Quebec City: An Evening of Darkness in the World’s Most Photographed Hotel
Chef Gabriel Molleur-Langevin of Fairmont Le Château Frontenac creates an inventive dark-ingredient themed menu for a limited run Evening of Darkness experience. Photo: Fairmont Le Château Frontenac
What does going beyond limits mean to you?
I’ll confess, I’m one of those travellers who plans her trips around good food. But not just any nice meal out, I’m referring to some of the most outstanding food and drink experiences in the world.
As an avid destination diner, I’ve had every type of tour — from kitchens to restaurant development labs and farms to meet-the-producer tours. I’ve flown in for a one-night-only special Michelin-lauded dinner. And I’ve even taken a plane, boat, train, then automobile to enjoy a meal crafted by three generations of the same family in the Italian village of Runate. I’ve been very lucky, and can confidently boast that I’ve seen how restaurants can ‘take it to the next level.’
So, when I learned about the Beyond LIMITS unique dining and cultural experiences being held at iconic Fairmont hotels around the world, I was intrigued. The idea is to challenge conventional hotel stays with unique location-based experiences. It’s why Fairmont Mayakoba turned a subterranean, limestone cave in Mexico into a spectacular concert hall last November with a Symphony in a Cenote. Earlier this summer, the Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii brought the SelvaRey Rum Bar to life with rum-brand owner and pop star Bruno Mars making a cameo and slinging some shots at the pop-up bar’s launch. You could drink cheekily named cocktails, like the Cold Brewno, while enjoying front-row views of giant sea turtles seeking refuge in Hawaii’s Pauoa Bay’s calm, turquoise waters.
Closer to home, an Evening of Darkness at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac transformed the grand dame of Quebec City into a dark, enchanted playground filled with mystery and delight. The spendy $650 (gratuities included) event follows a theme of darkness — and the part that locked in my interest — with premium champagnes accompanying an inventive nine-course meal by newly appointed chef, Gabriel Molleur-Langevin. A student of top Quebec tables, including Laurie Raphaël, Le Clocher Penché and Europea, Molleur-Langevin was most recently the executive chef of Montreal’s acclaimed Le Mousso. Born in Quebec City, he staged at renowned restaurants Noma (Denmark) and Faviken (Sweden), as well as three-Michelin-starred Régis and Jacques Marcon in France.
Envisioning an all-black event with matching dark tableware, food and guests in their finest black attire, I happily packed my bag to experience what promised to be a night to remember. Aside from the dress code, the only instructions diners were given was to meet the event’s host in the hotel lobby. Like ducklings, we followed our leader to the mysterious destination — the first of three venues we’d visit that night. I realized as soon as I stepped into the dark, stone-lined cellar that I should have read between the lines. Rather, I should have read and taken the name of the event at face value.
I had mistakenly thought the Evening of Darkness was the counterpoint to Dîner en Blanc — an internationally observed picnic known for having white-clad attendees gather at a secret outdoor space for a chic night of celebration. Instead of a classic long-table dinner party, it was a slightly macabre evening filled with surprises, in addition to a little smoke, a dash of drama and some magical, wonder-filled moments.
I am not a fan of horror movies, or indeed anything vaguely gothic. I had to suppress my fear as we descended into the bowels of the hotel, built on the historic Saint-Louis Forts and Chateaux, which served as the residence of the governors of New France. While it currently operates as Le Château Frontenacs’ wine cellar, the space is dark, cavernous and creepy — especially when lit only by candlelight. All I knew was to expect the unexpected, that’s what I kept telling myself as I shot nervous glances at fellow attendees as we were ushered past a pair of women clad in a modern riff on Victorian mourning dresses. A fog rolled past us, revealing behind it the evening’s master of ceremony, played by circus performer Yan Imbault. There was something sinister about his presence that made my skin prickle, especially when he leant in a little too closely to warn a neighbouring diner with the consequences of breaking any rules.
But, any cause for concern quickly turned to revelry as black-stained canapés circulated the room. There were charcoal-infused blini capped with darkened crème fraîche and briny pops of Acadian sturgeon caviar, and crispy fried cromesquis that hid a molten core of 1608 cheese under a black-bread-crumb coating. The cheese, from Laiterie Charlevoix, is especially delightful when it’s washed down with a fruity and fresh premier cru from Champagne Gisèle Devavry. It’s also a fitting start to the evening as the site was rumoured to be the first place champagne was drunk in North America.
With our senses heightened, we continued the progressive dining adventure by moving from the hotel’s wine cellar to our next dining destination, the Champlain Library. Used by former Quebec premier Maurice Duplessis as his office in the 1950s, it now hosts private events and receptions. For the occasion, it was transformed into an elegant, haunting environment complete with dimmed lighting and intimately spaced tables draped in black tablecloth where we had our first seated course. The room is also where our small group of 20 was entertained by a troupe from award-winning contemporary circus Cirque Éloize. I found the contact juggler mesmerizing; he could seamlessly glide a glass orb over his fingertips, across his entire body and back, like a marble on a track.
The third and final venue was the stately Salon Jacques-Cartier. Faintly lit by candles of all sizes, the atmosphere was dreamlike and nocturnal, like a sort of elevated cabaret show enhanced by the Cirque Éloize performers who were accompanied by their pianist, Obscura.
Cloaked in every iteration of black, unexpected food combinations abounded, from a lacy squid ink tuile that shielded silky scallops to the activated-charcoal-stained bread course. Stuffed morels were bathed in an aromatic beef consommé, supple beef filet were kissed with burnt onion powder and hidden under a layer of black truffles. Where Molleur-Langevin didn’t use naturally dark ingredients, like black garlic and trumpet mushrooms, he injected his dishes with edible black ingredients like activated charcoal or burnt hay infused oil.
The night was capped off with a dark chocolate fountain and a cornucopia of fruit for dipping and, for guests returning to their rooms, the fifth act: a nocturnal surprise. Thankfully, that came in the welcomed form of a boozy espresso martini nightcap made with Hounds Black Vodka and a jewel box of dark chocolate bonbons.
Experience this elevated and flavourful trek into darkness from now until Sept. 14. Future events include a spa day in the Puerto Rican jungle with the Fairmont El San Juan Hotel and a night out at the International Emmy Awards at Sofitel New York. You can also check out the chance to ski with an Olympian at Fairmont Château Whistler or a private dinner in a cave in Barbados with Fairmont Royal Pavilion.