponge like cake and it tastes like eating clouds if it’s made properly. Yes, I’ve tasted in a cloud, and it’s delicious.

They slit open the souffle and pour in the Grand Marnier creme anglaise upon serving it.

I could definitely taste the orange flavour from the Grand Marnier creme anglaise and I found it a bit overwhelming for such a delicate dessert. The liquor also wasn’t cooked out as much as I wanted it to be. I would have rather had less poured in because the flavour was intense that a little goes a long way. The creme anglaise absorbs into the cake and it becomes sponge like, extra moist, and the texture of foam. The sponge cake is eggy and the dessert ends up being quite creamy. There were little pieces of quince fruit throughout but it ended up tasting like oranges. The idea of cream and sour for a dessert isn’t my preference, but nonetheless I still finished it. The 2008 Elephant Island Apricot was the perfect wine pairing for this dessert because it added the sweetness I was looking for to balance out the rather tart souffle.


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