Classically Inspired Contemporary French
Quatrefoil | Dundas, Ontario
This article also appears on Urbanicity and TripAdvisor.
Since it opens its doors, this establishment was immediately recognized as a special place. In 2010 Enroute (Air Canada’s inflight magazine) ranked it in the top 10 best new restaurants in the country.
It is housed in a historical building in downtown Dundas, with its gothic revival architecture, dating from the 1860s with an elegant setting including a fenced patio that makes it look more like a peaceful country retreat. The medieval reference does not end with the building’s gothic theme but also with the chosen name: Quatrefoil is a play on the French “Trefle a Quatre feuilles” or the four-leaf clover. It is said that each leaf means something: faith, hope, love and luck.
Georgina (Gina) and Fraser are the founders and proprietors of this establishment. As customary in husband and wife teams, the division of labour is straightforward. In this case Gina manages the front of house and Fraser the kitchen.
A little digression is required here for French Cooking reference purposes and enlighten us as to their professional background and influences:
Classical Gourmet French cuisine was considered somewhat of a dark art until Auguste Escoffier, building on the great work of Emile Dumont in 1877: “La bonne cuisine Francaise” (The good French cuisine”) established the basis of what was to become the fine dining bible, still being used to this very day.
The result of his attempt to codify French restaurant cooking resulted in a book published first in 1903. “Le Guide Culinaire” or “A Guide to Modern Cookery”, it laid out all the requirements for the various sauces and recipes. Most of the latter was omitted from the original English translation until much later. Most culinary schools teach classical French in some form or another.
They both have learned the basics of classical cooking in school and worked at Scarmouche, a Toronto culinary institution for a number of years. Then they honed their skills further by working in London, England in Michelin starred restaurants where the demands for perfection resulted in long grueling hours of work. When starting their own venture they had the vision, skills and stamina to make it a unique place. They truly filled a void in the fine dining world of the Hamilton area.
Fraser’s cooking philosophy and style come through clearly in the quality of the plates delivered to your table. One: The look is impeccable, a plating that is so meticulous that it must have taken some time to produce. I read in Toronto Magazine in a 30 year review of Scarmouche restaurant a reported exchange, where one of kitchen staff commented to another ”this is food… this is not architecture”. Well it seems that Fraser goes for the latter. His approach is to retain the essentials of French cooking, such as sourcing locally as much as it is available (this cuts across all ingredients and products) then using his creativity enhance dishes with more contemporary twists to add freshness, complex flavours and outright pleasant surprises on the plates.
For instance coffee comes from Detour (click here for review) and the Cheeses are from Mickey McGuire, both based in Dundas merely steps away from Quatrefoil. Fish is from sustainable sources and vegetables are seasonal and from this region. A note on bread: they make it in house and it is presented in a small plate with different sorts, all excellent and fresh. The wine list is extensive and well throughout giving patrons enough choices to pair with all the menu offerings. One can start with a bubbly, in the old French tradition of Aperitif and continue on with either light or full bodies wines depending on the food ordered.
When we visited, it was lunchtime resulting in a limited menu compared to dinner, but still enough to please the most demanding palate. Take the house smoke salmon, emphasis on “house smoked!” with the fish rolled on a bed of sour cream and the quail egg adding to the color composition. Not to mention capers, red onion and chives all displayed like a painting! The taste is so balanced that no overwhelming flavour is detected. The Pingue prosciutto comes with a creamy gorgonzola dolce – a perfect association. One may argue that this is not French inspired but that would be ignoring that Prosciutto simply means ham. The Jambon de Bayonne, a French Prosciutto is the cured ham of the south west of France and tastes great. Remember, Fraser’s approach is to for local when the right quality is available. Pingue is a Family who invested decades in high quality Charcuterie and deserving of recognition and admiration. The Confit Duck is as French as it comes, a delicacy from the southwest and is usually cooked in its own fat and preserved that way but in this case it is cooked in foie gras… the net effect is decadent and delicious. The dinner menu offers many more choices for fish and meat, all either wild caught or from excellent sources.
We paired our lunch with a very good Italian Taurassi, a DOCG wine from Campania made from the Aglianico grape, one of my favourite wines. Wines are available in half-bottles and full ones as well as by the glass. You can order Ontario wines or go for New or Old world wines, plenty of choices…
With Picone Fine Foods, Cumbrae meats, Detour and Mickey McGuire Cheeses as sources of great ingredients and food stuff in downtown Dundas, there had to be a place of culinary excellence. We are fortunate that a pair of talented and skilled professional chefs decided to establish Quatrefoil over six years ago. Wishing them many more years of continued success.