January, 2013

Jan 13

Hawksworth: just a year old and already a Canadian classic

If you ask any foodie in Vancouver for their top five restaurant picks, it’s likely that Hawksworth will be on every list. One of Vancouver’s most ritzy restaurants, Hawksworth is in the deliciously decadent Rosewood Hotel Georgia. I first ate there just over a year ago, a few months after it had first opened,  that meal was inspirational. Deft touches of molecular gastronomy, everything beautifully-considered and oh! deep, rich flavours and exciting food combinations. Chef David Hawksworth and his team deservedly scooped a brace of ‘Best New‘, ‘Most Exciting‘, ‘Most Fabulous Opening‘ awards after that first year. But a year on, what next? 

Easily the most glamorous room in town

Easily the most glamorous room in town

After a glittering opening, expectations are high but all those ‘Best New...’ awards can’t be won when you’re no longer the new kid on the block. I went back recently for dinner; less showy than that first meal, I feel like Hawksworth has taken a mature direction. The new kid grew up fast. My sense is that instead of concentrating on culinary fireworks, which dazzle then fade away, what’s happening over at Hawksworth looks set to become a Canadian classic. What do I mean? Well, their angus beef tenderloin was hands-down the most delicious I’d tasted. No molecular gastronomy flashes, no glitz, just meltingly-soft with a purity of flavour that left me wishing I could eat it every single Sunday as a roast for the rest of my life.

Simple, beautiful, perfect

Simple, beautiful, perfect

There’s an authority to the food at Hawksworth, nothing feels try-hard. The desert menu seems to be the place that Chef is allowing his more mischievous side to come out – chocolate, lime and avocado appear together along with a vanilla custard ‘buddha’s hand’ with pink grapefruit and sesame.

It’s kind of refreshing, in a city that seems to pop its collective cork over every new opening, to walk past Hawksworth and see a busy room on almost any night in the week. The smart set haven’t moved on. Hawksworth was one of the most exciting places to eat in Vancouver when it opened, and for my money, it absolutely still is. So cheers, here’s to a new Canadian classic.

I ate as a guest of Hawksworth, however, my views are 100% my own.

Jan 13

Welcome back: Victoria’s Oak Bay Beach Hotel

I always used to love popping the label on a fresh jar of hot chocolate; the satisfying ‘pop’ that the spoon made when I jabbed it through the seal. I felt that way when I got to stay at Oak Bay Beach hotel in Victoria before it opened. There’s a real sense of excitement when you stay somewhere that’s on the very brink of opening. Last-minute touches are being made, anticipation is in the air, you get a very real sense of looking behind the curtain and seeing what’s going on.

Glorious views at the Oak Bay Beach hotel

Glorious views at the Oak Bay Beach hotel

The Oak Bay Beach is a short drive from the town centre, nestled on a glorious stretch of ocean. The team have carefully renovated and updated the original Oak Bay Beach and – I must say – have done a superb job. I rather loved it. It has the feel of an English manor house with the warmth of a Canadian welcome. From the cute coffee bar to the deceptively-named ‘Snug’ pub (about five times the size of a British pub snug!) I felt at home. I could imagine long evenings curled up drinking gin and tonic, so just to make sure reality matched the fantasy, I ordered one. Good decision, probably one of the best I’d tasted as they make it with the locally-brewed New Theatre Tonic for an authentic flavour – who knew that G&T wasn’t meant to be clear? Lucky locals who’ve had this place on their doorstep since 1927!

Amazing G&T thanks to New Theatre Tonic

Amazing G&T thanks to New Theatre Tonic

The rooms ticked all my ‘Good Things You Need In A Hotel Room’ boxes – no complicated light switches, full-length mirror, easily-available plugs, simple to operate shower, free wifi and water- it had the lot! All that plus a mini kitchenette – perfect for family stays – and oh wow! what a view over that dazzling ocean and perfectly manicured lawns.

