We booked into this B&B/hotel as part of an “explore the maritimes” trip, having no idea that it’s owned by Michael Smith, a well-known chef who has a TV show and a celebrity wife. I discovered these facts, and understood that the dinner we had booked was something special, only within 24 hours of arriving. It’s quite a show.
The facility is interesting, Smith apparently having bought it about a year ago and put some money into upgrades. The basic bones are impressive and as you drive up it is a classy-looking faded-to-grey shingled compound of traditional maritime buildings exuding high country class. We walked from our room to the pre-dinner hour at 6 PM, and were surprised at the large number of people, about 50, showing up for dinner considering the very few cars in the parking lot in the afternoon.
The setup for dinner was also impressive. A “Fire Works” huge open fire pit dominated one end of a large L-shaped room with chefs in black t-shirts working at a variety of dishes, in another room there was a fellow efficiently shucking oysters, and there were another couple of cozy venues with fireplaces, all successfully designed to invitingly invoke a rustic complicated high-ceilinged physical plant containing sophisticated cuisine preparation. A fun and exciting scene for the expectant crowd to explore and enjoy.
Oysters with a “bloody mary” ice, homemade sausages which could be dipped in a variety of herbs, and a little-bit dry smoked salmon with lemon caper aioli were the starters, all intriguing and fairly tasty. Everyone circulated around, and our names were taken when we requested drinks. We ordered for dinner from the nice wine list a 2001 rioja which had charming tempranillo fragrance and lots of substance but which didn’t last through the length of the complex meal.
Sitting down for dinner, seven courses were listed, the first of which was bread and butter. Then there was a “taste of the island” board with cheese, chutney, pickled carrots, crackers, and a delicious duck prosciutto. Next came a very tasty mussel broth with potatoes and alleged lobster. At this point I intentionally didn’t finish the soup because of the significant courses to come.
“Hot fish” was interesting, a rough mix of halibut and a risotto containing ham hock and other appetizing ingredients. This unfortunately marked the first frank technical stumble by the hard-working young chefs. The fish was shredded in a white sauce, but was overcooked-dry, and the risotto rice was a bit undercooked, so came off gluey. The pork hock was delicious but didn’t redeem the rest of it. Of course it needed salt which had to be requested. A garden salad reputed to contain 36 ingredients was next, but it was uninteresting in content and the dressing was sugary.
Next came about a 25 minute wait. The main chef had told us that they had never done steak before, but asked us to tell him if we wanted anything other than medium-rare to medium. A couple of us at the table said we’d like rare. The chefs set to work at the fire pit, and everyone chatted as we waited for the pièce de résistance. In the event the steaks were less than a centimetre thick and all cooked through to grey. The flavour was okay with a coin of compound butter on top, but our culinary crew just fell way short of managing respectable restaurant ribeye. There was an accompaniment of potatoes (underdone), mushrooms, and onions sautéed to mush.
I wasn’t surprised to find the desert a sugar-free granola and fruit cereal with a dollop of “cranberry ice cream” on top, and some pumpkin seed brittle on the side.
What a shame that this ambitious expensive dinner (I was shocked but not surprised to find the two of us were out about $450 with the tip), showy as hell in its concept and physical plant, technically flopped in the two main courses and wasn’t all that dazzling in most of the minor ones either. Of course there was no sign of Mr. Smith except for prominent display racks of his cookbooks and CDs of his glamorous wife. His young protégés were the only ones around for damning faint praise from the polite well-heeled diners. I’m sure it missed most of them by a mile.
There were two doctors and three lawyers with partners at our table of eleven people. One couple said they were having another one of these meals the next night. I wonder if they will try to change their mind. I wouldn’t touch this experience for anything close to this price until Smith comes home from New York, Los Angeles, or wherever he hangs out, and straightens out the wrinkles.
Food 7.0, service 7.8, ambience 9.0, value 4.3.