Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
CAMBRIDGE, ONTARIO — Don’t be surprised in a few months if Langdon Hall does what no restaurant in Canada has done for more than a decade — rank among the World’s 50 Best. Under executive chef Jason Bangerter, the esteemed Relais & Chateaux property located about 100 kilometres (65 miles) southwest of Toronto has reached a height in culinary achievement.
Bangerter, recently named Canadian chef of the year, has set his intention on being among the leading international places to dine. “When I travel, I’m only going to three-star Michelin restaurants now. That’s the level I want us to be in, and I really think we’re there,” he said during an interview in November.
He’s not the only one with that opinion. Langdon Hall has reached an unprecedented level for itself — both in its culinary and hospitality programs — that gives it the international clout Bangerter has chased since 2013, when he arrived at the property, a mansion on sprawling grounds once owned by an heir to the Astor family.
Bangerter says revenues have increased by 50 per cent in the past two years. A renovated wing added meeting facilities that have attracted robust corporate clients while the refurbished spa has been so popular bookings are only available months in advance.
The restaurant is the flagship room at Langdon Hall and it is the space that is creating the most buzz. There is no Michelin guide in Canada and the next most notable ranking for high-end restaurants is the San Pellegrino World’s 50 Best List, which last named a Canadian restaurant among its collection in 2003, when Ontario’s Eigensinn Farm ranked No. 28 (a handful of restaurants, including Langdon Hall, have placed as runners-up on the list’s second tier from 51-100). In the past year, Langdon Hall has served many more of the judges who contribute to the ranking than it has previously.
Bangerter’s kitchen has challenged itself to eclipse past achievements. The tasting menu is a well-orchestrated affair that showcases the chef’s creativity and ambition. He works diligently at making diners connect with the origins of their food. In warm weather, guests can explore the Langdon Hall garden, a flourishing carpet of colour and goodness that Bangerter’s brigade utilizes to magnificent effect. Walk with Bangerter and he might pull out a radish for you to try straight from the earth, sprinkled with a touch of water, or snatch a marigold and explain how the soft citrusy notes in its flavour can propel a recipe.
In cooler months, the earth and sea come to the forefront with dishes such as a Jerusalem artichoke, roasted, and served on a broad piece of bark, and caviar from sturgeon whose large dried skin Bangerter might pull out for you to touch and rub between fingers, adding texture and an additional sensory experience to your meal.
It’s because of such efforts that Langdon Hall seems poised in 2018 to have its reputation reach beyond Ontario and even Canada. That impact will be felt through Waterloo Region, which is already revelling in an improved culinary scene, thanks in part to the effect of Langdon Hall. The anticipated growth in awareness for its anchor property is the chief reason Waterloo Region — which consists of the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, and five smaller townships in southwestern Ontario — is ranked No. 13 on the 2018 Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada List, which is produced by travel journalists and will be released in January.
Fistro Bistro opened in 2016 with former Langdon Hall sous chef Darnell Gregg leading the kitchen. Located in an unassuming strip mall in Cambridge, Fistro Bistro serves exceptionally flavourful gourmet cuisine at prices that allow it to compete with the likes of Earl’s, Milestone’s, and the other large restaurants who rely on marketing rather than food quality to drive their business. At Fistro Bistro, Gregg has tapped into the suppliers he worked with at Langdon Hall to elevate cuisine in the mid-priced casual cuisine category. His cooking techniques demonstrate his pedigree, with beautifully plated dishes that show a high level of culinary sophistication.
“Langdon Hall does such incredible, amazing food, and I thought it would be great to create cuisine that is more accessible to people who may not dine out all the time,” Gregg says of his decision to launch Fistro Bistro.
In downtown Kitchener, The Berlin has drawn excellent reviews since it debuted in 2015. Diners will find dishes with a European flair, a nod to Kitchener’s heritage as a home to German immigrants. The city was originally named Berlin and the restaurant on King Street features spaetzle and other food with a Bavarian touch. Its original chef, Jonathan Gushue, was at the head of Langdon Hall’s kitchen for 10 years and helped establish The Berlin’s reputation.
“Locals are evolving. They’re expecting a different level of quality and local chefs are changing to give them what they want,” says Gushue, who recently took over as executive chef at the ultra-luxurious Fogo Island Inn in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
A long-time centre for technology businesses, the area has benefitted with expanded campuses at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, two major institutions who contribute significantly to the area’s workforce. Big companies such as Google have established a presence in the city, making Waterloo Region the fastest-growing market for tech jobs in Canada.
With that growth comes higher salaries, more conference business, and cooler stuff happening — such as an annual blues festival that has proven able to draw big names. The dynamic shift in Waterloo Region is enticing many young people to live closer to where they work, rather than make the long daily commute back along Ontario’s crippling Highway 401 to the big city.
“The demographics are changing and Kitchener is catering to the young, tech workforce,” says Chris Chan-Piu, director of sales at the Walper Hotel. “More and more people are not just going back to Toronto at the end of their work day, they’re staying in downtown Kitchener and enjoying the restaurants and nightlife that’s growing here.”
The Walper, which completed a full renovation 2017, features decor reminiscent of urban chic properties such as Vancouver’s Opus Hotel. It has 92 rooms, plus a second-floor cocktail bar styled to cater to young professionals. The Walper is also home to a subterranean diner, TWH Social, that serves good casual fare.
Similar cuisine can be found at Waterloo’s Bauer Kitchen, which is in a building that was a former ice-skate factory. Geared to appeal to the mass-market crowd, Bauer Kitchen features big salads, pizzas, and burgers, with a slant on local ingredients, and also has a diverse and reasonably priced cocktail list.
Led by Langdon Hall, Waterloo Region has upped its culinary stature across the board. In 2018, the recognition for its progress seems poised to explode beyond its base of locals and savvy foodies in Ontario.
More About Visiting Waterloo Region
More About the Vacay.ca 20 Best Places to Visit in Canada for 2018
The 2018 rankings will be announced on January 10, with destinations being determined by Vacay.ca’s editors and writers. The criteria for making the ranking includes event highlights for 2018, significant anniversaries, new tourism offerings and infrastructure, and emerging locations that voters believe deserve recognition before they become hot spots for volume visitation.