October, 2012

Oct 12

Coffee culture: A piece of Brighton finds its way to Vancouver

A taste of home

I love my coffee. I really do. I love the ritual; the grinding of the beans, the heavenly smell that is released as my burr grinder whirrs, measuring out of the ground coffee, trying – and failing every time – not to dust the counter top with excess coffee… Then tamping down the coffee, locking it into place in the espresso machine, waiting for the correct pressure to be reached and pushing that button to release that water through my gorgeous coffee to make my perfect espresso.


Coffee from the Small Batch Coffee Company


Coffee addicts will understand my consternation at not yet having found the right blend of beans. I was a devoted disciple to the excellent Brighton and Hove-based Small Batch Coffee Company. http://smallbatchcoffee.co.uk/ I loved buying their beans (either the house blend or the Tunki) and getting on that slow-running commuter train to London never felt so bad when I had a cup of their perfect latte in my hand from the little coffee-van they have at Brighton station. So, imagine my absolute GLEE when I opened a care parcel from them this weekend.


There is nothing better than a taste of home. And until I find that perfect Vancouver coffee blend… I’ll be closing my eyes each morning and thinking of Brighton as I reach the last part – and my favourite – of my coffee ritual. That first sip. Ahhhh.


Oct 12

Vancouver Fairmont Pacific Rim: a little bit of a love letter…

I know this reads like a cheerleader-y whoop of a write-up, but you know what? Sometimes things are just good… and this is one of ‘em. I’m already pretty much on record as a fan of the Fairmont group in general and their Willow Stream Spas in particular. It’s true, I don’t really like chains as a rule, but I’ll make an exception for these guys because I kind of love the feeling that each of the Fairmonts I’ve visited has; the Monte Carlo Fairmont made me gurgle with glee as it had a mustard menu to go along with their buttery-soft steaks, as well as a rooftop pool that you can see France, Italy and, of course, Monaco from, as you lazily swim laps under the sun. The Savoy in London is part of the group and if you know of a more elegant luxury hotel in the world to enjoy a White Lady cocktail (which was invented in the bar there) then tell me – because I simply don’t believe it exists.

But to the Pacific Rim  in Vancouver; perched on the water’s edge, it’s a huge modern property, with a stunning open lobby with a piano bar and cocktail lounge which makes for a buzzy atmosphere as you walk in. Cheery reception staff make check-in a joy. I said something about wondering whether the rain would stop later and as I walked into my room, the phone rang; it was the gal on the desk, calling with the weather for later that day.  Do you see why I love them?

Alas, I didn’t get one of the bath-with-a-view rooms which overlook the harbour, with the pretty floatplanes taking off like duckies into the air, but as my room had a huge soaker-style tub and a bed that I never wanted to leave, turns out I had nothing to pout about after all.

Next time, this bath shall be mine

Of course, the only thing likely to drag me out of bed in a Fairmont is the chance of a trip to the spa… I love the spacious feeling that the Willow Streams have; the soft touches from the fruit and muffins in the relaxation rooms to the soft blankets available to wrap yourself up in after a soothing treatment so you can just zone out. This Willow Stream also boasts Vancouver’s most fabulous hot tub; right on the roof, towering over the city, where you can watch the sunset turn the buildings the most glorious gold.

No time to soak it up today, it was all about discovering the rejuvenating effects of marine algae with a signature ‘Power of the Sea’ massage. I was wrapped in a soothing mineral-rich cream and while that soaked into my skin, my therapist gave me a brilliant acupressure facial and eye-rollingly good scalp massage. All too soon I showered off the wrap and was then treated to a body massage with more Thalgo product. Now, I’d usually say after a good spa body treatment you could expect softer skin for maximum a couple of days. This really impressed me; a week later, my skin still felt petal-soft. I’m interested to see what effect a Thalgo full facial might have as, wow, serious results!

