Situated in London’s quaint Old South neighborhood, the historic Idlewyld has sustained its grandeur for over a century. Purchased by Farhi Holdings after it unexpectedly closed last fall, the Inn was originally built as a private home for former London mayor Charles Smith Hyman. What started out as a mansion built in 1878 has now evolved into London’s premier inn and spa, boasting membership in organizations such as Distinguished Inns of North America. The Victorian character, landscaped grounds, well-kept gardens and overall ambience of the Inn appeals to travelers who are looking for unique and intimate accommodations.
Shmuel Farhi immediately recognized the immense potential in the Idlewyld Inn, a three-storey grand Victorian-style mansion. Farhi had previously purchased and restored the Elm Hurst Inn & Spa which is located just off Highway 401 in Ingersoll. Elm Hurst has been a southwestern Ontario landmark since it was built by James Harris in 1872. The original mansion was transformed into the Elm Hurst Restaurant, and is considered by many to be an architectural marvel with signature gingerbread trim, an Italianate tower, and gothic window arches. Today, this mansion stands grand and dignified in a bucolic setting. New lighting, furniture, landscaping and an opulent copper roof were added to the building. The beautifully manicured gardens also feature a white marble gazebo that overlooks a pond with a fountain and a natural waterfall. The refurbished adjoining 19th-century Carriage House has become a popular destination for weddings and corporate events.
General Manager Alon Gurman provides the staff members at both the Idlewyld Inn & Spa and the Elm Hurst Inn & Spa with the vision and guidance to excel at fulfilling guest expectations. Effie Gurman is the Idlewyld Inn & Spa manager. The husband and wife team previously worked together running the former 600-room Hyatt Regency Hotel Dead Sea in Israel.
The Idlewyld offers 21 guest rooms, each uniquely decorated to capture the Inn’s distinctive allure, an on-site spa and a fine dining restaurant. A day spa has been added to the Inn’s amenities, with two massage tables, and manicure and pedicure stations.
After an extensive renovation last spring the property has been restored to its former glory and the Inn’s guest rooms, reception areas and dining rooms have also been newly updated, keeping the character and charm of the original property. The new owners have added many elegant touches to the property including a stunning outdoor fountain.
With unique furnishings, window treatments and gleaming exotic woods and other amenities, the Idlewyld steps across the threshold of elegance to a grander era. Rooms are fitted with flat-screen televisions, but antique armoires and desks remain, maintaining an elegant ambience combined with a touch of the contemporary.
The original mansion included a formal parlour, a dining room, and an informal parlour for the lady of the house, a library with private study, and a ballroom. The master bedroom was once attached to a sunroom, now the second floor landing, while the third floor would have been used as servants’ quarters.
Today, The Parlour, one of two common areas off the small foyer, retains its original leather Lincrusts-Walton wallpaper from 1878. The wallpaper was meticulously restored by Agnieszka Cukrowski of Unsigned Murals during the recent upgrades to the Inn. Other notable installations of Lincrusts-Walton wallpaper included six staterooms on the Titanic and at the White House in Washington DC.
During the most recent renovations, The Drawing Room had a tin ceiling added to give it more character, adding to the overall charm of the room. A baby grand piano still provides entertainment at the entrance to the dining room. The largest suite, called the Library (because it originally was the home’s library) features a king-size bed, separate living room with pull-out couch, and the original fireplace which boasts an intricate wooden mantle with ceramic inlay. The room also maintains its original coffered ceilings.
Two well-appointed dining rooms are a reflection of the casual elegance around which the Idlewyld has built its reputation. The rooms are smart and impeccable, combined with well-spaced tables, comfortable armchairs and banquettes.
Chef de cuisine Trevor Stephens received classical “Red Seal” training at Fanshawe College. He comes to the Idlewyld Inn & Spa after spending nine years at the Elm Hurst Inn & Spa, where he was the sous chef. The restaurant offers a locally-inspired menu of contemporary and traditional choices, complemented by a selection of international and local wines, and draught ales are on tap.
Stephens’ menus are loaded with ingredients which, along with the stylish dining room, evoke the phrase fine dining.
Hearty French onion soup is a reliable antidote to cold, blustery weather and is exquisitely prepared by Chef, with caramelized onions in a deeply flavoured broth and a blend of perfectly melted Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheeses. To accompany the soup, my guest ordered a side of delectable golden brown frites, which he decreed was the perfect benchmark for comparison between different fine dining establishments. It would seem that the Idlewyld has no peer in this department.
Be sure to try the seared slices of crispy duck breast confit. The breast meat was grilled to a seductive char on the outside and deep pink within and accompanied by an arugula salad. The arugula was tossed in blood-orange vinaigrette and garnished with dried cranberries, toasted almonds and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Another dish that tests the kitchen’s mettle was the house-made charcuterie tasting board. The board features duck, pistachio and cranberry rillettes, pork belly and vegetable terrine, sliced smoked brisket and other accoutrements like pickled vegetables, savoury jams and chutneys.
A half a dozen pillow-shaped ricotta and potato gnocchi with garbanzo beans, roasted eggplant and yellow zucchini, wilted spinach, tomato concassé and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano provided an enjoyable multi-cultural amalgam of flavours. A table of six women beside us pronounced the very rustic looking quiche a hands-down winner.
There is veal osso bucco, roasted Ontario lamb rack, bone-in centre cut pork loin chop and filet of beef with chanterelles on the dinner menu. Desserts are impressive, including a sticky date pudding served with crème Anglaise and toffee sauce — “it’s perfection,” my dining companion commented — and a perfect French apple tart served warm with chèvre ice cream and caramel sauce. The service is knowledgeable, polished and deferential.
Many hoteliers fight the perception that their establishments are for the exclusive use of out-of-town guests. The Idlewyld has finally lain to rest the idea that hotel dining is strictly for tourists and special celebrations. The grounds, front porch and elegant ambiance of the hidden Garden Courtyard create welcome retreats to enjoy al fresco dining in season.
According to the ever hospitable maître d’ Ed Bloor (who many patrons will remember from the former Maggie’s Supper & Jazz Club), the Inn seeks to be a “drop-in-as-you’re-walking-by” type of place for the Old South neighbourhood.”
The Idlewyld Inn & Spa
36 Grand Avenue, London ON
8–11am Saturday, Sunday & holidays
2pm–4pm on the third Saturday of each month
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Writer at Large.