Stratford, Ontario, has two acclaims to fame. First, it is Justin Bieber’s hometown, born and raised in this town of almost 32,000 residents. Visitors can pick up a map to the superstar’s favorite haunts, from a diner where he used to eat spaghetti to his high school. The second claim to fame is its annual Stratford Theatre Festival, acclaimed for its roster of Shakespeare plays, plus musicals, new productions and crowd pleasers.
It’s a pretty town with its own Avon River running through it, statues of William Shakespeare, parks and turn-of-the-century architecture. It attracts a ton of tourists from May to October especially, when the playhouses are in full swing. Because Stratford is just a 90-minute drive from the bustle of Toronto, it’s a popular spot for weekend jaunts.
Up until recently, accommodations were the typical big brand corporate chains, B&Bs and a few small properties. With the arrival of The Bruce Hotel, a luxurious property just on the edge of downtown, the standard has been raised. With 25 rooms and suites in a building set on 6.5 acres, it is set to become Ontario’s newest Relais & Chateaux property soon.
They’ll earn that designation for its service, amenities (including an indoor swimming pool, whirlpool and gym), and its top-notch culinary offerings. The fine dining restaurant showcases “new Canadian cuisine” – a kind of greatest hits offered from coast to coast, coupled with local fare and ingredients gathered by the hotel’s full-time forager from the forests and wetlands in the area, including wild rice and chanterelle mushrooms.
Chef Arron Carley has created a unique, well-curated menu consistent with the standard of excellence set throughout the hotel. I always think the true test of chef’s talent is best sampled through a tasting menu. This was definitely the case here. It started strong with heirloom tomatoes as beautiful as they were flavourful, then moved to heartier items like white salmon and bison tongue.
Service is swift, professional, unobtrusive and ninja-like with appropriate cutlery set quickly before each course. The superb tasting menu shows that The Bruce is serious about their culinary program. In the morning, breakfast met echoed the standards set in the evening with eggs Benedict. The dish was textbook perfect with a deliciously creamy Hollandaise sauce. And a frittata dotted with goat cheese was exquisitely fluffy and golden, seasoned well.
My guest and I also enjoyed the other treats from the kitchen. Each floor has a pantry for guests – an area where we grabbed coffee, tea and homemade cookies. And, for turndown service, the amenity was two fortune cookies (also made in house) that contained Shakespearean quotes.
Sometimes themed hotels go too far and the décor ends up looking cheesy. The Bruce taps into the world of theatre for its inspiration, but uses a light touch with framed sketches of costumes used in productions and a bookcase full of many of the literary works that have hit the stage in Stratford.
I stayed in the As You Like it wing’s Touchstone room. (If you’re not familiar with the play, Touchstone was a clown in Duke Frederick’s court. He accompanies Rosalind and Celia in their flight to Arden.) The space was airy and bright with a king-sized bed, desk, and two chairs in a sitting area. The feel is contemporary and chic. That carries through to the bathroom with both a tub and a shower (equipped with a rain shower head), a pretty mosaic with 660,000 tiny tiles, plus Molton Brown toiletries. I loved the sitting area where you could sit down and get ready for dinner and the theater in front of a well-lit mirror.
The reception desk looks out onto a large sitting area, complete with fireplaces, coffee table books related to theater and travel, a piano, and cozy spots to sip a glass of wine or read. It’s those small details that make The Bruce such a delight. And they continue right up until checkout time when you’re handed a wrapped baked good from the hotel’s kitchen. It includes a tag that asks, “Have you remembered to take your chargers?” It’s a thoughtful touch and recognition that guests when they leave might be so blissed out at the end of their relaxing stay that they might forget their phone or laptop charger in their rooms. Would that be wrong, I wonder. It would give me another excuse to make a return visit – and soon.
Room rates start at US $280 per night at the hotel website.
Michele stayed as a guest of The Bruce. As always, her thoughts and opinions are her own. Photos courtesy of the writer.