Snuggle up under a blanket and bliss out

Later I got to check out a tasting menu at Oro, the elegantly funky fine dining restaurant on the second floor. It’s all about the taste of the Pacific Rim and Pacific Northwest cuisine here, focussing on what’s local, seasonal and just plain good. We started with a sparkling Blue Mountain rosé from the Okanagan Valley, a whoosh of strawberries and citrus which was so good, it made me decide there and then to get to the Okanagan fast! We were treated to a variety of small plates from the Oru menu, my two favourites were the  Qualicum Island scallops with a brilliant faux-lardon made from smoked salmon, and the Fraser Valley pork belly which came with a new ingredient for me: lotus root purée – a wonderful taste that I want to try again. Show-stopper of the night though, was an Alaskan salt cod which was served with a ‘tea’, brewed table-side in old-fashioned gas-fired contraption, made of fragrant tomatoes and herbs. Poured over the delicate fish it was wonderful; dense with layers of herby, zingy, pure tomato flavour. I’d never tried anything even close to this before. LOVE.

Seriously. I want to eat this all day long.

I wish I could find some negatives to even out this rave of a review, but there’s nothing. The cocktails are great, the staff are friendly and hey – even the bathrooms are nice! What can I say? Go there. Eat there. Spa there. Stay there…

I stayed as a guest of The Fairmont Pacific Rim, however, my views are 100% my own – I just really love this brand!

Keep Exploring Canada


Oct 12

Topshop: The British are coming!

A little piece of home.


Vancouver just got a little bit more British and a whole lot more fabulous. The largest international Topshop and Topman, has opened its doors down on the bottom floor of The Bay (think a Canadian John Lewis) on Granville street and I got to take a sneak peek the day before it opened. With 33,000 sq foot of retail heaven to check out, it may not be as enormous as my beloved Oxford Circus branch, but it’s the second-largest in the world and until I return to the UK, to worship at the ‘Temple of Topshop’ I rather suspect The Bay will become a favourite stop-off.

Love this VanCity art


The layout felt pleasingly familiar and I loved the funky dressing rooms with Vancouver-influenced art on the walls. Across the store, four main trends dominate this season: ‘Witching Hour’ – a gothic-influenced line with leather and lace themes running throughout. ‘Psychedelic Dandy’, all Paisley prints and clashing glitz. ‘Scandi-Girl’ which combines cool military khakis with lace detail, and ‘Factory Girl’ – a cavalcade of futuristic 60s Swinging London pieces with plenty of metallics.


Seriously – this is the personal shopping area. Clothes and cupcakes!


I spoke to a few of the staff in the Personal Shopping section (a brilliant way to find an outfit for a special occasion – totally recommended) to get a sense of why Vancouverites were so excited about this particular British invasion, ‘The UK is so fashion forward. You just can’t find clothes like this anywhere!’ they told me. ‘West Coast fashion is so laid-back, but the UK is all about dressing up a cool outfit or taking individual pieces to dress a look down. We’re like kids in a candy store!’


Bragging rights and Butter Chicken. Best Day. Ever.


So, did I manage to stick to my self-imposed ‘Just The Money In Your Purse’ budget and not totally spank my credit card?

Guilty confession: um… not thrifty.

But I got to waltz around the rest of The Bay swinging my well-stuffed Topshop bag, which drew excited comments from the friendly staff on the Elizabeth Arden counter, “Ooh! you went into Topshop! What’s it like? Is it amazing!?” and that soothed any pain. (Hey – no one said being over-excited about getting to go shopping first was anything but very shallow… But oh! So much fun). And if the day wasn’t perfect enough, I discovered one of my favourite food trucks, Soho Road, https://twitter.com/SohoRoad parked just across the street from the store with their superb spicy Butter Chicken. Cue moans of delight! Mmmmm…



Topshop are running a host of giveaways and contests to celebrate – so check out all the action on Twitter at @Topshop_Canada and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/topshopcanada


Oct 12

Cocktail adventures in Victoria

There are few things that make me happier than discovering new ways to get pleasantly tipsy, which means that two days at Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail festival (http://artofthecocktail.ca/) had me walking around with a silly grin on my face the whole time.



Bartenders, as a breed, tend to be playful types. Get a bunch of them from as far afield as the USA, Holland and the UK in the same city together, then stir in distillers, premium spirit companies, small-batch artisan spirits makers and a gang of devoted cocktail fans and you have a guaranteed recipe for mayhem. Add to that seminars and parties spread over three days in a gorgeous city and you can see why the Art of the Cocktail is my new favourite festival and I’m already wondering when I can get my ticket for next year’s event.


