It looks the same. The dappled-white trunks of birch trees still soften the two-tiered room; the picture windows still afford a view of golf greens, and the carpet still bellows hotel.
What’s changed is the guard. One generally doesn’t register a human being behind a hotel dining room, but one tended to register Michael Blackie. He was not a behind-the-scenes sort of chef, and on the Perspectives menu there was, for all the years he ran the show, a patently Blackie imprint.
Blackie left last year to put his stamp on the National Arts Centre. The new man in charge is Blackie’s executive sous-chef, Clifford Lyness.
The emphasis on the Perspectives menus that I encountered has shifted slightly toward more traditional notions of hotel dining, though one would be forgiven for thinking this was a seafood restaurant upon examining Lyness’ list of five starters: lobster, scallops, cured salmon, Thai soup with shrimp and the fifth option, beef tartare. So if you aren’t a fish fan, and don’t do raw meat, you’re stuck with a Caesar (hold the anchovies) or the day’s soup.
But as we are fans of both, we stuck with the salmon, cured in citrus, the fish rich and unctuous, layered with avocado, grapefruit and hard cooked egg. The overwhelming flavour was egg salad in this little package, though the fish stood out well enough. I would say it was only OK. I wouldn’t particularly order it again.
But I’d have another round of the beef tartare. A “weekly creation” (which tends to make me nervous) this week’s was a conservative presentation, the chopped meat mixed with capers, shallots, seedy mustard, sweetened a bit with apple. The tom ka gai, with shrimp, chicken and straw mushrooms in a spiced up coconut broth would have been better had it arrived hot. Still, even at lukewarm, it registered pretty favourably.
At one dinner, a butternut squash ravioli won full marks for a lovely filling, but lost them for the tough seams of the pasta pouches, and for the tepid Syrah reduction with which they were sauced. A sunchoke purÃ©e was the happy base for a duo of pleasant scallops, though the sunny little quail egg arrived cold, and the rosti potato uncomfortably oily.
Twice I’ve tried the halibut crusted with chorizo pellets and gunpowder tea. One visit, lovely. Two months later, the fish was utterly juiceless.
Two successful veal dishes – the first brought together crisp sweetbreads, a softly braised veal shoulder and a nicely pink bit of tenderloin in a port reduction. From the fall menu, we love the pickled ramps and mushroom mix, the oozy, cheesy polenta, beneath the succulent veal loin.
If you like spuds, onion and steak, order the ribeye. It was a terrific piece of meat, well grilled and juicy, but served with a comical amount of fingerlings. We counted 12 big halves, roasted right and smeared with seedy mustard. And then more brown on this plate – a panko-crusted crab cake that seemed to have been crisping since lunch, and two ways with onions. Here were pearls, paddling in a dark, salty sauce, and two whole scallions, charred from the grill, stringy, and tricky to eat. We ignored them, and popped in another wonderful potato.
At lunch, the grilled calamari was rubbery, its arrangement on a tiny bed of Puy lentil both silly in its paltriness and its presentation – it came in a deep bowl that made cutting the squid more effort than it was worth.
The chocolate soufflÃ© was worth the 15-minute wait. The cheesecake was uncomfortably sweet.
So it’s a bit mixed. What is clear is that you’ll pay handsomely for food that can sometimes seem worth every penny, and sometimes not even close.
At least that’s my perspective.