As we began to meet and chat with Stratford locals, we queried them about their favourite places to dine as we were only going to be able to do so one evening. The next day, we were seeing both a matinee and evening performance at the Festival Theatre and we knew not to over indulgence before settling into our theatre seats. I expected both The Prune and The Church to be mentioned but afterwards I surmised that they were allocated to special occasion dining among the locals. Perhaps Peter Mansbridge and his actress wife Cynthia Dale, who reside in Stratford might have been spotted, had we dined there. But more often a boutique hotel and main floor restaurant was mentioned.
The cuisine at Mercer Hall is described as retaining an Ontario Focus, served in a European Style. The Ontario focus is a commitment shared with virtually every restaurant and chef that we encountered in Stratford. The European style is authentic too, as our dining experience was similar to ones that we remember enjoying in Ireland.
The theatres are “dark” on Mondays which makes for a quieter atmosphere around town and also gives the locals a chance to get out and dine. Mercer Hall designates the evening as Nosh Mondays and offers a flat rate Tapas-style adventure! In my opinion the strategy is brilliant, treating the locals for their hard work over the season, building business on an otherwise slow evening and using up small portions that might have been left over from the weekend. Stratford restaurants strive to be self-sustaining and this is truly a genius move. There is no menu, you just nestle in and the steady stream of food starts to arrive until you cry “Uncle”.
Each artisanal plate featured local seasonal items beginning with:
Warm olives and sourdough. The flavour of olives, subtly changes when warmed. I am always going to slightly heat olives before serving them, from now on.
Crispy padron peppers stuffed with cream cheese and served with a lime sour cream for dipping, arrived next. I am not partial to hot peppers and understand that the heat level of a padron can be random. Mine was mild and subtle.
Even though I did not get a photo of our next plate- a potato & mushroom veloute with shards of Parmesan and truffle oil, this small bowl turned out to be one of my favourite tastes of the evening. I am a sucker for truffle oil and appreciate that the soup clung to the sourdough bread so that I could soak up a delicious mouthful.
I also did not get a photo of the shiitake mushroom risotto. We were dining with old friends and had so much to get caught up on, that on a couple of occasions I forgot that I was a food blogger and was just swept away by the evening. Perhaps too, it was the exceptional Malbec that we were enjoying with our tastes.
I was snapped back to attention by the mention of eggplant. These were petite spheres topped with pickled onion and more Parmesan (the chef finished many dishes with shards of Parmesan which I happen to enjoy a great deal, but may have been a bit excessive).
But oh my, his next dish was sublime. I was fine with just a taste of the saucy braised bok choy but could not get enough of the crispy brussel sprouts in a sweet and sour sauce!
I am not partial to lamb but D and our dinner quests quite enjoyed the lamb ribs on lentils and arugula with a citrus yoghurt sauce.
My notes say that next up was a shoe pastry but I did not capture a photo, nor do I remember tasting it. I must have really been having a good time by this time in the evening. Or perhaps it is simply my menopausal brain…..
Arriving next was a delicate gnocchi topped with broccoli and whey Parmesan. Carb lover that I am, I would have loved more gnocchi and less veggies (just my preference, not a complaint).
The next small plate was not particularly small. I would have enjoyed the tastes more had they been delivered on separate plates and at different intervals because by this time, I was verging on throwing in the white towel. But we had seen mussels being delivered to tables in our vicinity and were holding out for their appearance at ours. The roasted chicken came with smoked corn on the cob and marinated potatoes!
I was definitely done before the pastrami poutine arrived at the table and even though the guys each had a taste, I thought that this was getting just a wee bit silly…..
So we acquiesced, only to find that just meant that the dessert plates would start to arrive.
First a chocolate ganache (which doesn’t photograph very well-does it?)
and then the piece de resistance (in D’s mind at least)-the cinnamon raisin fritters which reminded him of mini-doughnuts that he enjoyed as a kid.
Here’s the kicker-the cost per person for all you can eat tapas? $35!
Kath’s quote: “’What I like about gluttony,’ a bishop I knew used to say, ‘is that it doesn’t hurt anyone else.’”-Monica Furlong
Love-that is all.