Here are the five things I got most excited about…

1. Cocktails and food pairings. Over at the Fairmont Empress Bengal Lounge booth, I tried a superb combo of an Apricot Summer Haze (Apricot puree, Finlandia vodka, Grand Marnier and Stellar’s Jay) served with a selection of Vancouver Island cheeses and the Fairmont Empress’s own honey. I’m going to look out for somewhere I can have a cocktail-matched menu in the same way that you have wine-paired meals. If you know of somewhere – tell me!


2. Tea in cocktails. I attended an excellent seminar hosted by Daniela Cubelic from Silk Road Tea (http://www.silkroadtea.com/), and Solomon Seigel, an award-winning bartender from Fire & Water in the Victoria Marriott. For me this was one of the most exciting sessions of the weekend. Solomon is a self-confessed tea-geek and it’s glorious to be in a room with someone who so clearly loves his subject and really goes that extra mile to discover amazing flavours. Tea frozen into ice cubes with vodka, tea made into a simple syrup and blended, tea-infused cocktails that have been forced carbonated… I am so inspired by this and can’t wait to start experimenting at home.


3. Artisan small-batch fruit liqueurs. Usually I’m no fan of liqueurs, they either taste syrupy or have too strong a punch of alcohol. Then I tried the Okanagan Spirits (http://www.okanaganspirits.com/) Raspberry liqueur. It was the purest burst of fruity flavour imaginable. Sunshine in a shot glass. I want to visit them and see what else they do. And then drink it.


4. Victoria Spirits Oaken Gin. I’m already a raving fan of the brilliant Victoria Spirits (http://www.victoriaspirits.com/) and their gin, so I was excited to visit them to see how they distilled and what new projects they were working on. Their barrel-aged gin is superb. It has a more complex, deeper flavour and it’s another spirit that I really want to experiment with to see how it works in cocktails.


5. I was taken out to the Sea Cider (http://www.seacider.ca/) farm in Saanichton for lunch and adored it. It really reminded me of a Basque cider house and the long flight of their eight different ciders that I tried really impressed me with the huge variety of products; from light apple-y blends and cloudy scrumpy-ish brews through to a perfect honey-ish Pomona that will pair perfectly with cheese, like an ice wine.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria – however, my views are 100% my own.


Oct 12

The accidental leaf peeper


I’ve never seen the charms of “leaf peeping” before. And yes, that is a thing, not a made-up word. Leaf ‘peeping’ is the name given to going to see the autumn leaves when they change colour. ‘Leaves!” I thought to myself, ‘How exciting can looking at leaves be?!” Well, it turns out that I was probably looking at the wrong type of leaf, as I found myself reaching for my camera when I was on a walk last week around my neighbourhood in Kitsilano.


Dazzling candy-apple reds, zingy lemon-yellows and pumpkin-orange leaves took my breathe away. I even found some trees where the leaves were mid-change and spent far more time than is usually considered normal just beaming stupidly at the vivid colours.



Am I going to become a proper ‘peeper’? Go on peeping missions to peep? Um… I’ll get back to you on that. Er, maybe. But I love how gorgeous the leaves are; so incredibly bright, and yes, I’d like to see them reflected on a lake perhaps, or in full flush in a forest. I love the ones I can see here in Vancouver as the sudden shock of a vivid red tree in a street of green leaves is dazzling, but I’m told seeing whole forests aflame with colour is something else.


Oh, Canada, what have you done to me. One month here and already I’m slack-jawed with nature worship!

Keep exploring Canada




Oct 12

Get around town: Car2Go car share scheme in Vancouver

I’m no fan of owning a car if you live in a city. To me, public transport should be an affordable, regular and clean alternative to car-ownership for those who live in busy urban areas. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case, certainly in the UK anyway. So I’m a big supporter of car clubs schemes, like Zipcar. You sign up, reserve your car and only pay for the time that you use.

