Farmers' Table @Southbrook, a brand new restaurant by Southbrook Vineyards located on their property and attached to the winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Having driven by Southbrook many times, this was actually my very first visit to the winery - a modern building with clean lines, and an open, transparent feeling throughout. On my next visit to Southbrook, which I hope will be sooner rather than later, I think a tour of the facilities will be in order.
As we entered the winery, we turned left and walked through the tasting room and headed to the outdoor patio. Chef Shawn Murphy quickly recognized me as I stepped onto the patio and we had a quick intro while he prepared meals for the other guests. The patio was mostly sheltered from the beaming hot sun on this day. However, the outdoor kitchen where Chef Shawn prepares his meals is not - and he was feeling the heat on this day. Guests have the option of sitting under the roof or on the charming umbrella-covered wooden park benches.
Southbrook was Canada's first certified organic and biodynamic winery. This philosophy continues at Farmers' Table, where nearly all the ingredients used to prepare dishes are locally sourced from sustainable practices. Chef Shawn mentioned that just about everything was grown/produced no more than 5 kilometres from the property. Quite an achievement, I must say!
While we waited for our first course, Chef Shawn brought us some grilled organic whole wheat bread topped with Handeck cheese shavings, alongside pickled organic green tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, black pepper and salt. All of it was prepared fresh and tasted very good.
The second course was the Feature Pizza of the Day - a delicious braised lamb pizza with wild garlic scapes, asparagus, goat cheese, and garlic oil made fresh in their outdoor pizza oven. The dough is made in-house using Red Fife flour and Bioflavia grape skin powder, while the lamb is raised by Southbrook and likely from the same herd I saw out back. I've never had lamb on a pizza before, but had no doubt it would be delicious - and I was right! I would love to see this pizza on their daily menu. Because the pizza had good balance between all the different elements - meat, cheese, vegetables - it is quite versatile for pairing with wine. I enjoyed it with their 2014 Southbrook Triomphe Cabernet Franc Rosé (#279117, $19.95, 88 pts).
Prior to arriving at Southbrook on this fine day, we had already visited Reif Winery and Pillitteri Estates Winery for a cheese platter, pizza, and grilled cheese and, unsurprisingly, our stomachs we were now starting to get full. However, there was at least one more course to go.
Chef Shawn had roasted a whole free-range chicken on the outdoor the grill and seasoned it with black pepper and salt. It was then topped with a raisin salad dressing and the aforementioned fresh Arugula. The meat was tender and delicious - a very nice creation indeed. It also paired quite nicely with their 2013 Southbrook Triomphe Chardonnay (#172338, $22.95, 89 pts). Since we were already quite full, we didn't get to eat too much of the chicken and ended up taking it home and ate it for lunch on Monday. It made for a very nice lunch to be sure!
We also had to take a pass on a delicious looking dessert - it appeared to be a strawberry rhubarb parfait - that nearly everyone else was enjoying.
I came to this dining experience with little expectations and left wishing that more restaurants do it the way Southbrook does. It was very enlightening speaking to Shawn and learning about the many practices that he and Southbrook have employed. It's not often one finds a restaurant where the produce is only a few hours old. Shawn also shared some of his other wonderful ideas that I hope come to fruition in the coming weeks and months.
Shawn Murphy’s passion for local food dates back to his childhood, having spent time growing up on his grandparents farm and eating the vegetables harvested from their garden. Shawn is a graduate from Niagara College’s Culinary Management Program, and is no stranger to the wine community after spending time in the kitchens at Hillebrand Winery and working as a sous-chef at Ravine Vineyards.
This was a very refreshing experience at Farmers' Table @Southbrook and one that I would encourage everyone to experience for yourself. Farmers' Table @Southbrook is open from June 4 to Thanksgiving weekend (October 12), Thursday through to Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Follow @SouthbrookWine for more details, updates and daily specials.