Espace Old Mill: Sublime English-style farm dining in the Eastern Townships

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Located just an hour from Montreal, in the bucolic village of Stanbridge East, Espace Old Mill is a hybrid market farm, restaurant, boutique, and inn, dedicated to showcasing the terroir of the Brome-Missisquoi region.

For nearly twenty years, Jean-Martin Fortier has been a champion of sustainable agriculture. First with the market garden micro-farm Les jardins de la grelinette, which he founded with his wife Maude-Hélène Desroches in 2004, then with La Ferme des Quatre-Temps, in Hemmingford, Montérégie. In the meantime, the farmer has published several books, including Le Jardinier-Maraîcher, considered a benchmark for modern organic agriculture, and his method has made its mark around the world.

But after all this time sowing his know-how in the four corners of the globe, Jean-Martin was keen to get back to his roots. Initially, the plan was to move the Montreal offices of his Institut Jardinier Maraîcher to the countryside and set up a small farm. It was only a few minutes from his home in Stanbridge East that he found the ideal site: “La Grelinette is 6 minutes from the Old Mill. I’d always drive past the grounds and thought it was beautiful,” he says.

Built in 1849, the historic Loyalist-style building originally housed a hotel, the Cecil House, which was very popular during the Prohibition years, given its proximity to the American border. In the 1980s, it was a disreputable biker bar. Then, in 2015, former federal MP Denis Paradis acquired it to turn it into a restaurant, but was forced out of business due to the pandemic.

The opportunity was too good for Jean-Martin, who quickly realized that he had to keep the restaurant going. Having long supplied the tables of numerous chefs (he cites Marc-André Jetté and Charles-Antoine Crête in passing), why not serve the fruits of his harvest directly to visitors?

To bring this ambitious project to fruition, the market gardener has surrounded himself with a dynamic team, including his partner Philippe Tapp, chef Éric Gendron, maître d’ Caroline Longpré and mixologist David Lessard-Gagnon.

Preserving heritage

Inside, great care has clearly been taken to preserve the Loyalist and farming heritage of the place. The décor is understated, and rustic yet elegant, without being precious. “Jean-Martin bought an old barn and used the wood to create the interior,” says chef Éric Gendron. The tables and counters were made by Frelighsburg cabinetmaker Ludovic Drano; the leather goods by La Compagnie Robinson, in Sutton; the lighting fixtures by Luminaires Authentik, whose workshops are located in Cowansville; the ceramics by Christian Roy Atelier (in Bedford) and Paspareil (in Frelighsburg). In short, it’s a true product of the Eastern Townships, right down to the lovely vintage English dinnerware found in local antique shops.

The dining room seats around 50, plus another 10 in a small private room. In the summer, you can also sit out on the terrace or at a picnic table on the banks of the Rivière aux Brochets.

The attractive red-brick building also houses a boutique, where you can buy local products and gardening tools and clothing from Growers & Co. another of Jean-Martin’s projects. Upstairs is La Cecil House, a charming little inn run by the chef’s wife and mother-in-law, Charlie and Annik.

The best of Brome-Missisquoi

Before landing at the Old Mill, chef Éric Gendron worked in the kitchens of Manitoba (with Simon Mathys) and Lawrence, then at the Table Fermière de la Brasserie Dunham. He was also responsible for the short-lived Le Coin Megs restaurant project, for which he cooked the harvests of his own vegetable garden for a handful of guests. Although more ambitious, L’Espace Old Mill is a logical next step in the young chef’s career, especially as he himself lives in Stanbridge East.

To create his menu, which changes with the seasons and harvests, Éric draws much of his inspiration from British cuisine, another nod to the village’s Loyalist past. The chef’s talent for imagining colourful, inviting plates is undeniable: everything is as beautiful as it is good, from the “pain de fesse” (a must!) to the large sharing plates.

The kitchen, of course, showcases the magnificent produce from the greenhouses and vegetable garden on the grounds, but also from several small producers in the Brome-Missisquoi region, particularly for meats and fruits. “We work with a wide variety of local producers. We try to give priority to small-scale producers with production on a human scale,” explains the chef.

Even when it comes to drinks, local vineyards, microbreweries and distilleries are featured, along with a few private imports to round out the menu.

Espace Old Mill offers three formulas: an à la carte menu on Thursday, Friday and Sunday evenings, an eight-course tasting menu on Saturdays, and gourmet daytime picnics on Saturdays and Sundays.

Whatever your choice, we’ve got all the ingredients for a memorable experience!

Enjoy your discovery!

Photography by Mikael Lebleu

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