There’s a legend behind Harold’s Bistro and Bar in The Sheraton Hotel, and it goes something like this:
There once was a man named Mr. Harold Cross, who retired to Richmond over 30 years ago with his beloved wife, Jeanne. Each and every day, they went for lunch at the Richmond Inn, and became good friends with the staff. They enjoyed lunch there for decades, and after his wife passed on, Mr. Cross continued the tradition. Eventually the hotel became The Sheraton, and when management decided to put in a new restaurant, it needed a name. They wanted something that would impart a sense of community, as well as the loyalty of its customers. The name “Harold’s” was proposed, and it stuck. Nothing else would do. They sat down with Mr. Cross, asked permission to name it after him, and told him he’d never pay another bill in the restaurant again.
Great story, right? Well it’s true, and as part of my stay-cation this weekend at The Sheraton Hotel, I had the honour of dining with the Mr. Harold Cross. Turns out, he’s even more legendary than I’d imagined him to be.
For starters, he’s 91 years old. I never would have guessed that, because he simply doesn’t look it. He lives independently, drives a car, and has a much better memory than I do. And still so handsome!
He’s also the definition of a gentleman; he wears a suit and tie every day, and has tremendous respect for the people around him. Gentlemanly behavior is all in the details, such as helping a lady with her coat, and pulling out a chair for her. It took me some getting used to this ‘being treated like a lady’ stuff.
Beyond his impeccable manners, he’s a fascinating, intelligent, and LOVELY man. He’s also full of great stories, and I love, love, love stories. Mr. Cross spent almost his entire career with the federal government, and travelled extensively around Canada in various positions. He said there’s not a part of this country he hasn’t seen, including the great white north. In the late 60’s and early 70’s, he spent half a decade as the territorial secretary of the Northwest Territories, visiting each and every community within the vast region, at a time when many of them were nearly inaccessible.
I asked Mr. Cross about his family, and he said his father came from England and his mother from Northern Ireland; when telling me about his father, he said “If I speak of him as a sort of hero, it’s because he was. You see, he was a genuis.” At the age of 12, Mr. Cross’ father won a math scholarship to Cambridge but never attended, both because his parents couldn’t afford to send him and thought their class was below such a prospect anyways. Despite having received no university education, he still went on to a highly successful career in Canadian manufacturing, and apparently never once came across “a broken thing he couldn’t fix.”
Mr. Cross also spoke to me about his late wife, Jeanne. In describing her, it became clear she was a woman he respected and loved dearly. He said “wherever she went, I went. Wherever I went, she went. It was like we were the Mutual Admiration Society.”
And there you have it people, a kind of love to aspire to.
Mr. Cross still dines at Harold’s every day. He has a special table, and for his 90th birthday the restaurant gave him his own chair with a plaque on it. When I asked him what keeps him coming back, his immediate and unblinking answer was “the people.” The food is great, yes, but the people there have made the experience for him. There are three servers in particular – Cherie, Angie, and Katie – who have been working at the restaurant nearly as long as Mr. Cross has been dining there. They are genuinely like family, and he announced the birth of Cherie’s first grandchild as if it were his own.
I could talk about Mr. Cross all day, but I guess I’d better get to lunch, shouldn’t I? When I opened up the menu, my eyes immediately zeroed in on the goulash, described as “slow braised beef short rib with paprika, caraway seed, sour cream, and fettuccine noodles” ($18). Cherie told me it was one of her favourites, so my mind was made up. Mr. Cross told me he switches up his orders, but Fridays are for fish and chips, so he had one piece of halibut with fries, and a coffee to drink.
Cherie brought us some bread, recommended I try the sourdough with cranberries, then warned me not to eat too much of it or I wouldn’t have enough room for my main course. This was good advice but tough to follow, because the bread was awesome and the butter even better. It wasn’t that weird whipped stuff restaurants often pass off as butter; this was properly rich, yellow, and deserved to be spread thickly. Oooh butter.
The goulash was gorgeous. Great. Gregarious. Gourmet. The noodles were perfectly cooked, and the sauce was hearty. I made it halfway through and had to give up though, because it was SO filling!
My one complaint is that the sauce wasn’t quite salty enough, but with a little extra sprinkled on top that was easily fixed.
Mr. Cross’ fish and chips looked great, and came with the biggest garnish of orange slices I’d ever seen.
When he pulled them off the plate, he explained that the kitchen gives him extra, so he’ll get his daily dose of vitamin C. What? Ahhh. So sweet.
Even though I was incredibly full from my rich meal, I immediately agreed when Cherie said I must try the bread pudding. How can you say no to a highly recommended dessert? You cannot. It would be rude. Un-ladylike, even.
And I’m sure glad I didn’t, because it was warm, buttery, mildly spiced, and covered in a soft, vanilla bean-studded caramel sauce. The best sweet bread pudding I’ve ever had, actually, and large enough to feed about 4 people. After eating more of it than I should have in the first place, I packed up the rest up and enjoyed it the next morning. Phenomenal.
Harold’s Bistro is one of the busiest hotel restaurants I’ve seen so far, and I got the sense it’s a favourite spot for more than just Mr. Cross. They do tasty, unpretentious food, and of course there’s the long-running staff. Customers don’t go to restaurants for 30 years without great service, nor do servers stay somewhere for 25 years without great management. Buttery bread pudding is great, but feeling genuinely welcomed is even better. A huge thank you to Harold’s for a wonderful lunch, and to Mr. Cross for hosting me.
We can’t all aspire to have a restaurant named after us someday, but I do hope that if I live to be 91, I have as many admirers as he does.
Or at the very least, my picture on the wall with Elvis.
PS – Just one more story about Mr. Cross (I can’t help it). You’d think that someone who eats out every day can’t cook, but that is soooo not to the case with Mr. Cross. He actually loves cooking, and shared the food prep duties with Jeanne for their entire marriage. They loved to entertain together, and he told me his favourite meal to prepare is Chicken Supreme. He coats chicken breasts in bread crumbs and parmesan, browns them in a pan, and finishes them in the oven. While they’re baking, he makes “the most important part”: the sauce.
He deglazes the pan with white wine (a direct quote, I kid you not), then adds onions, chicken stock, brandy (if he has it), and whipping cream. This gets poured over the crunchy chicken breasts, and served with rice pilaf.
Unreal. Gentlemen, I hope you’re taking notes.
Harold’s Bistro and Bar (in The Sheraton Hotel)
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available