On a chilly winter evening, one arrives at the Fireside Grill as a character in an old English faery tale.
One’s car becomes a chariot winding up the drive through a forest of trees sparkling with faery lights. Between the trunks, glimpses of a Tudor-style hunting lodge, dark atop the hill, catch the eye. This is where tonight’s festivities will take place.
At the door, you are welcomed and escorted into the grand hall, where King George himself must surely dine on occasion, hosting grand feasts after a hard day hunting foxes. Dark timbers checker a vaulted ceiling of soft yellow plaster supported by two grand arches of heavy, hand-hewn timbers. Three three-tier chandeliers, each as large as some folks’ dining rooms, twinkle high above the heads of the honoured guests seated in wooden chairs at wooden tables scattered across the polished hardwood floor.
Two grand fireplaces burn brightly at either end of this long room. Perhaps, you might think, after dinner, the tables will be cleared away and a formal ball will ensue. Though, your fellow diners do seem oddly dressed in their 21st-century casual wear.
Befitting any Royal assemblage, who else but Ella Fitzgerald should warble over the sound system while Hal, our young and eagerly accommodating waiter, delivers menus, water and a basket of house-made Rosemary Focaccia. He pours a sweet balsamic from a steel cup, floating it on a saucer of light-bodied olive oil. I check the wine list. Mediocre by the glass, but there is a broad selection by the bottle.
All the gossip is about the new Farm-to-Table Prix Fixe menu ($29), just launched two days before. I am eager to try it. Three courses and a small selection for each. I start with Black Bean Soup, once a staple of fine dining establishments, now sadly passé, and yet it will always be one of my favourites. I stir in the dollop of crème fraîche. This soup is thick and rich and strong with black pepper. Among the best I’ve tasted.
For my main I have the Red Snapper, served on a mound of sweet coconut jasmine rice with zucchini, young carrots and pea shoots all rising above a moat of cumin butter curry. Sweet, rich, savoury, herbaceous: this dish tantalizes almost every taste bud.
I finish with the Poached Pear. A half pair, fanned out in the centre of a small rectangular plate, is set between two small, red gelatinous rounds called Pear Gum Drops. By sight, they remind me of canned cranberry sauce, and each has a mint leaf decorating the top. They are soft and sweet, but lack the pear flavour of the actual fruit, which shines through the sweetness of a honeyed drizzle. A scattering of apple pralines – like brittle without the peanuts – crunch between the molars and stick to my dental work, but are a sweet and caramelly sin for which I will not apologize.
Alas, the ball does not come about, but I feel a bit like a king, and my chariot awaits. Until next time …
By the way. Did anyone find a glass slipper?
4509 West Saanich Rd.