The Charles Inn Restaurant was our final stop at Niagara-on-the-Lake. This was definitely something we were looking forward to since this tiny little restaurant in this tiny Canadian town was ranked in the top 10% of restaurants worldwide on TripAdvisor in 2013. Besides, can’t celebrate Anna’s birthday without an awesome dinner right? ;)
Photo cred above to: plumdeluxe.com
The Food:Cream of Asparagus Soup (Complimentary)
Right after ordering, our server arrived with our amuse-bouche compliments of the chef, a little ceramic shot glass of cream of asparagus soup with fresh cream. The first thing that comes to mind when talking about this soup is “fresh”, since it had a very fresh, light and grassy feeling about it. It should be noted that this savoury soup is cold, so it might feel a bit odd at first, but it’s not altogether unpleasant.Pan Seared Sea Scallops ($18)
With: 73 Hour Pork Cheek, Milk Braised Celeriac, Apple Purée, Pickled Apple Salad, and Celery Coulis
These scallops were scallops done right. The scallops were very soft and creamy without being mushy and were only ever so slightly flaky. The pan seared outside provided a lovely contrast to the softer scallop texture inside. However, the best thing about this dish weren’t the scallops, which were absolutely delicious, but the pork cheek that came on the side. The pork cheek was creamy, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. It was salted perfectly and had just the right amount of crisp on its pan seared edges. The puréed apples and pickled apples provided some airy contrast to the dish as well, though the pickled apples should definitely be tasted in moderation as they are on the strong side when it comes to acidity."French Onion" Soup ($12)
With: Niagara Gold and Parmesan Panna Cotta, Onion Marmalade, Baguette Crostini, and Onion Cress
When the “soup” came to the table, all that was on the plate was the baguette and onion marmalade, with no liquid to be seen. When our server explained that this was their “new take on French onion soup”, our reaction was “You…distilled the soup into solid …stuff?” Suffice it to say, when the server poured the soup out from a little pitcher into the plate, we felt a bit like idiots. The soup itself was pretty tasty. The flavour of the soup was spot on and the torus crostini added a great crunchy texture. The onion marmalade added a citrus-y sweetness, which Dan felt to be a bit too sweet, but it added some depth to the flavour.Crisp Skin Atlantic Salmon ($26)
With: Scallop & Shrimp Boudin, Mushroom Strudel, Sauteed Spinach and Watercress, Caramelized Romanesco Cauliflower, White Wine and Chive Cream
The salmon was tender and seasoned well, though Dan personally would have preferred it to be just slightly more moist. Though it may look small, the dish is actually quite filling. The veggies are a great complement to the salmon, flavoured perfectly with the white wine and chive cream (Dan: Romanesco cauliflower! Fractals! Pretty! XD). The scallop and shrimp boudin was interesting, as we’ve never had a boudin before, but it was definitely yummy.Grilled Tenderloin of AAA Ontario Beef ($36)
With: Herbed Polenta, Braised Oxtail Ragout, Sauteed Rapini, Roasted King Oyster Mushroom, Cippolini Onion, and Hollandaise Sauce
This tenderloin steak was great. It was cooked through just right, though slightly on the tougher side (Dan: I appear to be extraordinarily sensitive when it comes to seafood and meat tenderness and flakiness. Anna was fine with how this steak was. XD). The polenta was absolutely delicious, being soft, moist, and oh so tasty with some jus. The star of the dish was the braised oxtail ragout. It was a brilliant, melt-in-your-mouth tender meat bomb of flavour (Dan: Okay, that sounds weird. It sounded better in my head. XD). Again, the veggies were well cooked and well chosen to complement the meats.
High-end price means high-end food, service, and ambiance. At the end of the day, when you’re headed into a restaurant prepared to pay this much for meal, this is what you expect. The Charles Inn Restaurant met our every expectation and made for a great end to Anna’s birthday. All in all, given the exceptional quality of the food, everything was very reasonably priced. It is arguable that the prices would have gone up by another $10 per dish if this was a meal that we had in Toronto, since the quality and flavours of the foods were definitely comparable to any high-end “world-class” restaurant we’ve been to.
The Ambiance & Service:
The Charles Inn Restaurant has a beautiful, quiet, and classic (purportedly with the oldest crystal chandeliers in North America) dining room that is definitely date night worthy. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to get a photo as it felt awkward taking a shot of people dining in an upper class establishment; however, you can get a feel for the setting here. The service was fantastic. Staff has asked if the reservation was for a special occasion and being told that it was Anna’s birthday, we were presented with two glasses of champagne upon our arrival, compliments of the restaurant. Each dish was explained in detail when served and they were more than happy bring out Anna’s birthday cake, complete with a candle, and a quiet rendition of Happy Birthday.
In many ways The Charles Inn Restaurant went above and beyond, even for a higher-end establishment. I mean, free champagne? Server singing Happy Birthday? (Anna: Ahem, unlike Dan, who looked mortified haha.) (Dan: Ahem, in my defence, I had sung Happy Birthday earlier and was caught off guard. :P) It’s not a stretch of the imagination that this place is ranked so well globally on TripAdvisor, because these people genuinely seem to care about your experience there. All in all, the Charles Inn Restaurant is great. From awesome service, to great food, to a great location and ambiance, it has it all. It has a price tag to match, but you know what? It’s worth it. :)
Happy birthday Anna! :D
Situated at the edge of historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake. The Charles Inn Restaurant makes for a great date night dining experience. Go for a stroll along the lake or into town after dinner. If you’re staying overnight, why not stay here as well or at one of the plethora of B&Bs in the neighbourhood. Free parking is available behind the Inn.