The archetypal rural Ontario town, historic New Hamburg probably doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Equidistant from Kitchener and Stratford, it is home to interesting shops, businesses and restaurants.
These notables include Puddicombe House, built as a grand Italian-style residence in 1868, and since transformed into a boutique hotel and spa, casual fine-dining restaurant, and associated banquet and event venue.
While maximizing the number of covers, the property is packed, which presents some service challenges. There are dining on the veranda, in two custom-built eight-seat greenhouses outside, and a tent patio for warmer temperatures.
Entering the building via a flight of stairs, there is a room to the left which could accommodate private gatherings and, to the right, a larger room dominated by an impressive dark wooden bar.
The place was buzzing: the local theater company was having a show for Mother’s Day weekend and tables were scarce, so it was a good thing I had made a reservation.
The culinary maestro at the heart of the whole operation is Executive Chef Jammie Monk, whose menu is currently Italian-inspired.
In stark contrast to the white quartz tabletops, a rectangular black slate carried three fried ricotta ravioli ($17) with basil pesto, a small salad including chopped olives and julienned vegetables, aioli and a simple Marinara sauce. The panko crust was crispy and the pasta thin enough except along the chewy seams.
A nice ridged white bowl, suitably chilled, featured Monk’s daily soup creation, a sweet pea and scallion gazpacho ($9) with drizzles of chive oil, a scribble of lemon creme fraiche and leaves of fennel.
Unusually restrained, we resisted an interlude of wood-fired pizza that would have filled a long wait before our plates were cleared. We headed straight for the area.
The Braised Beef Ribs ($31) are the singular perennial menu item for good reason. The browned rib was as dark as the sea bass and came with red wine jus, seared oyster mushrooms, celeriac mash, potato gratin and pickled red onions. Carrot pearls added little flavor to the dish but provided an interesting visual touch against round black slate plates.
Debating between two new menu items, Grilled Cornish Hen ($31) prevailed over Seared Zander. The skin was darkly charred and wild rice with burnt peach proved an interesting substrate. Stone fruit puree and grainy mustard, charred Broccolini — gobbled up by my offspring given my aversion to cruciferous vegetables — and a rooster’s tail of pea shoots and a few touches of sauce, accompanied it.
A limited selection of desserts turned out to be a mix of house offerings and weekly creations specially made for Puddicombe by an Italian gentleman in town. My daughter loved her Nutella-like Daily Coppa ($12) with a decent espresso. My Crema Catalana ($12) was an Italian version of a Spanish classic: ¡Basta!
A few words about the service. While our server was relatively experienced, pleasant, and confidently suggested wines to accompany the meal, we had a front-row view of a group of other young staff standing behind the bar, chatting.
In a demonstration of what I will call “The Power of ‘No'”, my request to a passing staff member for a single piece of bread to accompany the soup was summarily denied. I was told my only option was to buy three pieces with associated pieces and bobs. Inevitably, it’s the kind of interaction that lasts far longer than the excellence of the soup. Adjacent diners were also peremptorily asked to leave their tables as they had gone over their allotted time, a dining limit that was new to us.
Although Nick Cressman, the restaurant’s general manager, said he hoped his staff felt empowered, I’d bet a front-of-house meeting was called to reinforce service standards, especially with new summer hires.
We enjoyed our outing to New Hamburg, agreeing it would be easy to become regulars if we lived nearby. We also concluded that we might also be tempted to make the trip from the greater metropolis of Kitchener-Waterloo, rather than making offshore forays further afield to Stratford or Elora.
145 Peel Street, New Hamburg
Facebook and Instagram: @puddicombehouse
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Get your food: Eat in after booking by phone or through OpenTable.
The law project: $159.33 (taxes included but no tip) for two apps, two main courses, two desserts, two reasonably priced glasses of wine and an espresso.
Payment: Cash, debit or all major credit cards
Accessibility: The nature of the building means that the interior is not accessible. Lighting and acoustics are good, though the menu is in fine print which may challenge some diners. The summer patio is accessible and the greenhouses could be as well, although wheelchair users would have to navigate over a threshold. Accessible restrooms are available in the lobby of the adjacent banquet hall.
To note: A remnant of COVID, a 1 hour 50 minute dining limit is being phased out.
Ordering food in the time of coronavirus: As restaurants make day-to-day decisions, please check their social media or call them for updates. Lists of restaurants open during dining room closures are available at https://bit.ly/3d2JV74 and wilmotstrongertogether.ca; a crowdsourced list can be found on Facebook’s Food In The Waterloo Region at bit.ly/3d1cKAX