Marine dining room takes guests back in time
By Heather Douglas
While much has changed since Bigwin Inn first opened its doors in 1920, many things have not; the draw and appeal of the water; the beauty of the landscape; great golf and a restaurant serving delicious food.
Starting from the moment you set foot on the dock at Norway Point and catch the ferry across to the island, to the outstanding views from the golf course and the proximity of the water to the dining rooms, the water continues to lure and sooth golfers and diners alike.
“One of the unique features of the clubhouse is being by the water’s edge,” says John Siddall, clubhouse manager and director of food and beverage for Bigwin Island Golf Club Marine Dining Room and Historic Indianhead Room. “We have fantastic panoramic views whatever room you are in.”
Bigwin Inn was built by Huntsville businessman Charles O. Shaw in 1920. It was a very popular resort for Canadian and US tourists, attracting such high profile names as Ernest Hemingway and H.G. Wells, as well as Hollywood stars Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. With 350 guest rooms, it was one of the biggest and most beautiful resorts in Muskoka, according to the Bigwin Historical Society.
The vision of the architect John Wilson is still visible today despite the resort having fallen into disrepair during the 1970s after years of struggle after the Great Depression. It is the mix of Tudor, Victorian and Spanish influences that are so unique to Bigwin. Currently owned by financier Jack Wadsworth, the dining room and golf course have been brought back to life, while still retaining important elements of the past.
“The dining room has had a multimillion dollar renovation to the entire upper level of the clubhouse,” says Siddall. “And it primarily pertained to the food and beverage areas. The Indianhead Room, which was the original dining room, was totally refurbished and we increased the size of the kitchen by three times.”
While much of the work was done to bring the building up to current standards, a lot of attention to detail went into recapturing the feeling of the Marine Dining Room of the 1920s. Siddall explains the use of Stickley furniture, a company which has been making solid wood furniture since the 1900s, helps to create that feeling. As well, photographs that had been taken in the early years of the resort, and donated by C.O. Shaw’s grandson, have been enlarged and hung to create a gallery in the centre of the dining room. It provides a wonderful area to wander through and imagine what life was like in days gone by. Attention was focused on capturing the feeling of the early years, while meeting today’s standards, says Siddall.
The bar design was inspired by an old steamship, Siddall says. With the use of mahogany, a white ceiling and the back designed to resemble a wheelhouse, it is easy to envision a ship.
An in-house design team chose the colours and furnishings with the primary focus to make the area as comfortable as possible, Siddall said. “We wanted to let the water be the focal point,” he said. “And we wanted comfortable furniture where people could sit for hours.”
The golf course, originally designed by Stanley Thompson, was redesigned by one of Canada’s top golf course architects Doug Carrick, says Siddall. Its challenging 18 holes incorporates much of the original course while adding a first class golfing experience.
Bigwin is open to the public for the months of May and June and September and October. During the months of July and August, Bigwin is closed to the public to allow its members the exclusive right to use the golf course and the dining areas. However, Siddall explains they have created a dining and social membership that can be purchased for the summer to allow people who don’t want to use the golf course, but are interested in the other aspects of Bigwin.
And, he adds, there is a lot of offer socially and through the dining room.
“We are having a drive-in movie night, where people sit in golf carts and watch a movie outside,” he said. For that, the Half Way House is converted into a candy store. Other social components include yoga and bridge.
While the social options may beckon, it is the dining options that awe.
Phil Leach has been the chef at Bigwin Inn for seven of his 15-year career. A graduate from George Brown College, Leach says cooking is something he loves to do and has been doing since a very young age. During the off-season of Bigwin, Leach is an instructor at Georgian College in Barrie.
At Bigwin, his focus is on providing cuisine that suits the members’ needs. And that includes casual dining during the day and fine dining after five.
“Fine dining is about the effort and presentation that goes into a meal,” Leach said. “It is about the cooking method and the cuts of product.”
Lamb, fillets and seafood, all find their way on to the menu at some point during the season. “We like to focus on healthy items,” Leach said. “And we try to use a lot of local products when we can.”
For example, wild boar was on the spring menu and trout from the Milford Bay Trout Farm is offered. “And we use berries when they are in season,” he says. “Almost all our produce is grown locally.”
With seven on staff in the kitchen, including two sous chefs and four cooks, a day in the kitchen begins at 5 a.m. and doesn’t usually end until between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.
But the long days don’t phase Leach. He describes his work with passion, saying it is a rush of adrenine that keeps him in the kitchen. “After 20 years, I still feel the rush,” he says.
Leach is especially excited about making all the bread and dessert in house. “I have been cooking for a long time and it is always a challenge doing things from scratch and working with the young chefs,” he says.
This summer one of the unique events the dining room is offering is the Wine Maker’s Dinner. It will feature an Italian wine maker who will discuss the merits of different wines. Leach is providing an Italian-themed menu for that evening.
Also, Monday and Wednesdays, the dining room will offer Taste of Travel which will feature food from different countries, such as India, Spain and Great Britain. “It allows me to mix it up a bit,” Leach says of his menus.
And three times a season, Bigwin offers their members the opportunity to golf and dine. “At the second hole is the starter,” Siddall says. “By the sixth hole their entree is ready and the dessert is served on the promenade.”
Brunch is offered on the island on Sundays and includes all the traditional brunch items and a number of working stations including a pasta, dessert and a carving point.
There is also a traditional Thanksgiving dinner offered with two sittings at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Reservations are required.
Bigwin has done a fantastic job of combining old world class and charm with today’s levels of service and products. Whether you go for the golf, the food or the view, Bigwin will always be an ultimate destination.
