Friday, July 4, 2008

Langdon Hall - Day 1

Langdon Hall Country Hotel & Spa, Friday July 4, 2008

"No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart." The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald

With a big anniversary coming I wanted to treat R to something special. Years ago, possibly even in 1989 the year that it opened, we went to this luxurious country hotel called Langdon Hall in Cambridge, Ontario. In 1989, the Deluxe rooms were $125-$150 per night; superior rooms, $175 ... needless to say this has escalated somewhat.

It’s nestled in this spectacular venue complete with a wonderful restaurant presided over by executive chef Jonathan Gushue, its own vegetable garden and greenhouse, a luxury spa, wonderful trails, tennis courts, an immaculate, if small, pool and a croquet lawn. Fancy, no? Yes, but beautiful.

We returned one other time in the 1990s but after that our fortunes shifted and it was no longer a viable alternative for a quick, fun weekend. Now it's stupid money to stay there (seriously stupid); however, we had always hoped to go to Paris on our anniversary this summer. It falls in August but we have planned to take la carusa to Disney World in Florida next month. I felt I could justify the expense for this special occasion. J is at camp for two weeks, so the parents shall frolick ...

This one time country home for the rich (one of the original owners was a descendant of John Jacob Astor's) definitely has a "wow" factor as you drive up the long driveway. The stateliness of the house hits you, only the seriously rich could have envisioned this as a country home. The photo above does not over-promise.

A decription from the Globe and Mail when Langdon Hall first opened in 1989: "The front door of the main house opens into an atrium gallery, whose upper level is encased in paned glass. The public rooms - a library, a conservatory, a downstairs billiards room, an upstairs reading room (furnished with antique chairs once owned by John Jacob Astor) - are warm and intimate in scale, and decorated with a collection of superb antique Irish mahogany furniture imported by [architect William] Bennett and [Mary] Beaton." Much has remained the same (the billiards room has been moved to the first level).

The staff is very young, unfailingly polite, vaguely Teutonic in aspect … I guess they are staffed largely from Kitchener-Waterloo residents. Tis a bit disconcerting, blondes everywhere you go! I’m so used to multi-cultural Toronto that it’s bit of shock to realize how different the rest of the province is.

I do have my moments when I think, “What the h*ll am I doing here?” and the adage “You can take the girl out of Hamilton but you can’t take the Hamilton out of the girl” do leap to mind. I have to keep reminding myself to knock that chip off my shoulder and just relax and enjoy it.

I think it’s no coincidence that this trip coincides with my summer ritual of re-reading The Great Gatsby. Ambitious, lonely Jay Gatsby ain’t got nothing on me. Fascinated by the wealthy but equally fearful of their power, he meets an unhappy end (hopefully I will be spared this!).

We walked the grounds re-familiarizing ourselves with the estate. We have a room in “The Cloisters” (our room was #35 and named "Twin Flowers"), a “L” shaped two storey building housing guest rooms and the spa on the lower levels.

Again from the Globe and Mail: "The accommodations in the main house tend to be framed with the mansion's original panelling and molding, beautifully restored, and hidden behind improbably thick, brass-appointed doors. The rooms in The Cloisters, a new wing constructed along the south side of the house, have a softer look, with floral curtains and pastel walls. Some open onto little terraces, shaded by arbors."

The windows of our room face south towards the vegetable garden (hidden by trees) and ythe other towards the courtyard of the back of the main house. The Cloisters sit between the mansion itself and in consecutive order: the croquet law, the vegetable gardens which provides the restaurant with its green staples, a greenhouse and the tiny perfect pool.

We arrived at 6 or so and dinner was at 7.30. Dinner is served in a many windowed addition to the main house on the east side or back half of the mansion and it is divided into a north and south side of the restaurant. Absolutely enchanting. Fresh crisp white linen, real polished silverware, fresh flowers on every table, candles, full place settings for every course, a pianist playing throughout the meal. Our package came with two three course meals for dinner.

For an appetizer I had the "Chaput Goat’s Cheese Tortellini with Grilled Fennel Hearts, Black Oil, Pine Nut Pistou Ossau-Iraty" (Ossau-Iraty being a French cheese I later learned) which was disappointing, too al dente for me, flavoured with fennel, in a busy array of dabs of sauces I couldn’t make out, artfully arranged on a plate. If the name of the dish is confusing and busy, imagine the taste.

R said, and it was exactly what I was thinking, that it was a sort of 80s style cuisine. It seemed very dated with more thought given to design than taste. And you only get four!

That reminds me of that old Woody Allen joke in Annie Hall where the two old ladies are complaining about the food in a particular restaurant in the Catskills. “The food is so terrible,” one moans and the other says “And the portions are so small!” If I didn’t like the tortellinis why am I complaining that I only got four?

We fared better with the main course: R had the Pacific Halibut with Confit Lemon Crust which he loved and I had the “Vegetarian Tasting” dish (somewhat fearfully I might add). My friends and loved ones know me to be a committed carnivore but I had had a heavy lunch. A good friend had taken me for a belated birthday lunch at Pangaea and I had had roast lamb and a rich dessert; hence, I opted for something lighter for dinner that night.

The “tasting” consisted of a large white square plate with a small bowl of a luridly green but refreshing cold pea soup, couscous with raisins, and, stewed apricots with a sort of fruit compote. Very simple. Very light.

Dessert was a mandarin sherbert wrapped in a tube like cookie wafer with a lemon cream and cookie base. It was delicious but with each course I felt that there was two much going on – too many ingredients, too many flavours … it wasn’t that the taste was unpleasant, just too busy, trying too hard to be different.

After the dinner we sat on the veranda and were soon joined by three pretty teenagers perhaps no older than sixteen. They were dropped off by a friend in an expensive car. Surprisingly, they were sweet, very polite. One had run up the stairs very prettily in her summer dress and asked politely if they might come in and have hot chocolate inside; they weren’t guests but had attended a function there the week before. Their voices were as Gatsby had said so famously of Daisy Buchanan - “full of money” - soon confirmed by the conversation which turned to trust funds. One self consciously turned to the others and said, “Listen to us! We sound like a bunch of brats!” But they weren’t, at least as far as we could see. The next morning R said to me good humoredly, “I guess not all rich kids are idiots.”

We returned to our room which had a king size bed (a luxury for us!) and a working fireplace, a walk-in shower. The thing I love about Langdon Hall is that it’s so old school as a hotel. Only 50 or so suites. Keys rather than cards to enter, no electronics, no WIFI in your room, just a small colour TV and an old fashioned alarm clock to wake you up. It’s elegant and small and exquisite.

I crashed at 10.30 thinking: I could get used to this!

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