Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Historic Charles Inn: Niagara-on-the-Lake

An aura of old-world charm permeates The Charles Inn, a grand old 1832 Georgian gem superbly located overlooking one of North America's oldest golf clubs, The Niagara-on-the-Lake Golf Club, on the tranquil shoreline of Lake Ontario. With just twelve guest rooms, this small historic inn is one of the prettiest hotels in the area.

The Charles Inn outdoor patio facing Queen Street

The Main Dining Room, located in the old parlour, has been lovingly restored and still features its original crystal chandeliers, beautiful architectural moldings and original wood burning fireplace. The prettier setting however, to enjoy a quiet dinner during the warm summer months, is the picturesque outdoor verandah, which wraps around the side of the Inn and overlooks the lush foliage and manicured lawns of the adjacent golf course. Detailed with hanging baskets of flowers, glowing lanterns and vintage garden dining tables and chairs, the verandah never seems as busy as the main dining room, which makes it the ideal spot for an al fresco dinner under the stars.

The Charles Inn vernadah, for outdoor dining overlooking 
Niagara-on-the-Lake's centuries old golf course

There are two menus from which to choose, the six-course tasting menu with or without wine pairings, or the seasonally inspired dinner menu that features a selection of five appetizers, such as a creamy Celeriac and Apple Soup with crushed hazelnuts and parsley oil, Pan Seared Foie Gras with a roasted shallot and maple bread pudding, apple compote and fried shallots finished with a garnish of fennel cress, or House Rolled Tagliatelle with Maitake mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach and pancetta lardons. As an amuse-bouche for the evening, a demi-tasse of chilled Asparagus Soup with a swirl of creme fraiche arrives with a basket of warm crusty bread and small pot of butter.

The evening's amuse-bouche, a demi-tasse of chilled Asparagus Soup 
with a swirl of creme fraiche

Warm crusty bread with fresh churned butter

Pan seared Quebec Fois gras on top of a slice of roasted shallot and maple bread pudding, 
served with apple compote, crisp fried shallots and topped with fennel cress

Roasted celeriac and apple soup with crushed candied hazelnuts on apple compote 
and finished with parsley oil

Entrées include two fish dishes: Crisp Skin Georgian Whitefish with fingerling potatoes, double smoked bacon lardons, roasted king oyster mushrooms, fennel purée in a white wine cream sauce, and Pan Seared Ontario Lake Trout with a fritter of “Du Puy” lentils, Jerusalem artichoke purée, sautéed honey mushrooms, baby bok choy and finished with a creamy beurre blanc. The other three entrées featured a Grilled Tenderloin of Ontario Beef, Tenderloin of Berkshire Pork and Sous Vide Poached Supreme of Grain Fed Chicken with a wild mushroom, roasted tomato and goat cheese tart, sautéed french beans and pine nuts, garnished with crisp baked skin and a simple jus.

Sous vide poached supreme of grain fed chicken with a wild mushroom, 
roasted tomato and goat cheese tart, sautéed french beans and pine nuts, 
garnished with crisp baked skin and a simple jus

Pan Seared Ontario Lake Trout with a fritter of “Du Puy” lentils, 
Jerusalem artichoke purée, sautéed honey mushrooms, 
baby bok choy and finished with a creamy beurre blanc

The challenge for many restaurants in Niagara-on-the-Lake is finding good quality well-trained staff to keep the level of service where it should be, given the prices. The couple behind us on the verandah at The Charles Inn, although they ordered appetizers, never arrived and were immediately presented with their entrées. Being a genteel older couple, they didn't complain, but asked "Where's the soup we ordered?". The waiter responded that he thought it had already been served. After asking for their bill, waited almost half an hour before having to go to the front desk and asking again. They vowed never to return. Our service was slightly better, but there were hiccups with the service and quality of the food. Our waiter did, to his credit, try to make amends by bringing us two complimentary glasses of chilled ice wine. A lovely gesture, but The Charles Inn could save a lot of time, money and grief by simply paying more attention to their guests and keeping a tighter rein on the kitchen.