Windermere Manor’s Restaurant Ninety One launched in the late spring. Situated on a secluded acreage, in a building that formerly housed Windermere Café, the venue has been extensively remodelled, and blends the allure of a century old manor house with contemporary style and modern amenities. A natural refuge, roaming wildlife, including deer and wild turkeys, is a common sight on the grounds. Executive chef Angela Murphy explores the concept of Modern Canadian Cuisine with the culinary brigade, and the menus reflect the significance of the appellation.
The charming and hospitable general manager, Brenda Brandt, describes the elegant Windermere Manor as somewhere between stately and quaint. The website says, “The baronial estate, built in 1925 by John E. Smallman, is an accurate architectural reflection of Tudor England and a fitting tribute to his father Thomas, a founding member of The Imperial Oil Company. Although slightly refurbished, inside the Manor retains its feeling of a by-gone era.”
Murphy and Chef Josh Blackmore and the culinary team have built on a sustainable culinary philosophy and farm-to-table sensibility which showcases a selection of innovative seasonal dishes and tasting menus. Chefs use elements from the kitchen garden and obtain additional high quality ingredients from trusted local purveyors.
Conceived the previous winter, and built in April 2010 by registered local apiarist Rick Huismann (owner of Huismann Apiaries near Union), the Windermere Manor Bee Village produced its first honey harvest that same year. The Bee Village now comprises 23 colonies. Each hive serves as home to one queen bee and approximately 70,000 worker bees. The bees feast on a diverse variety of plants and flowers so the honey produced has a flavour truly exclusive to Windermere Manor. The honey is used extensively in the kitchen and is also available for purchase. Don’t forget to order a glass or pitcher of Windermere Honey Stung Ale.
I attended the soft opening of the restaurant with one of my colleagues— truly an exceptional experience. The dishes were innovative, prepared and presented with flair and keen attention to detail. It was the perfect calibration of seasonal flavours.
Restaurant manager Colleen Murree, who has a long history of bar and service management, came to the Windermere from Fanshawe College, where she taught courses from service standards to mixology. Brandt’s and Murree’s benchmark for detailed, intelligent and enthusiastic service continues to be met through specialized, ongoing training and with the help of customer feedback surveys. Servers do not have to go to the kitchen to ask about ingredients for clients with food allergies or special dietary restrictions — they are trained and already able to answer customers’ questions about the food and how it is prepared.
Chef Murphy pursued academics out of high school and has a double major degree in Humanities and English Literature. “With that ‘lucrative’ degree I got a job as a university administrator at Carleton University and then at the University of Waterloo doing the type of administrative work that could be done in the first forty minutes of the day, and spent the rest of the day watching YouTube videos, the slow moving clock, and my life fade slowly into misery,” says Murphy.
Murphy has ambitions to be a food writer. It is why she wanted to go to culinary school in the first place. She applied and was accepted to the Stratford Chefs School. “I had always wanted to get my hands dirty and flex my creativity on a daily basis. At that time I was a vegetarian and had spent my late teens and early twenties experimenting with the world flavours and ingredients prevalent in vegetarian cuisine. I became interested in food politics and even hopped on the 100-mile diet bandwagon for six months.”
Murphy spent time working in Stratford at a few restaurants, including the short-lived, hyper-local and much touted Pan Tapas Grill with chef Jordan Lassaline. The small plates restaurant was just slightly ahead of its time. Murphy also worked at the former Church Restaurant under executive chef David Hassell who had been mentored by his predecessor, chef Amédé Lamarche.
“The Church Restaurant was large and busy and refined. The fine dining cuisine used many molecular elements. The work was grueling, the atmosphere was competitive, the hours were long, and the pay was scarce. I learned a lot about the industry and I became aware that this type of lifestyle was unsustainable. I wanted to create a better, healthier place for myself and others to work in. I love the work, I love the pressure and the intensity and the culture and the food, but it became obvious that working the way I was would lead to burn out if something didn’t change,” states Murphy.
She relocated to London and started a small catering business called Handcraft Catering, while working in administration at Western. “I catered private dinners and events large and small. It was a great time when there was business. I created custom menus for clients and got to cook dishes of my own creation. I loved working for myself and being able to co-ordinate the entire event. However catering is an unreliable business. I am not terrific at selling myself or drumming up contracts, terrible at charging clients and acting as a business woman. I am much happier cooking and putting time and effort into a beautiful product,” states Murphy.
At the former Windermere Café, Murphy worked alongside and was mentored by Chef Kristian Crossen (formerly of Braise and Langdon Hall), who created innovative menus true to his farm-to-table philosophy and whose subtleties and strengths revealed that the integrity of the ingredient is always paramount.
The menus at Restaurant Ninety One pay homage to Modern Canadian cuisine. Picture perfectly seared duck breast with potato soufflé, chamomile and fennel and black mushroom jus, or braised and roasted lamb with toasted oat purée, honeyed turnip, olive crème fraîche, pickled strawberry and wheat grass jus. There is also local rainbow trout with gin cure, puffed wild rice, sorrel, sea buckthorn berries, dill and crème fraîche. The honey lavender panna cotta with black fruits, grapefruit pearls, violets and selgris is out of this world.
Murphy says, “A dedicated focus on creating all things in-house has translated to house baked sourdough bread before every meal, a completely in-house dessert menu featuring a variety of ice creams and pastries, and house cured meats and charcuterie. Creative vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options are also available.” There is a stunning custom-made chefs’ table for dining.
Reservations are recommended and private dining rooms can be arranged upon request. There is a delicious Sunday brunch, live jazz on Friday nights and plenty of free parking.
200 Collip Drive
Western Discovery Park (off Windermere, West of Western Road)
Monday–Thursday 7:00 AM–9:00 PM
Friday 7:00 AM–10:00 PM
Saturday & Sunday 7:00 AM–9:00 PM
Open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner & Sunday brunch.
Bryan Lavery is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.