After an eventful morning touring some of Stratford’s finest food producers—Monforte Dairy, Soiled Reputation and Perth Pork Products—we made our way back to Soiled Reputation for lunch. We were certainly in for a treat, as Chef Neil Baxter of Stratford’s celebrated Rundles, along with two assistants, was preparing us a three-course lunch using ingredients from all three producers we visited in the morning.
And to top it off, lunch would be served in Antony and Tina’s lovely barn. What could make a better “farm to table” setting than the Soiled Reputation barn? The smell of hay lingering in the air. The clucking of the chickens below. The vast barn doors opening to the view of Soiled Reputation’s wide acres, green for miles, and the blue, blue sky. It just couldn’t get better than this.
But it does!
As Chef Baxter put the finishing touches to the first course, we were served a selection of drinks: iced herbal tea blended by tea sommelier Karen Hartwick, a local pilsner from the Stratford Brewing Company, and VQA wines from Niagara’s Malivoire (a Chardonnay and a Gamay). We all took our seats at the table, and while we perused (and drooled) over the menu, an assortment of bread, also baked by Rundles, was passed around the table.
Our first course was a Perth County asparagus salad with crispy eggs, wild arugula and shaved Monforte Toscano cheese.
How can you go wrong with that? So, so simple, but it is its simplicity that makes this dish shine. Nothing takes away from the stars of the show: the ingredients themselves, and this dish truly demonstrates what farm to table eating is all about, and what we should all strive for at home. Not, I’m not saying go out and make fancy dishes like this every night, but by simply using local, seasonal ingredients, you’ll not only be helping out local farmers, but you’ll get produce that is fresh, ripe, in-season, and taste as they should. Eggs fresh from Antony’s farm, the colour of the yolk is unlike anything you’ll ever find in your supermarket eggs. They were delicious, and after lunch, I managed to snag myself of dozen of those eggs to take home. They were that good.
What could be better than a warm, crispy egg sitting on top of lightly dressed, crisp-tender asparagus, spicy arugula, and salty Toscano? Crack into the egg, which has first been poached before being breaded and fried, and you’re greeted with a glorious view of bright orangey-yellow yolk oozing out.
Next was the spit-grilled de Martines’ wild boar, Soiled Reputation pea shoot spatzle and mustard seed jus. We all had a preview of the boar earlier in the morning when we were touring the farm with Antony, so we were all anticipating this dish. And after our tour of Perth Pork Products and learning more about how the pigs were raised, our anticipation increased. I truly wish we have smell-o-vision, because the smells that were wafting up from this dish as it was set down in front of me was incredibly. Rich. Earthy. Meaty. Savoury. Smoky. It was just an explosion of smells that overwhelmed my senses and had me drooling.
Cooked to a perfect medium, the meat of the wild boar literally melted in your mouth, fat and all. I’m not one to eat fat—I’ll usually cut it away and leave it on the side of my dish, but I truly cleaned my plate up (last weeks’ Wordless Wednesday is witness to this claim). The fat tastes nothing like any other fat I’ve tasted, and it’s not greasy at all. Light and melt in your mouth, it took on the smoky flavours of the spit-grill, as well as the meatiness from the pork. It was just super fab. The sweetness in the sauce balanced very nicely with the saltiness of mustard. And that pea shoot spaetzle…I could have had a huge plate of that. Light and fluffy, cooked with some smoked bacon for flavour and a splash of cream…I loved it. I loved it all!
Lunch was finished off with a light and refreshing Soiled Reputation rhubarb soup with rhubarb crush. What looked to be some kind of cocktail (served in a martini glass no doubt) was a delicious rhubarb soup spiced with cinnamon, a spoonful of rhubarb crush (a.k.a. sortbet), pieces of rhubarb, and some house-made cat tongue cookies. I loved the sweet and sour combo of this dessert, and the different flavours that hit your palate, from the tartness of the rhubarb, to the sweetness of the vanilla in the crush, to the spiciness of the cinnamon, work so well together. Part dessert, part drink, this really helped cleanse the palate and make what would have otherwise been a pretty heavy previous dish (the boar) less heavy on this hot, summer’s day.
A huge thank you goes out to Chef Baxter and his assistants for taking the time out of what would be a busy day in the restaurant to cook a superb meal for us, to Antony and Tina for being such wonderful hosts, and to Monforte, Soiled Reputation and Perth Pork Products for providing such first-class ingredients for lunch.
Thursday's post: Tea tasting with Stratford's own tea sommelier, Karen Hartwick.
9 Cobourg Street