PUDDICOMBE HOUSE LEFT US AB­SO­LUTELY MOR­EISH,

Waterloo Region Record - - Nightlife - JAS­MINE MAGALASERIL As­sess­ing food, at­mos­phere, ser­vice and prices. Din­ing Out restau­rant re­views are based on anony­mous vis­its to the es­tab­lish­ments. Restau­rants do not pay for any por­tion of the re­viewer’s meal. Jas­mine Man­galaseril can be reached at h

We blew into New Ham­burg on 100-kilo­me­tre gusts that snapped trees and turned roads into airhockey ta­bles. Fun it wasn’t, but the re­ward was worth it as we were soon in Puddicombe House’s spa for restora­tive pre-din­ner man­i­cures. Man­i­cures? Of course! Not tak­ing ad­van­tage of such ameni­ties would have been re­miss.

An hour later, with nail colours be­fit­ting our per­son­al­i­ties, we as­cended the stair­case to the re­laxed fine-din­ing restau­rant. The stately 1868 yel­low brick house has lived sev­eral lives: First, as a pri­vate res­i­dence; next as apart­ments; and, since the mid-2000s, as a com­bi­na­tion of a spa and salon, 60-seat restau­rant and overnight rooms. A sep­a­rate ban­quet hall was added two years ago.

The re­stored house has three din­ing rooms. Ours has olive walls and a dark wood fire­place man­tle; gar­net drapes frame the win­dows.

Above us, cor­nices and a gilt acan­thus chan­de­lier plate em­bel­lish the 12-foot ceil­ing. Con­tem­po­rary fur­nish­ings — a hand­ful of white mar­ble ta­bles with but­ton-tufted chairs — jux­ta­pose pe­riod de­tail.

A ta­ble of re­tirees tuck into din­ner and two women dis­cuss mar­ket­ing plans over glasses of wine when we take our seats. Guests are shep­herded past our door­way to their ta­bles, but our room fills quickly with din­ers, in­clud­ing a 20-some­thing cou­ple who takes the cor­ner spot.

Af­ter a quick peek at the cock­tail list I tried to go off-piste but a Saz­erac was not to be. We move on to the New World-lean­ing wine list. My friend chooses the On­tario semi-dry Ries­ling (six ounces, $9) and sug­gests I have the Ital­ian old vine zin­fan­del (six ounces, $10).

Much tempts on the menu that sits con­tem­po­rary dishes with faith­ful clas­sics and shined-up old favourites. Do we start with Taco Shots, Roasted Beet Salad (with can­died wal­nuts), or French Onion Soup? The Grilled Pork Chop (with blueberry mus­tard) calls, but so do SlowBraised Beef Ribs, and Rhubar­bPiri Piri Chicken.

This was when I wished I’d in­vited more peo­ple so I could graze off their plates.

Wax­ing lyri­cal about Puddicombe’s kitchen skills is easy. They bring the best out of good in­gre­di­ents. Solid clas­sic tech­niques are show­cased and glim­mers of molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy appear. Solid think­ing blends tastes and textures from mul­ti­ple in­flu­ences to sup­port the ideas be­hind each dish.

Was din­ner flaw­less? No, but wob­bles around fry­ing oil and pas­try bases would pick the ween­si­est of nits.

Af­ter slices of maple-glazed bread, our Cae­sar Salad ($11) and Pan-Seared Sea Scal­lops ($18) arrived. Toasts spread with vel­vety smoky-sweet ba­con jam ac­com­pa­nied whole baby-ro­maine leaves strewn with gar­licky-hot egg gre­mo­lata.

The kitchen’s skills shone with the scal­lops: Savoury soft po­lenta seated sweet scal­lops with golden pates while pickled cel­ery sliv­ers added salty-sharp­ness. Wafers were dusted with earthy bit­ter mid­night pur­ple kala­mata olive pow­der as cran­berry pearls burst with tart sweet­ness. Del­i­cate pea shoots added ver­dant fresh­ness.

A hearty wedge of corn­bread perched atop my friend’s gen­er­ous Seven Grain Jam­bal­aya ($29). Ten­der scal­lops and shrimp nes­tled in creamy grains that comin­gled piri piri and juices from hunks of chorizo. It was spicy, but

the heat didn’t build.

My L & L Burger (with fries, $18), named af­ter Chef Lance Ed­wards and a peanut but­terlov­ing server, eas­ily proved Puddicombe’s rep­u­ta­tion for a darn fine burger. Thick boar belly slices, pickled hot pep­pers, ched­dar, and edamame aïoli topped the peanut-but­tered beef patty. The soft-crumbed bun drank up the juices. Rich? Un­apolo­get­i­cally. Mor­eish? Ab­so­lutely.

We skipped brows­ing the scotch li­brary to sip Tea and Cof­fee ($3, each) as we ate our Tarts (le­mon, cus­tard; $9, each). Crack­ing the brûléed le­mon tart re­vealed a sharp cit­rusy curd, while blue­ber­ries stud­ded the lush vanilla cus­tard.

Gen­uinely warm and cheer­ful staff set the tone from the start.

From Chef who found me look­ing for the spa (sig­nage could be bet­ter), to our light­hearted server who en­sured ev­ery­thing ran smoothly, there was a clear and ef­fort­less fo­cus on guest ex­pe­ri­ence.

The gales di­min­ished to wafts. I re­moved a small branch from my wind­shield knowing I’d re­turn. There’s so much more here to try.

MATHEW MC­CARTHY RECORD STAFF

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