London Ontario has few fine dining restaurants. Auberge Du Petit Prince is a French cuisine experience unlike any other in town. On February 22nd I went to record the last dinner service. I found out that this was much more than just another restaurant closing.
The aroma of escargot, trout and lobster gnocchi wafts throughout the Auberge de Petit Prince on its last night. The restaurant will close its doors for good as of February 22, leaving fine dining options in the Forest City far and few between.
However, melancholy does not paint the night. The staff is celebrating their time together and the success of their chefs, Byron Hallet and Kyle Rose, on their new positions at Stratford’s esteemed Church Restaurant.
“Byron and I got an offer we couldn’t refuse at a place we couldn’t turn down,” said Rose, who worked at Auberge for two years. “If it wasn’t for that, it was going to take something huge for us to leave because we both loved it.”
Shortly after Rose was hired on as head chef two years ago, he brought Hallet on as sous chef who specialized in charcuterie, curing and pickling.
“I stole Byron from the Windermere,” Rose explained.
Their departure is what marked the end of the Auberge said long time waiter Terry Skippen.
“Kyle and Byron are unbelievably cutting edge talented chefs, incredible,” he said.
After many years of switching hands and concepts, the Auberge in this last incarnation was owned by the Aroyos family. Deciding to close the restaurant was difficult for everyone involved, but hiring a new team of equal or greater talent to the work of Rose and Hallet after they were gone didn’t make sense, said Skippen.
“Its just with great sadness that we see this beautiful place go,” said Skippen, who was offered a position at the family’s other franchise, Archies, in light of the Auberge closing. “They’re a wonderful family.”
Long time patrons Ian and Valerie Nielson are sad to see the Auberge go too.
“Once upon a time I was a car salesman. A little petite girl in a nice turquoise dress came in and I sort of sold her a little turquoise car,” said Ian. “Cutting a long story short, when she came in to pick up the vehicle, we decided we would celebrate and go have a lunch.”
That was 30 years ago, and they chose the Auberge, though a different Auberge than today. However the sentimental value of the place still echoes with the couple, because Valerie had proposed to Ian at one of the tables one visit.
“Mostly we come for memories,” said Ian. “Sometimes we come for a place that’s really good quality. Really good food. Really good service. And professional service is a lost art in my view.”
Restaurants with this kind of service will be missed, said Valerie, especially since not many places in London aren’t owned by a chain.
As a staple in London’s fine dining scene, many other patrons echoed the closing is a loss. But it is not an unhappy affair. Everyone is happy for Rose and Hallet to be able to move on to such an esteemed and nationally renowned restaurant.
“Together they’re kind of a dynamo,” said Tony Aroyos, who managed the restaurant his parents owned.
“The closing is sort of bitter-sweet. But sometimes you have to know when to kind of walk away from something.”