Great! Except for one problem which has always been a frustration for me with the car share model – you have to bring the car back to its parking spot. So you can’t make an A to B trip.  You always have to do A to B, then back to A again. Until now…

Enter new car club players, Car2Go, who have a shiny fleet of blue and white smartcars in key cities across the USA and Canada and have their sights on the UK next. It’s the same concept – you join and pay for the time you use – except with Car2Go you don’t make reservations in advance and you can drop the car off anywhere in the city that’s either a registered spot or a residents’ parking bay.

Get around town…

Instant game changer. I love it. You download their app, click to see where the nearest car is, tap a reservation option which holds it for 15 minutes (so someone doesn’t nab it while you’re walking there) and that’s that. Drive to where you need to go. Park and sign out. That’s all you pay for. Genius.

I trialled the service this week and put it through its paces. It’s a simple to understand log-in system, just hold your card to the window and magically the car unlocks. Then tap in your PIN and that releases the ignition key. There’s an in-car navigation system so you don’t get lost and there’s 24-hour support by phone from the car too if you get in trouble.

Love the friendly welcome, but hey – why so formal? Call me Nikki…

At this point, yes, I know I sound like a big ol’ advert, but it’s a great idea for city folks who want to get around but don’t want the expense and hassle of owning a car. So how did it perform? 10 out of 10 all-round. I picked up my friend Niamh from the airport on Sunday; she had two suitcases, both fitted easily into the boot. I went off up Grouse Mountain for a day trip, I took the bus to the supermarket, but drove a Car2Go back with my shopping. I even used it to whizz into town for drinks and of course, that meant I only had to take a cab back rather than both ways - so much cheaper. I can already see that Car2Go will be one of my most-used apps in Vancouver – and best of all – I can use it in other cities too. Oh! And yesterday, I was out walking and found two of the Car2Go team valeting the cars – you report on the interior and exterior condition of the car on each trip – if it gets dirty, it gets cleaned. Love it! Keep an eye on the site or sign up to see when it hits the UK.

Thanks to Car2Go for giving me a free trial. I’m now a fully signed-up member and part-time cheerleader for the service. It’s great. As ever – my views are 100% my own.

Oct 12

Richmond Night Market

I’ve been eyeing up the Richmond Night Market ever since I first read about it, but every time I’ve visited Vancouver it was the wrong time of the year and it wasn’t on. Not this time! Finally I got to visit and it was just as good as I’d hoped.

Where to first?

I went with friends (by far the best plan if you want to eat as much as I did. Share and experience more!) we took the speedy Canada Line to Bridgehouse – just before it separates to go to Vancouver airport about 15 minutes from downtown – then followed the crowds across the gravel (wear flats!) to the market entrance.

Once inside we were overwhelmed with around 80 stands to choose from. I was glad I’d asked Sophia for a few pointers before I’d gone, especially about paying everything in cash – no one takes cards. First stop: the  ‘Rotato’ Hurricane Fries stand. Mmm!

Next, crisp and salty sweet popcorn chicken which was so good, I couldn’t even wait for it to cool down before eating it!

Popcorn chicken: sweet, spicy and so, so good.

Along with all the great food, there was a really sweet ‘wishing tree’ area – people write down their hopes for the future and tie them to the trees. It was hard to not get a lump in your throat reading everyone’s wishes… most were for a happy, healthy life for friends and family and there were many requests for a swift recovery for relatives who were ill. But one wish made me laugh out loud, “ROBOTS” – the perfect antidote to all that tear-jerking sentimentality.

The Wish Tree area, just write down what you want, tie to the tree and hope for the best…

By now we were on a huge, giggly sugar/salt high and feeling slightly crazed, which is the only explanation I have for what happened next… We spotted some children with the best balloon we’d ever seen, it had feet! And kind of walked along… Amy declared that she had to have one – which is why we ended up wandering the market with ‘Mr Happy the Pig-Balloon’. Oh boy.

Yes, that is Mr Happy being offered a cupcake. As I said, we’d had a *lot* of sugar at this point…

Definitely one of my most fun nights out in Vancouver so far; great food, hilarious company and the evening ended with a train ride home with a pig-ballon… now, how often can you say that?!



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