I was super excited to give Whitehall a try during The Big Taste! It’s been on my wishlist since it opened and I had a perfect reason to check it out with a new foodie friend. Whitehall is a beautiful, clean, bright and open space. I can’t say the same for the neighbourhood, but I hear it’s ‘getting better’. The attention to detail in the restaurant is clear – I think my jaw dropped a bit when I took in the ceiling. Even the washroom was new and clean and bright.
The original plan was to eat from the 5 course Big Taste menu, but there were a few things on it we were unsure about. Not because we didn’t think they’d be made delicious by Chef Neil; just that we’re not fans of the food to begin with.
We ordered a bottle of Lake Breeze Seven Oaks Pinot Noir to go with the meal. It was quite nice and went well with all the dishes. The two of us decided to share 2 appies and 2 entrees so we could try a bit of everything.
We were give 2 Stilton blue cheese biscuits to start, served in a beautiful tin. These little crispy biscuits were super delish – they reminded me of MacLaren’s cocktail cheese coins made with a tub of Imperial sharp cold pack cheddar cheese product, but way more classy. Don’t be afraid of the blue cheese if you’re normally not a fan… you really need to try the biscuits.
We were then served a basket of bread – 2 slices each, 2 different kinds (one had hazelnuts!). PEI butter and a homemade whipped butter made of pork drippings. OMG. My mouth was in heaven but my brain was confused… butter that tasted like gravy? Hells yah! Both breads were excellent, with a very crispy crust. Heads up – keep the white bread to sop up the cheese sauce leftover in the soufflé dish. Because, you must get the soufflé…
My friend had enjoyed the Le 1608 double baked cheese soufflé ($16) before and highly recommended it. Wow. Perfectly cooked, with only a slight eggy flavor, the soufflé was light and fluffy with a smooth cheese sauce that wasn’t too rich. I could quite literally eat one or two of these for lunch or dinner and be happy.
The next appie we shared was the Kedgeree ($19). With smoked sablefish, a sous vide cooked duck egg, and a light curry dressing. The duck egg looked like it could be slimy, but once we cut into it, it was clear that it was cooked to a perfectly soft consistency that oozed over the dish. The curry was so subtle, that it only enhanced all the flavours of the individual ingredients rather than overpowering them. I would highly recommend this dish as well.
We were torn between the pork and the duck, but since I cook pork at home often we went with the duck. A chestnut honey glazed breast with endive, orange and marmalade potatoes ($30), it came with two fair sized pieces of duck, and was perfect for sharing. The duck was cooked perfectly – my friend called it succulent – moist and tender, with a crispy skin. Everything on the plate worked so well together. Not only was it a beautiful presentation, but it was the best duck I’ve ever had. With a little touch of goat cheese and the endive in each bite, it was a party in my mouth. If you’re a fan of duck you really need to try this dish.
We ordered the cod dish but I can’t remember the details about it ($27). At this point of the evening I was putting less effort into writing notes and putting more effort into enjoying the food. The fish was served with a variety of mushrooms. It was perfectly cooked and the mushrooms gave the dish some texture and depth. The smoked mussel sauce was subtle, and the little mussels were a nice treat. Unfortunately one of my mussels had something crunchy in it when I bit down on it, but it didn’t take away from the fact that the dish was overall very pleasant and enjoyable.
For dessert we decided to share the Stilton cheesecake ice cream with walnut cake and apples ($12). My friend is a huge fan of blue cheese so we really couldn’t pass it up. The hint of blue cheese in the ice cream was not at all overpowering or wrong. It was subtle, and when the ice cream was eaten with the walnut cake and the apples the result was a pleasurable texture and flavor sensation in my mouth. I was originally concerned that the cake would be dry, but it wasn’t. It had a nice crispy top but the cake was moist and enjoyable on its own. The tiny bits of apple were the perfect size to scoop up with the cake and ice cream, but I found the longer bits of apple hard to handle. I had to cut them in half with my spoon or shove the long pieces in my mouth on their own.
I was happy with everything I ate during the evening, and would highly recommend Whitehall. Service was attentive, but perhaps a little too chatty. I did accidentally drop my fork and no one noticed so we had to flag down a server and ask for a new one. Because we were sharing dishes we also had to ask for side plates – it wasn’t necessarily intuitive for the servers to bring extra dishes to us before the food arrived.
Perhaps the highlight of the evening for me was that I got to meet and chat with Chef Neil. The friend I dined with runs www.vineanddine.ca and I’m heading to France with her in September for a food and wine tour through Vine and Dine (sorry, it’s sold out!). Linda knows a whole lot of people in the food industry, and it was a treat that Chef Neil was able to chat with us at the end of his long day. Chef Neil was down to earth and funny – it was really neat to meet the creativity behind the dishes.
Although I may not be a fan of some of the traditional British fare, I will return and promise to give everything a shot… since the Stilton ice cream turned out to be delicious, how bad can blood sausage really be?