June, 2013


29
Jun 13

Fish and chips: a taste of home

I guess it would be traditional for me, as a Brit, to crave the taste of fish and chips. When I was growing up it was a regular Friday night treat – I guess a hangover from more religious times of always eating fish on a Friday. I loved to ride in the car to the chippie with my mum or dad and wait at the counter – that way I didn’t have to set the table, my brother would do that -  and it meant that I could enjoy the theatre of the chip-lady chatting to all the customers while handling the bubbling vats. I would rest my chin against the heat of the cabinet and watch; the chips flying out of the basket with her practiced flip, the delicate dipping of the fish fillets into the creamy-white liquid batter before being submerged in the fryer with a hiss and a fizz of bubbles.

I enjoyed her brisk ‘Sal’vinegar?’ (I don’t think anyone ever said no, but I always asked for extra vinegar) before she anointed the steaming crisp fish and chips with a good shake of both.  I’d stare at the pies, they seemed oddly mysterious, almost exotic in their golden cases – we were not a pie and chips family so I never got to try one until, I think, I was in my teens, when I became fiendishly addicted to the cheese and onion pies filled with a dense sauce that tasted so good with the salty chips and the tang of the vinegar. My mum, brother and I had cod and my dad alternated between chicken and haddock. If I was good I’d get a can of Dandelion and Burdock and sometimes a little container of gravy too.

A la recherche du fish and chips perdu

A la recherche du fish and chips perdu

I can taste those cod suppers now. Warm, satisfyingly fatty and oh – so, so good, they tasted of the start of the weekend and the end of school. Which is why I was feeling a little homesick the other day, I knew what would fix it; fish and chips friom the summer-season window counter of the Raincity Grill, a restaurant around the corner from my flat in the West End on English Bay.

I love the ethos of the Raincity Grill, they were the first restaurant in Vancouver to base their menu on the ’100 mile diet’ – ingredients gathered from a 100-mile radius – a philosophy built on sustainability, seasonal eating and cruelty-free farming. I ate dinner there a few months back and adored every mouthful. Heaven. It’s set at an amazingly good price point too but the real bargain is to be found at the window; fish and chips, with a tangy coleslaw salad and house-made tartare sauce all for $13 in a biodegradable carton.

Perfect flakes of heavenly fish.

Perfect flakes of heavenly fish.

The chips were pleasingly fat – crisp on the outside and almost buttery-soft inside. The fish was perfect; thick juicy flakes of fresh-caught local halibut wrapped in possibly the best batter I’ve ever had, light, crisp and without too much of a greasy aftertaste. I ate it on my balcony and it tasted like home and pure happiness. Just writing this on a Friday, a little after 6pm and I feel my tastebud-memory kicking in. I want to go and eat it again. I’d love one more of those family dinners, being small enough to rest my chin on the counter that now I’d most likely rest my elbows on. Like Proust had his madeleines, I guess I’ve got my fish and chips so when I’m in search of my ‘lost times’, I can go down to Raincity Grill and find them again.

Interested in the 100 mile diet? Read this great interview by Kat Tancock in Canadian Living.


26
Jun 13

Beef Dip at Black and Blue

Beef dip… people kept mentioning it online and it caught my attention… we don’t have ‘beef dip’ back in the UK. In fact, I’ll confess, I had no clue what a beef dip was – my guess was it was a kind of meaty pâté – so I threw it out on Twitter and got back a range of equally baffled suggestions… @anniebennett wondered if it was “something you can actually eat…” the @Priorytavern ventured that it was “…some kind of rendered fat/bone marrow kinda thing” and naughty @Traveltechgirl reckoned that “it means something rude…”.

Is it a bird? Is it a train? Um, no - it's a beef sandwich with gravy...

Is it a bird? Is it a train? Um, no – it’s a beef sandwich with gravy…

We were all wrong. It’s actually a much-loved North American classic of shaved prime rib roast beef on a toasted baguette served (as they call it) “au jus” which means with a flour-less gravy made from the meat juices, stock and wine. I gave it a whirl at Vancouver’s temple to all things Meaty and Marvellous; Black and Blue.

I rather love this place – there’s a spiffy summertime roof terrace that you get to via a lift, I’m told it’s got one of Vancouver’s “best secret date tables” (and trust me – I intend to check that out) but most importantly, it’s got a drool-inducing chilled cabinet of some of the finest cuts of meat on display. I asked about the welfare of the beasts used and was pleased by the reply – I was about to tuck into beef from cows raised in the “lush seaside fields of Prince Edward Island” – free-range and fed on potatoes! Read more about the beef here...

Rare cuts of superb steak on display at Black & Blue

Rare cuts of superb steak on display at Black & Blue

So how was it? My verdict – the UK is seriously missing out – I adored it. You *dunk* your beef sandwich into the jus, the bread soaking up all that gorgeous gravy, the soft texture balanced perfectly by the crunch of french fries; salty and crisp on the outside, fluffy and almost buttery on the inside.

