Through the good shots and, sometimes, the not so good, our restaurant critics tell you about their experience, introduce the team in the dining room and in the kitchen, while explaining what motivated the choice of the restaurant. This week, we’re taking you out of town to discover the excellent new rustic restaurant at Espace Old Mill, in the Eastern Townships.

This is Jean-Martin Fortier’s new “home”, a historic building dating back to 1849, with rooms for rent upstairs, in the “Cecil House” portion of the project. The star farmer and his team have deployed gardens and a heated greenhouse there, set up the offices of the Institute of Market Gardeners and opened the Growers boutique.

In the kitchen, the eternally curious and very talented Éric Gendron (Lawrence, Manitoba, Table fermière de la Brasserie Dunham) was hired to enhance the plants in the gardens and match them with the best meats in the region. He is very solidly supported by Manu Langevin, from the late La Famille project in Sutton. The experience of the latter’s picnic baskets is put to good use on weekends, for visitors who would like to have lunch on the grass. For desserts, the one who made me taste one of the best cream puffs of my life while working in Manitoba (before migrating to the defunct Pastel), Charles Provost, continues to produce sweet wonders with our ingredients. still too little known. The room is under the direction of Caroline Longpré, absent during our visit but well represented by a competent service team.

There are three ways to eat at Espace Old Mill. On Saturday and Sunday, it is possible to order a picnic and shop for your bottle at the boutique. The basket is to be eaten on the spot or taken away to the place of your choice.

In contrast to this meal of which you are somewhat the hero, there is the farm table on Saturday evening. It is the total care, the experience in seven or eight services with the possibility of selected agreements and visit of the farm given by Jean-Martin Fortier himself.

I very consciously chose to live the “in-between” version, the one that is offered every Thursday, Friday and Sunday evening.

It was the first Sunday of the restaurant, which had just changed hours. A rather quiet evening, therefore, where we were able to experience the luxury of a very relaxed and available staff, then of a large calm room, but no less warm, with a low ceiling and exposed joists. There is no doubt that we are in a country restaurant and not in town or in the suburbs.

We are first offered a welcome cocktail, the “mojito ti-pois” (to be pronounced “moGIto” and not moHIto, as we normally would!). It lives up to its name, with its subtle chlorophyll taste. It’s the beginning of summer in a glass. My young companion opts for the Antioxidant, a blueberry, dune pepper and Labrador tea mocktail. Its touch of vinegar makes the drink very thirst-quenching.

Just like the Saturday “farm table”, the à la carte menu lives to the rhythm of Mr. Fortier’s gardens and those of the neighbors, where the restaurant supplements its supply. There is no cooler. We even see a member of the team running around the vegetable garden during the meal!

First comes an assortment of small vegetable dishes. There are the pretty raw vegetables of the day in their simplest form. This is a necessary introduction. The young carrots are well grilled and placed on a delicious nduja cream from the Ferme des Quatre-Temps (in a way Mr. Fortier’s alma mater) and topped with a salad of fresh herbs. Sugar, richness, pungency, acidity: it’s all there.

Choron is a Béarnaise sauce to which tomato is added. It accompanies beautiful fresh blanched tomatoes to which the kitchen has taken care to add a little crunch in the form of fried brioche and a few pretty and tasty chive flower petals.

We say goodbye to asparagus season with delicious spears grilled on the Big Green Egg and wedged on a tasty green strawberry gribiche. There is also asparagus in the pasta dish of the moment, very green. To finish the salty component, a little meat.

And finally, the desserts… Charles Provost is not afraid to experiment, but without sacrificing indulgence. As proof: a rhubarb tartlet, covered with a diplomat fennel cream and topped with a surprising minty-flavoured agastache ice cream. That works ! I don’t like the “BBQ sundae” with strawberries and smoked ice cream which buries the pork fat caramel a bit. But maybe it’s my love-hate relationship with the smoker that’s at fault.

David Lessard-Gagnon, the mustachioed bartender, challenges himself to use only local ingredients. The acidity comes from rhubarb juice, verjuice and shrubs instead of citrus. The spirits are from Quebec. Its non-alcoholic cocktails are just as inventive. In a country restaurant, it is even more important to offer them for designated drivers. The beers and ciders are obviously local (except the non-alcoholic De Proef) and several wines too, although the menu put together by maître d’hôtel Caroline Longpré also contains some European references. What a pleasure to see the (best) Quebec cuvées taking up more and more space in our glasses. In mine: the excellent New World Pinot Noir, from Domaine L’Espiègle, located about 10 km from Espace Old Mill, as the crow flies.

Picnic basket for two is $90 plus tax. The Saturday night farmer’s table is $110 per person ($65 cash deal, $40 half deal). As for the à la carte menu, the smallest plates cost from $13 to $18, the largest, from $24 to $40. Desserts are $12 each.

Espace Old Mill is open from Thursday to Sunday. You must reserve your picnic online before Friday, noon, for the weekend. For restaurant reservations, they open on the first day of the month for the following month – so this July 1st for August!