PUDDICOMBE HOUSE LEFT US ABSOLUTELY MOREISH,
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.