Hastings House on Salt Spring offers luxury and Gulf Island charm
Having stayed in both hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, I long ago decided that I prefer the B and B experience. I find it much easier to relax in a more informal, calmer atmosphere. And isn’t that why you go on vacation? Also, I love a free breakfast.
Hastings House on Salt Spring Island offers an experience very similar to a bed and breakfast, except with the same standards you would expect from a fine hotel. The grounds are picturesque, everything you might expect from a pastoral island property, dating back well over 100 years. In fact, the original house on the property was a Hudson’s Bay Company outpost before the property was even a farm, around 1850.
Accommodations at Hastings House trace the property’s history. The original house is a guest room now. The old barn and greenhouse have been converted to guest rooms and a spa. What is now the office was once the chicken coop. We are staying in the original farm house, long ago converted into a workshop, then into guest accommodations. The two rooms in this building are also dog-friendly, provided that your dog is small.
Kelly, the general manager, guides us through the grounds, from the guest rooms to the garden to the dining hall which used to be the main house, occupied by Mr. Hastings himself. Kelly’s gentle demeanor puts us immediately at ease and his knowledge of the land’s history is truly engaging. He is a gracious and accommodating host.
The dining room itself has a well-preserved English country house feel. On one side, there is a room where they serve afternoon tea and baked goods. On the other side are two cozy dining rooms. Executive Chef Marcel Kauer writes a menu fresh every day, consisting of either a three-course menu or a four-course chef’s menu. At the height of the season, all of the fresh greens on the menu come out of the garden. Chef Kauer remarks to me that he never has to buy salad in the summer. In fact, once the season is in full swing, he proudly declares that all of his fresh product is local. Only the dry goods get trucked in, but until somebody starts making salt, cooking oil, flour, and sugar on island, that much is unavoidable.
The concept of Chef Kauer’s kitchen is simple: fresh and local. He takes full advantage of Salt Spring’s local farms, especially the lamb, which is available as of May. As well, there is plenty of great fish available locally, including tuna and the obvious salmon. All of the fish they serve, says chef Kauer, is sustainable.
He describes his creative process as simply building a menu from what is fresh and available that day. This may sound simple and obvious, but it is not what many chefs do at all. It is all too common to see a chef try to bend the product to his will, rather than let it speak through him. Letting the product speak for itself requires great restraint and finesse. On that point, chef Kauer is to be honestly commended.
My companion and I arrive for dinner at 7:00 and we each choose from the three-course menu. She chooses the fish and I, as usual, go vegetarian. Her first plate is a paper-thin salmon, lightly cured with lime juice and olive oil, plated with capers and fresh chives, and topped with an onion marmalade. My companion takes a bite and notices that there is no fishiness to the salmon at all. This plate, while very simple, indicates a refined skill set. Working with fresh fish so thinly cut is very difficult, showing a deft hand at work in the kitchen. Despite her usual aversion to capers and chives, she cleans her plate.