Rundles, all cool and white and plate glass, is as graceful and luxurious as ever. If you want a view, book a table in the back room, overlooking the garden. The meal begins with a soup, which may be roasted corn and chipotle, or a puree of fennel. Next comes something like pan-fried Atlantic salmon with globe artichokes and fingerling potatoes in a shellfish bouillon, roasted halibut with quinoa in bouillabaisse or a warm shrimp salad with peanuts, mint, coriander and red-curry vinaigrette. Our favorite sweet this year is goat cheese with roasted beet root.
Stratford seemed like a ghost town that warm October night mist drifting across the lake, not a soul to be seen in the parkland around the theatres. Behind its dimly lit water garden, Rundles was almost deserted, a week away from closing for the season. Designed to seem cool and open in the summer, the pale, debonair décor glowed softly after dark. At a distant table, James Morris, the restaurants owner was dining alone with a book. Chef Neil Baxters cooking suits a contemplative mood. Like the music of Bach, its deep energies are contained by balanced precision and an unfaltering finesse. His shepherds pie was a treatment of oxtail, the tender, richly flavored morsels of meat set over a tiny dice of roasted parsnip and celeriac. They bathed in a small pool of thin translucent meat broth incredibly pure and meaty with a dab of mashed potatoes at its heart. On top lay a piece of seared foie gras with just the hint of a coarse salt crust and a nest of tangy fried onion filaments. Lobster was twice blessed, its succulent tail poached and sliced, its claws fried for a second or two in a crisp suggestion of tempura batter. Baxter served them with bite-sized bundles of julienned cucumber, tomato and mango, and peppery baby salad leaves lightly dressed with lemon-grass vinaigrette. Other delights followed, all paired with flawlessly matched wines, until a wee bowl of tropical fruit salad appeared as a pre-dessert to cool and refresh the palate. The Grand Dessert was a collation of perfect miniatures. Paired with cardamom-scented iced milk, apple confit had a sleek, caramelized softness like the stolen top of tarte tatin. A delicate pastry shell was filled with bittersweet, almost liquid Valrhona chocolate the most profoundly chocolate tart Ive ever eaten. Baxter doesnt slut up his textures with masses of butter or reduce his sauces to sticky absurdity. He wont overburden a plate. Lingering late over my coffee in that serenely charming room, I still found time for his dainty petite fours.