*Restaurant is now closed*
When it comes to fine dining in the Lower Mainland, Ladner would not probably come to mind. In fact, there is not a whole lot of dining options in Ladner in general. However, the top-rated Zagat restaurant in the GVRD happens to be located here. Really now... I'm not pulling your leg. Leg... Mmm... Roasted... Oh, I digress. Only a short walk from the quaint Ladner Village, La Belle Auberge has been serving fine French food for the last 30 years. This place has been on my culinary radar for quite some time. You see, Bubbly and Chill have been here quite a few times. They have been raving about the place and really wanted us to try it. So much so, that they decided to crash our birthday dinner for the second straight year (it was Cru last time)! When I remarked to Costanza and Elaine that we try the Table d'Hote menu at La Belle Auberge, it elicited 2 responses - Where is this place? And $95.00 per person??? Yah, I had to do a bit of salesmanship to build-up a bit of excitement. In fact, I arranged that we watch the new Harry Potter movie at Riverport prior to dinner so we were in the general vicinity. I am indeed quite sinister and persuasive when it comes to dining destinations.
Located in a primarily residential area, La Belle Auberge is an actual house converted into a restaurant. We were warmly greeted by the Maître d’, Elmond and seated at a nice round table. I love round tables because you can actually have a conversation with everyone as opposed to a long rectangular table. The proprietor, Bruno offered up personalized service throughout the evening. We really didn't need to look at the menu, we were solely here for the Table d'Hote. Hey, we were going for the best thing here! We started with an Amuse Bouche consisting of Gemini Tomato, Terrine of Goat Cheese, Smoked Salmon Roulade, Roast Pheasant Leg and Prawn Terrine with Saffron Mayo. I really enjoyed the prawn, it had a nice snap and crunch from the beans. The mayo spoke up; but did not overshadow the sweet prawn. The pheasant was tender and had a deep roasted flavour while the roulade was buttery smooth with a nice pop from the tobiko. The goat cheese terrine reminded us of a fluffy cheesecake, especially with the berry topping. Finally the tomato was a refreshing end (not sure if that was supposed to be eaten last; but it worked out for me). Early on, it was apparent they take their service very seriously here as the Chef de Cuisine, Tobias MacDonald, personally served a few courses at each table.
Our first course consisted of the House Smoked Sockeye Salmon atop a phyllo cracker and topped with a pea sprout salad, beets, capers and a grainy mustard dressing. Costanza astutely noticed the fennel in the sprout salad even though it was very mild. The combination of the fennel, salty capers and sweet mustard dressing complimented the buttery smoked salmon. The phyllo cracker acted as a textural contrast; but was a bit clumsy to eat. Second course was the Seared Foie Gras with apple tart tartine, snap peas, fennel and port wine sauce. Normally, foie is akin to eating a stick of butter since it is predominantly fat. However, the nice seared gave an almost smoky crust which provided some texture and caramelization to the otherwise melt-in-your-mouth foie. Of course pairing it with apple is a classic choice and predictably provided plenty of sweetness and a touch of tartness. In some ways it was probably a bit too sweet; but not in a bad way. The snap peas added another layer of textural crunch while the fennel attempted to provide some balance to the very sweet apples.
Up next was the Rabbit and Chantrelle Fricassee in a vol-au-vent served with spinach and tomato confit. First off, the rabbit white meat was super tender. It went well with the sauce and the salty spinach. I'm assuming the wilted spinach was extra salty to make up for the mild rabbit. The dark meat filled up the vol-au-vent. I wasn't able to detect much chantrelle if at all. Not a big deal since chantrelles aren't naturally bursting with flavour. With the close of our "appetizers", we were served Fresh Fruit Sorbet with sour apple explosion as a palate cleanser. The star of this duo was no question the white chocolate ball with a hidden surprise when eaten. A burst of sour apple syrup not only cleanse the palate, it was a taste experience in itself. The sorbet was only semi-sweet and completely refreshing.
For our mains, there was a choice of 3 items. I went for the AAA Beef Tenderloin with foie gras en torchon and burgundy jus. I asked for my tenderloin to be prepared medium-rare closer to the rare and it turned out to be medium. Strangely, Bubbly had hers prepared perfectly medium rare. Wonder if they gave us the wrong orders? Whatever the case, the meat was predictably tender and moist. The burgundy jus and foie gras provided the flavour necessary for beef tenderloin since it is not inherently flavourful. Served with every dish was a potato pave, aspargus, green beans, tomato, beets, red cabbage and squash. The bevy of veggies were prepared flawlessly with maybe the exception of the green beans which were slightly limp. Elaine ended up with the Seared Qualicum Scallops with veloute cream. I only tried a small piece; yet that was enough to illustrate the skill of the chef. The scallops were seared perfectly, just barely cooked. The veloute sauce was creamy with tarragon I believe. I only tried a small piece so I'm not completely sure.
Arguably the best dish of the night was the Wenzel Farms Duck Breast with blueberry sauce. At first, I thought the duck was sous-vide first before searing because it was so tender and moist. Tobias confirmed that it was only roasted. That in itself exemplifies the quality of the duck as well as the skill of the chef. The blueberry sauce was understated (since blueberries are not exactly overwhelming). That worked in this case because we could taste the duck. Perfectly executed dish. After our entrees, we got a Cheese plate consisting of a piece of what we figured as Gouda and Edam with candied walnut, grape and green apple salad. The candied walnut went really well with the cheese. Mercifully for Constanza (who was about to take off his belt), we finally reached the last course which was a choice of dessert. Inexplicably, he went for the most decadent of them all - Chocolate, Hazelnut & Passionfruit Mousse Cake. The Maître d’ warned him that it was the richest dessert on the menu and indeed it was. However, the beautifully presented passionfruit helped temper the rich chocolate.
Elaine decided on the Vanilla Crème Brûlée. I would've preferred a more burnt sugar topping; however, the custard was smooth and had a nice consistency. It was sweet; but not overly. It could've used a touch more vanilla. For myself, I had the Caramelized Plums, Chocolate Mousse & Ice Cream. Costanza kept warning me that it would purge my stomach; but I didn't mind a cleanse after this meal! Anyways, the plums were pretty good. Soft, sweet and tart, it was a nice compliment to the semi-sweet chocolate mousse. The ice cream was very nice, as it wasn't too sweet and acted as the bridge from the plums to the mousse. Just like they intended? Finally, Viv's dessert was the most visually striking. She had the Tiramisu Chocolate Tear Drop. Viv thought it was very creamy while being light tasting. Not too sweet and not exhibiting much in the way of any liquor or coffee flavour. The passionfruit and strawberry coulis added some vibrant colour to the dish. As if we needed anymore food, we received a plate of Mignardises which happened to be a melt-in-your mouth chocolate on a crispy wafer topped with sea salt. It reminded us of a Ferrero Rocher without the hazelnuts. The sea salt intensified the flavours at the end and left a strong; yet pleasant aftertaste.
What a culinary experience! Sure, it was $95.00 per person before wine, tip and tax; but for me, it was well worth it. Almost everything was perfectly executed and carefully prepared. Of course it wasn't perfect. Nothing ever is. It amazes me that La Belle Auberge is hidden out in Ladner of all places. Actually, it adds to the charm really. Despite its inaccessible location (for most who don't live nearby), it was a busy night with practically a full-house. Well, I can see why. Outstanding food, honest service, quaint dining space and people who really care about their craft can only have one outcome - a dining experience worth paying and driving out for.
- Superior execution
- Impeccable service
- The food speaks for itself
- Out-of-the way location for many
- Expensive (yet in line with most fine dining establishments)