I wandered through the grounds to pay a visit to the Boathouse Spa and enjoyed a skin smoothing seaweed treatment. After a hectic day whizzing around Victoria, my therapist gave me a blissfully relaxing massage and I wished I could  have spent the day there, lazing in a sun lounger, watching out for passing whales. Later I took a dip in the warm silky waters of the mineral pool right next to the ocean. I floated on my back and counted stars in the clear night sky. 

How adorable is the teddy bear? Love those small touches.

How adorable is the teddy bear? Love those small touches.

I’m told that Victoria is meant to be the most ‘British place in Canada’ and maybe that’s why I felt so at home. By now the dining room will be fully open for business, the fun dinner theatre events will be taking bookings and dollars will be raised with the sale of every ticket for the David Foster Foundation.  Six years after the hotel closed its doors to begin its renovations they are finally back in business again and I bet they’ll be a storming success, so cheers to Victoria’s newest oldest hotel, the Oak Bay Beach – here’s to many more happy years.

I was hosted by the Oak Bay Beach hotel/Tourism Victoria – however, my views are 100% my own.

Find out more: Tourism Victoria 

Jan 13

Vancouver Dine Out Festival 2013

Grab your cutlery…

One of my big reasons for moving to Vancouver was its amazing food scene. Seriously. The dining scene in this town is phenomenal. I adore the care and passion that goes into creating menus here; chefs are excited about sustainable seafood, the farm-to-table food movement is alive and well, and the 100-mile diet (the idea that you eat only food from a 100-mile radius to cut down on food miles) began here.

Every January the city holds a Dine Out festival with over 200 restaurants onboard offering special menus across three price points. This is great for so many reasons; it galvanises a post-holidays city into getting out and spending again, many hotels partner up to offer discount rates to encourage visitors in the slow season and – best of all – it means that everyone can try somewhere and something new at an affordable price. 


Sustainable local snapper. 100% delicious.

Sustainable local snapper. 100% delicious at Coast.

I got to have a sneak peek of the Glowbal Group‘s Dine Out offerings at a dine-around at Coast (one of my new absolute favourite places to eat), Black and Blue and Society. I’m going to try to find room in my already-packed-with-way-too-many-restaurants schedule (I admit it, I went a little crazy booking reservations) to go back and have a full portion of the juicy, tender grilled B.C. snapper and the next time the rain and clouds get too much I am off to Black and Blue for the most comforting, carb-packed ‘Blue Ribbon’ cottage pie which, frankly, oozed butter in the most cheering way. I would post a photo of it, but I INHALED the whole pie it was so damn good. Then thought – ‘hey – wasn’t I meant to take a shot of that?’ Sorry.

I wish this didn't make me want to lick the screen :(

I wish this didn’t make me want to lick the screen :(

One problem: I may have to leave town to avoid camping out at Glowbal Grill and eating ALL the Peanut Butter bars – kind of like a millionaire’s shortbread, but with the cunning idea of replacing the heavy shortbread with a light sweet rice cake and the caramel with a whipped wedge of peanut butter. I’m sorry to report I may have scared my dining companions with my whimpers of delight. So, SO good… But there – that’s the point of the Dine Out festival – find new favourites… click on the site, read the menus, make a reservation and try something new.

I ate as a guest of the Glowbal Group – my views are 100% my own.

Dine Out Vancouver: Book something delicious NOW!


Jan 13

Dim lights, rainy city

People in the UK keep asking me whether it’s cold out here in Vancouver. ‘Is it snowy?’ they say. ‘Are you freezing?’ And really it isn’t and no, I’m not. Vancouver has its own nicely protected micro-climate thanks to the mountains and ocean. It’s kind of like Brighton, my old home, in that respect, so it’s never really too cold and never really gets too hot either. The one thing that is making winter tough is the rain.

Somewhere behind all that are snow-capped mountains.

Somewhere behind all that are snow-capped mountains.

Vancouver has more rain than, ooh, almost anywhere. On average, the city gets 1474mm of rain each year, compared to Brighton’s 801mm. That is wet. And cloudy. Oh, so very cloudy. So for days and days at a time I can’t see my beautiful view. The mountains are hidden. We’re so far north that on overcast days we never seem to get properly light either. People here recommend that I take Vitamin D. I find myself eyeing up my dog’s basket and think longingly of just curling up in the cushions and blankets and hibernating till springtime.