Skillet Fried Trout with Cranberry and Ice wine Buerre Blanc
1 fillet of trout (scored and cut in half)
1 tbsp shallot (finely diced or minced)
1 cup of white wine
2 tbsp dried unsweetened cranberries
2 tbsp ice wine
1/3 pound of butter (cold and cut into cubes)
1 tbsp oil (olive)
1. Place cranberries in a bowl and pour in the ice wine. Let cranberries absorb the ice wine.
2. Place skillet onto burner at high heat with a tablespoon of oil. Season the trout and place onto the skillet with the skin side down. Reduce heat to half.
3. After the trout skin is nicely golden and crispy, place onto a baking sheet with the skin side up.
4. In a separate small pan, bring white wine to a boil and add shallots. Reduce liquid until syrup consistency.
5. Slowly add the cold butter cubes into the reduction and continually agitate the butter until it has dissolved and looks like a creamy sauce. Immediately remove from heat at this point and add the cranberries and ice wine.
6. Place the trout in the oven for 2 minutes at 300 F just to finish cooking the flesh side.
7. Serve with basmati rice or mini red skin potatoes and your favourite vegetables.
8. Bon appetit!
YOUR GUIDE TO FINE DINING IN MUSKOKA
Arowhon Pines Resort & Restaurant
Located off the beaten track in the middle of the woods of Algonquin Park. Guests canoe, swim, sail, hike trails to see wildlife, and relax on the dock. The six-sided log dining room with towering central fireplace and wraparound views of the lakes and forests, is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu changes daily and seasonally. There are impromptu weekday lakeside barbecues on hot sunny days and famous weekend lunch buffets. Ask about a pontoon boat ride of the lakes or to borrow a canoe. Bring your own wine – we'll uncork it for you – there is no corkage fee. Arrive early and enjoy your wine overlooking the lake. Dress is casual. 705-633-5661, www.arowhonpines.ca
Bala Bay Inn
Join us at the refurbished, historic Bala Bay Inn. Enjoy a signature martini from Muskoka’s longest list in the new dining room, Ghosts, or a refreshing pint in The Grill Patio overlooking Lake Muskoka.
Call 705-762-3313 for reservations or www.balabayinn.com
for info on Muskoka’s best value wedding packages.
Bartlett Lodge - Algonquin Park
Find out why our dining room is becoming a “not to be missed” evening out, while in Muskoka. Take a boat ride to dinner and experience exceptional cuisine. Revisit Algonquin’s past, recreated in our tabletop models of former Algonquin resorts.
Dinner is served at 6 and 8 p.m. Call for reservations, 705-633-5543, or visit our website: www.bartlettlodge.com
Chefs Richard and Julie Lalonde welcome you to Crossroads. Come enjoy the breathtaking view of Lake Rosseau, extensive wine list, welcoming staff and our wonderful cottage feel. Our upscale, casual cuisine features dishes made with love, using the best of what nature has to offer. We are open year-round and are now booking private functions and meetings. We bake fresh pies, cakes and breads and take orders for birthday and wedding cakes. Please call 705-732-4343 for reservations.
Since 1935, Killarney Lodge has earned a reputation for friendly, attentive service and fine country dining. In the dining room, the original fireplace casts a warm glow over the diners, creating a relaxed and rustic atmosphere in the intimate log rooms.
Join us in the heart of Algonquin Park for lunch or dinner. Please call 705-633-5551 for dinner reservations.
There is no better way to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, or just a night off than with a Lunch or Sunset Dinner Cruise on board the RMS Segwun or Wenonah II. Our staff will pamper and indulge your every whim as you ply the gorgeous waters of Lake Muskoka. Unforgettable evenings are created aboard as you admire the gleaming polished brass and varnished gumwood interior of the ship’s one-of-a-kind dining salon, and take-in the wondrous scenery of Lake Muskoka. For smaller gatherings, enjoy our private Commodore’s dining room found on the upper deck of the Wenonah II. Step back in time, and discover the romance of our dining rooms featuring the fine cuisine of North Restaurant, and the fine brews of Muskoka Lakes Cottage Brewery, Sleeman Brewery, and the Pelee Island Winery. For information on our dining cruises call 1-866-687-6667 or visit www.realmuskoka.com
North Granite Ridge
Duffer’s Tap and Grille is the centre piece of one of Muskoka’s best hidden gems, located at North Granite Ridge Golf Club. Enjoy over 2300 square feet of prime relaxation space overlooking the 18th hole. It’s a perfect location to enjoy a morning breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The clubhouse features a floor to ceiling Muskoka granite fireplace that is the focal point in our tongue and groove pine dining room complete with a fully stocked bar and three big screen TVs. Our menu features a variety of favourites that are sure to please, made from the freshest ingredients that are locally sourced.
Make Duffer’s a must stop even if you are not a golfer. Come as you are, everyone is welcome. Open 7 days a week with daily specials Monday through Friday. Call 705-385-0808 or visit www.northgraniteridge.com
At Taboo Resort, Golf and Spa, guests enjoy a wide variety of dining experiences. Experience an evolution in dining at Elements – three unique dining atmospheres in one unique space. Elements and the Culinary Theatre offer guests sophisticated cuisine and a one-of-a-kind culinary experience. Relax and unwind in the Elements Lounge for casual fare and stunning panoramic views of Lake Muskoka. During July and August, be sure to visit The Boathouse for pub-style fare and enjoy a sunset vista and wraparound deck. 705-687-2233, www.tabooresort.com