Well, we have been living the life o’ Reilly these last few days. We spent the weekend giving thanks for our decision to spend it at Langdon Hall, bobbing about in the warm waters of innocent physical self-indulgence. Plenty of hiking, cycling, working out in the gym, circumambulating the snooker table and striding about the croquet lawn, mallet in hand – but could it possibly even begin to balance the caloric intake of the various breakfasts, lunches and dinners? Not to mention the little treats the staff at Canada’s best hotel like to drop casually in one’s path – for example, the dainty but existentially profound chocolate tarts that greeted us in our room when we arrived. All weekend long, the see-saw of eating and exercise, the teeter-totter of sin and redemption, creaked and squeaked like a rodeo bull in a Calgary bar. I have to get into my suit on Thursday for the Gold Medal Plates event in Halifax, so I was seriously concerned.
“Why on earth would you go to Langdon Hall, then, O’Reilly, you fool?”
There’s a reason, your honour. My son Joseph passed a milestone on the long path to his doctorate, and we deemed it a ripe moment to celebrate.
“But could you not have stuck to thin gruel and green tea for your meals at the hotel?”
We could not. It’s true we were a week too early to witness the menus of the new Executive Chef, Jason Bangerter, who drove up the driveway as we were leaving, but there was no escaping the genius of pastry chef Sarah Villamere.
“You’ve mentioned that name before.”
I have indeed, so save your majesty, and hope to again. It wasn’t just those chocolate tarts. Nor even the wild cranberry and sumac soufflé with molasses ice cream (the soufflé as proud and haughty-high, as sharp and ethereal as any queen of Tara). It was the dessert she sent out on Saturday night, when we were all but determined to eat nothing more at all (barring a sortie or two onto the cheese trolley).
This is what it looked like (points to the picture at the top of the page) – a saucerful of secrets, nothing too fancy to the eye but mysterious, and giving off a powerful fragrance of mushroom. Very few desserts smell like mushroom… Later, Sarah Villamere told me what goes into this amazing treat. She starts by making “milk jam” which is very like dulche de leche. Then she makes a purée of impeccable chanterelles, with nothing but a grain or two of salt before adding a reduction of Earl Grey tea to the mixture. She roasts some apples in foil until they are softish but not mushy, chops them up and tosses them with wild oregano, sugar, sea salt and cold-pressed canola oil. A morsel of this heady mixture goes onto the mushroom-milk-jam. In late July, she had picked sour green apples from Langdon Hall’s trees, juiced them and made a sorbet; now she shaved that sorbet into snow with the paco-jet and set a spoonful over the roasted apple. The penultimate ingredient was powdered cep mushroom that she had baked into a cookie and then powdered again to sprinkle here and there over the dish. The final flourish – a candied chanterelle perched on the apple snow.
It was a dazzling dessert – the most interesting pudding I’ve had all year with those cold, tangy, acidic apple flavours and heavy, roasted, sweet apple flavours, cep and chanterelle and oregano aromatics and the underlying richness of condensed dairy. Even more striking was the core texture of the dish, reminding me of the thick, velvety softness of a mushroom velouté but also the crusty, almost-solidity of clotted cream. Splendid stuff, to be sure, though Villamere modestly described it as being “fairly straightforward.”
No sir. O’Reilly.