Calgary, Cambridge restaurants among best

It’s 7,689 km from Provence, France, to Rouge Restaurant in southeast Calgary.

It’s 7,689 km from Provence, France, to Rouge Restaurant in southeast Calgary.

Provence is the home region of Olivier Reynaud who with Paul Rogalski owns the upscale eatery in the trendy Inglewood district, which has been named the world’s 60th best restaurant by The S. Pellegrino World’s Best Restaurants.

Another Canadian establishment, Langdon Hall Country House Hotel and Spa in Cambridge, Ont., placed No. 77 on the prestigious list.

The S. Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants are presented each year by a group of researchers, critics, gourmands, chefs and restaurateurs. In recent years, The World’s Best has grown to encompass the top 100 restaurants in the world.

Canada has not had an establishment on the list since 2003.

Inside the historic home in Calgary, there is a flavour of Provence and French cuisine.

“It’s good for business. But for us inside the restaurant it’s a recognition of our hard work and commitment for the last nine years here. Those long hours, days of hard work — that is paying off and being recognized and the same for Paul,” Reynaud told The Canadian Press as he proudly gave a tour of the historic home which was built in 1899 by wealthy Calgarian A.E. Cross.

“We were always quite busy, but making the list — business just went crazy — in a nice way.”

A signpost outside the venerable restaurant lists the distances to Provence, the Okanagan and Napa.

Both Canadian restaurants on the list pride themselves on serving locally sourced produce and both have gardens from which to draw.

In its enormous back yard, the Rouge restaurant grows many of its own vegetables and harvests both crabapples and apples and berries for use in its dishes.

The menu includes dishes like Alberta Elk and Agria Potato Perogies, Pan Roasted Scallops With Cocoa Bacon Cassoulet and Rouge Crab Apple Butter and Dulce de Leche Creme Brulee.

“It’s fresh ingredients — that’s the key. Good French ingredients, good technique. We bring all the ingredients from a very local area,” said Reynaud.

“We are organic as much as possible. All of this makes the difference. There’s a lot of very good restaurants all over Canada — we’re not the only one. The food is very good,” he added.

The Rouge has a capacity of 100 guests and because it is considered a historical residence in Calgary there can be no major changes to it.

Horsehair insulation is still in place protecting the pipes in the downstairs.

A former cache for whiskey that was held for sale to the U.S. during Prohibition now houses the restaurant’s wine selection.

Reynaud said the key is not to change the way the Rouge does things despite the newly found fame.

“Of course we want to make money but not at any cost. We want to keep our business integrity and with the staff we keep on telling them that nothing has changed,” he says, chuckling.

“The way we’ve done things for the past nine years and tried to improve ourselves — nothing has changed and we keep doing what we’ve been doing. Let’s try not to get the big head.”

Langdon Hall’s chef, Jonathan Gushue, said Wednesday that “we couldn’t be happier” with their 77th-place rating.

“It’s quite an elite group. You know, these are people that have been my heroes for my whole life so it’s kind of hard to put it really into words — it’s very flattering for everyone,” he said in an interview.

Gushue said the award is “totally unbiased” because it comes from their peers. More than 800 panel members are polled about where they’ve eaten in the past year, he said.

“So they’re not given any names or anything like that — they just have to write down their best dining experiences of the year, and they break it down by continent.”

Langdon Hall is a 52-room hotel, spa and dining room on an 80-hectare country estate about an hour’s drive from Toronto that was opened to visitors in 1989 by owners William Bennett and Mary Beaton.

“What really characterizes Langdon is the land,” Gushue said.

“We have our own apple orchard here, we’re able to harvest maple syrup right on the property, we have a one-acre garden that we have from May to the end of October. We have two greenhouses.”

“We’re able to forage from the property our own (ingredients), even black walnut trees, wild ramps, morels, wild ginger, really there’s everything — we even have wild turkeys, venison.”

He said chef Michael Smith has described the restaurant’s cuisine as “the ultimate Canadiana.”

When asked what the recognition of the S. Pellegrino World’s 100 Best Restaurants list might do for Langdon Hall, he replied: “Hopefully fill it up year-round.”

Not that there’s any shortage of business. The establishment is booked through May and June with corporate business, said Gushue, and it’s hard to come by a Saturday night reservation.

“We could always use a boost. We can do about 120 a night; that so far is not our average. I would hope that it would only make us more full.”

Meanwhile, the recognition is causing some paranoia among the staff, he added.

“Everyone’s on their toes. Everything’s got to be perfect now, doesn’t it? That’s what we always strive for … there’s a bit of a spyglass on us now.”

“I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

— With files from Anne-Marie Tobin in Toronto.