My only regret? They weren’t outsourcing their baking because I’ve honestly never had such a good authentically French-style baguette since I moved away from France. I’m so sad I can’t go out early in the morning, as I used to in Paris, and buy one fresh from the oven. Still – I can always go back and eat another – and each Wednesday Black and Blue have a Beef Dip lunch special – for just $10. Bargain!

 Need to know: 

Black & Blue: 1032 Alberni St, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2V6. Phone:(604) 637-0777


15
Jun 13

New life in Stanley Park

The name's Gosling... Ryan Gosling.

The name’s Gosling… Ryan Gosling.

I’ve just come back to Canada after eight days away in the USA, visiting Arizona and Nevada. I woke this morning to misty grey skies and was never so glad to slip into a jumper. Turns out that sweltering, pavement-melting 42 degree heat and I do not get on at all! Just before I left I spent the afternoon cooing at the new life in Vancouver’s famous Stanley park.

Mama Duck helping out with feeding the ducklings

Mama Duck helping out with feeding the ducklings

Adorable fluffy goslings, guarded by hissing over-protective beak-waving Canada Geese, paddling little ducklings, all speckled and wobble-legged; the park is bursting with baby bird-life and I bet that if I pop along to the lyrically-named Lost Lagoon, the swans will have hatched out their cygnets by now too.

Parents in Full Hiss mode

Parents in ‘Full Hiss’ mode

After gleefully photographing my way around the park, I spent ages walking through the riot of flowers that burst from every bush and tree. I’ve said it before: all that rain seems to be worth it if we get this joyful celebration of blossoms as reward.

Is it me or is that little one just asking to be picked up and petted?

Is it me or is that little one just asking to be picked up and petted?

Cycling the seawall that wraps around the park or exploring its leafy centre is apparently the number one tourist attraction here in Vancouver. I can totally believe it; bigger than Central Park, yet feeling intimate with endless spots to enjoy a romantic picnic or a family day out, ringed with sandy beaches and blessed with excellent restaurants and home to my beloved Aquarium – there’s something for every budget –  you can go to Stanley Park without a penny in your pocket and have a great day out or plan an action-packed day of treats. I’m writing this as I watch the pretty seaplanes fly over the park to land with barely a splash at nearby Coal Harbour; the trees are gleaming glossy-green in the sunshine (it’s Vancouver – four seasons of weather in one day!) and although I know the park will be packed with visitors, I can’t see a soul. I’ll check on the swans at the weekend and let you know if there’s any cygnet news…

The park is alive with blossoms

The park is alive with blossoms


4
Jun 13

New Chinatown Night Market A Hit

I love the feeling of excitement at the night markets here in Canada. Last year when I first arrived I managed to catch one of the last nights of the huge Richmond Night Marketa smoky maze of exotic food, Kigurumi animal onesies and lashings of Hello Kitty phone covers. This weekend I went down to the official opening of the Vancouver Chinatown night market – a smaller but no less exciting night out.

Crowds at the Chinatown night market

Crowds at the Chinatown night market

I’d been told that the Chinatown market had lost a lot of its pep in previous years; no food vendors and really nothing special to visit, but this year was set to be different. Successful local restauranteur, Tannis Ling is heading up the team bringing the market to Chinatown and the word was that it would be every bit as good as her modern Chinese Bao Bei brasserie 

Market whizz - Tannis Ling

Market whizz – Tannis Ling

We arrived just before 9pm and it was packed. The Keefer block between Main and Columbia was roped off and heaving with people; the sizzle and tempting smell of fresh-fried food in the air and music playing as dancers performed on a small stage.  I adore how unashamedly interested in food people are in Vancouver. I beamed as I overheard so many cries of “What’s that? Where can I get it?” as people walked by, salivating at what everyone else was eating.

At the Columbia end, there’s a line-up food trucks – including my personal favourite Soho Road – along with dozens of street vendors whipping up everything from night market favourite, the potato tornado – which I plan to get to next time – bubble tea (am becoming addicted to honey green tea with coconut jelly), squid (bit meh, apparently) to chicken rice (perfect – I loved the chicken stock-cooked rice). Most popular food of the night? Wheelcakes: a doughy hob-cooked cake with a judicious dollop of filling – nutella, custard or peanut butter. We had to wait 25 minutes to get ours and when we did, we discovered that the best was a smoosh of the nutella and peanut together – warm, salty and sweet.

It's all about the wheelcakes

It’s all about the wheelcakes

Tannis wanted to create a market that showcased the culture of the area, old and new; movies screened on the wall are planned along with Mahjong and storytelling events. We ended the night in fits of laughter playing ping pong by moonlight. Yes, Richmond has its appeal, but I liked that this was on my doorstep and had a real community feel. Whatever the old market may have been like, the new one is well worth a visit; free to enter, there’s plenty to see and do and I’m already excited about the forthcoming ‘Dumpling weekend’ and the outdoor hip hop karaoke bouts…

Need to know:

Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday 6pm – 11pm till September 8th 2013.

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