Perfectly pink sea and snow.

Perfectly pink sea and snow.

And then… you wake up one morning and look! It’s a beautiful blazing blue sky day, ushered in by heavenly pink early morning light. We’ve had a few days of frosty blue sky and that’ll hold me for a week, but now it’s back to the clouds again I guess it’s like the chorus of the song says, “After the rain comes sun, after the sun comes rain – again... ”

Any suggestions or hints for getting through the RAIN, RAIN, RAIN – let me know ;)

Just keep looking for the blue skies...

Just keep looking for the blue skies…

Keep exploring Canada



Jan 13

Whistler dining from A(raxi) to B(earfoot Bistro)

They know how to have a good time, those Whistler folk. If they’re not ski-ing, boarding, or snow shoeing across the stunning slopes, they’re throwing a party. On my last trip the film festival was in full swing and the town buzzing with excitement over celebrity visitors, Channing Tatum and Rashida Jones. Daniel Radcliffe was in town, staying at the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel – so was I! And I still missed seeing him.

Feel close to nature in gorgeous Whistler

Clearly my celeb-spotting skills are a little rusty, but even I was able to spot that Whistler has some of BC’s best restaurants. I’ve wanted to eat at Araxi and the Bearfoot Bistro for a few years and on this trip, I finally got round to it. I’m starting to see that there’s perhaps something of a West Coast connection  – inspired after a long discussion with my East Coast friend, Alyssa: that if you live in such extreme beauty, you feel connected to nature in a way that you probably don’t if you live in a huge urban sprawl. Seeing the mountains every day and living seasonally makes you appreciate the world of nature and want to protect it. That’s the theory anyway and as Whistler has summer and winter food and wine festival events I reckon this belief in keeping food as fresh, seasonal and local as possible shines through with menus that feel perfectly in harmony with nature.

Beautifully briny oysters and delicate pearly-pops of flavour

Araxi is probably one of the most technically-proficient and artfully flavourful restaurants I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Everything from the ice-wine cocktail I began my meal with to the hidden treasures within the oh-so-innocent looking chocolate dessert (which spilled over with cream and fruit after the first spoonful) delighted me. Briny oysters came topped with pearls of cucumber, flawlessly seared tuna also came dressed in pearls – this time of soy – which delivered a perfect umami pop of flavour with each bite.

Almost (but not quite) too beautiful to eat

One of my new favourite things is beet salad and the one here came topped with a candy-striped variety that made me beam with pleasure. A wonderful wine list, superb service and pleasingly-intimate room made this probably one of the best ‘date’ restaurants you could ever visit.

Come on in, the vodka’s just right!

In contrast, the Bearfoot Bistro also has an exciting menu, but with a double-portion of fun on the side. Its owner, Andre Saint-Jacques, has created an atmosphere of pure decadent devilry here, from the champagne room in the cellar, where you can learn to saber a bottle of Moet according to Napoleonic tradition, (exciting fun and you get to keep the top that you chop off!) to the Belvedere ice room where you wrap up in polar parkas and knock back frozen vodka shots. The theatrics don’t stop with the drinks, where else would you get ice cream made at your table with billowing dry ice? My stand-out dish here was a rich risotto topped with perfect scallops. Oh – and more beets! This time served multi-coloured and cubed in a shot glass of creamy whipped goat’s cheese. I tried my first sparkling ice cider here and fell in love on the spot.

Why open champagne by popping the cork when you can simple CHOP ITS HEAD OFF!

I was trying to think afterwards, which did I prefer and I honestly couldn’t decide. Both were perfect for completely different reasons. I’d want a party with friends and endless bottles over wonderful seafood at Bearfoot, and I’d pick Araxi as my go-to place for any occasion that demanded something just a little bit special. Lucky Whistler people having those choices right on their doorstep.

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

Find out more: Visit Whistler and Keep Exploring Canada

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