As we live more and more in the era of the designer restaurant, it is tough to suppress my knee jerk impression that this dining room could use some sprucing up. Floral walls, pink and green, hotel issue carpet, yesteryear lighting (on full blast), a small electric fireplace (turned off) and cheap-looking laminated menus neither evoke the charm of this hundred and fifty year old stone mansion, nor impress with any modern minimalist two tone designered tastefulness. It is fine. That is all. Though someone, at the very least, might turn the lights down, switch the fire on, and maybe light a few candles.
But what’s more than fine is the food. I had a solidly good dinner in the dining room of the Sam Jakes Inn after taking in a day of fall’s loveliness in and around the pretty town of Merrickville.
And on this Thanksgiving Sunday, I guess I give thanks for all those restaurants that remain comfortably, reassuringly perhaps, fitted out in an ‘if-it-ain’t-broke’ fashion. Though a few fixes here and there would go a long way to bringing me back.
Chef Thomas Riding is a Scot trained by a Swiss, with experience cooking in hunting lodges in the northern Highlands. We guessed he would know about fish and meat, and we were right. After a light, flavourful squash soup, we tucked into the house cured salmon gravlax – served over a cucumber and fennel slaw, with the admirable house bread – and a late-tomato salad, with long stretches of warm roast zucchini wrapped around a log of good goat cheese.
The menu offers main dishes of roast duck with fennel and ginger and a star anise duck jus, halibut in a saffron butter sauce and a Mariposa Farms chicken breast topped with the last of the corn salsa. But we ordered lamb and steak. Lamb, for the cumin roasted sweet potatoes, and the strip loin for the dark, much reduced ‘Countryman’s Wild Grape’ jus and for the zucchini tarragon bread pudding that came with it. Roast vegetables (beets, sweet potatoes, parsnips) accompany the meat. Both were very fine.
In keeping with its local-first philosophy, expect an all Ontario wine list and a good selection of craft beers.