The word “Restaurant” isn’t quite as big as the word “Winery” on the sign by Highway 81 that leads to Red Stone, Moray Tawse’s next winery (don’t say “second”!) in Niagara. Tawse bought the property, which is just a little downhill and on the flats under the Escarpment that stretch to Lake Ontario, from his namesake winery in 2009. He and his team of winemakers, Paul Pender and assistant Rene Van Ede, were impressed with the Merlot grown there and made there by Thomas & Vaughan, a craft winery that didn’t survive the financial crisis of the time. By 2011, Van Ede had taken over as winemaker proper at Red Stone and they released their first vintage. Since then, the winery (which like Tawse is, full disclosure, a Good Food Fighter sponsor of Good Food Revolution) has steadily grown in production and profile, concentrating mostly on the grapes that the Tawse winery doesn’t vinify, like Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Syrah and gaining a reputation in its own right.
There has, however, been a missing piece. An important part of Moray Tawse’s vision for Red Stone was a restaurant and tasting centre. The wines that Paul Pender makes at Tawse, and the wines that Rene Van Ede makes at Red Stone are, after all, food wines: they are made to be enjoyed with a great meal. Amid the vines planted in the red clay soil that supplied the newer Tawse property with its name, was to be restaurant featuring the great bounty of Niagara produce and artisanal foods. That vision has finally been realized after a few years of delays: the Red Stone Restaurant has been open for a few weeks, under chef David Sider, and I was recently invited down to see it and try the Beamsville Bench’s newest fine dining experience
Chef Sider is a Niagara local, who has come back home from Tofino, where he was the Restaurant Chef at the renown Wickaninnish Inn. Before that he was Chef de Cuisine under Jonathan Gushue for five years at Langdon Hall, where he met his wife Emily, who has also joined the Red Stone team working on events and the retail experience. The couple came back to Ontario to be closer to their families as they grew theirs with arrival of a child. Although they came back just in time for this year’s record breaking cold winter, Chef Sider is clearly pleased to be back and excited about his spacious and light filled custom built kitchen. He is also very excited about sourcing ingredients in his backyard. Many of his suppliers are family friends who were happy to go over seed catalogues with him over that winter and are growing rare varietals of vegetables and fruits just for the Red Stone kitchen.
The dining room itself is spectacular: the spectacle through the wall of windows being the vineyard into which it, and it’s big stone terrace. The room is a mix of wood, stone and glass with cathedral ceilings, a long bar with an almost as long enomatic dispenser offering a dozen or more wines by the glass. I found myself there for lunch with Van Ede and we were joined by Paul Pender and Daniel Lafleur, who is the National Sales Manager for both Tawse and Red Stone. We grazed through the menu in a more or less random way, trying to get a feel for it all, sharing from plates in the middle of the table and pairing with whatever the two winemakers decided might go best with each dish. (What we ate and drink is in the slide show below – it was all delicious.) The menu anticipates the diversity of the guests who might stop into a winery and decide to stay for a meal or just a snack. At lunch, one could easily have a pizza and a salad with a glass of Syrah, or pickerel and chips with a glass of Chardonnay, or a burger with a glass of Merlot. Or the dining could get finer, and one could pair (as we did) to a multiple of small plates, or few larger courses to be shared. The cooking is a bit like the people at Tawse and Red Stone: it’s deadly serious abot quality and easy going and friendly at the same time.
When chef Sider came out to join us for coffee and dessert, I asked him if it was difficult to cook at a winery. Did he have to try and imagine pairings with each dish? Or watch the flavour profiles in case they clashed with the wines? Not at all, was his reply, since the range of wines from both Red Stone and Tawse meant there was bound to be something that went with whatever ingredients he had in season and wherever his menu went. The menu changes regularly, depending on what Sider thinks looks best. and he left us to contemplate what might next be honest as the season turns to deep summer.
What we ate and drank
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Malcolm Jolley is a founding editor of Good Food Revolution and Executive Director of Good Food Media, the company that publishes it. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.