July, 2013

Jul 13

Blueberry season hits BC


Image courtesy of Sunday Morning Ice Cream

One of the (many, many) things that I adore about Vancouver is the way that people live and eat seasonally. I was wondering what summer would bring after a spot prawn and halibut late spring: it seems that it’s all about the berries and stone fruits and king of all is the blueberry. Last weekend’s UBC Blueberry Fest on the Triple O’s patio, with its pancake breakfast and chef demos kicked off this year’s season. But beyond what I’m told is the ‘traditional’ White Spot blueberry pie, bakers, ice cream makers and chefs across the city are showcasing their best blueberry-inspired creations. I plan to dig in while they’re fresh and in store…

Newbie to the Van food cart scene, Johnny’s Pops has blueberry cardamom and blueberry mojito ‘artisan popsicles’ from his ‘can’t miss’  red bike with the cooler on the front. You can usually find him along the seawall by the Olympic Village, but check to avoid playing ‘Where’s Johnny?’.

Bella Gelateria have a BC blueberry sorbetto and my favourite ice cream people, the Sunday Morning Ice Cream have a creamy blueberry and sweet basil which you can catch at the Chinatown Night Market. Earnest (whose salt caramel flavour is one of the best in the world) are keeping a lid on what they’ll be doing so far but co-owner Erica Bernardi mailed me to say that “Last year we made a blueberry cheesecake flavour. We’ll definitely make another blueberry flavour this year.” Can’t wait!  Cocolico has both a chocolate bar and a chocolate spread using local blueberries on sale in all their usual outlets, including Edible Canada.

Blue Breeze Jay Jones cocktailI got a sneak preview of Jay Jones‘s Blue Breeze blueberry cocktail yesterday. Made with Absolut Grapevine Vodka, Fresh BC Blueberry Syrup, Lime juice, Fentimans Ginger Beer and garnished with blueberries & mint it’s incredibly refreshing and dangerously more-ish. It reminded me of a deliciously drinkly melted ice pop. Perfect for patio season, it’s going to be the The Three Brits pub’s Absolut Community Vancouver Pride Society cocktail – so drink up! It’s for a good cause.

Langley’s organic A Bread Affair bakery have a blueberry and hazelnut whole wheat and sprouted wheat loaf, ‘Love At First Bite’ from Cedar Isle Farm in Agassiz; the hazelnuts are from Abbotsford and blueberries from BC. It’s sweet and matches well with charcuterie.
Lucky’s Doughnuts have a limited edition blueberry Berliner and Cartems have two: a blueberry strawberry compote stuffed donut and a blueberry lavender glazed.Love At First Bite

Chefs getting in on the blueberry trend include Ned Bell at Yew who appeared on Global TV last week with a BC salmon and blueberries recipe and both Tableau and Forage are offering pickled blueberry dishes.
Save the date for the culmination of All Things Blueberry in BC with the Cloverdale Blueberry festival on Saturday August 19th with its legendary pie eating contest.

Jul 13

New summer menu deconstructed at Forage

ForageThe new season summer menus are hitting boards across town. I spent the post-breakfast lull with Chef Whittaker in the Forage kitchen, watching how to make one of the dishes from his new menu.

Forage chef Chris Whittaker is best known for his commitment to sustainable farm-to-table eating. Forage’s new summer menu launched this week with a stand-out dish of Hannah Brook Farm watercress, garlic scapes, 64° egg, bison bone marrow croutons and mushroom ‘soil’.

Forage “All the ingredients in this salad – this is the stuff I wait for all year to get back into business with.” Whittaker says. “The croutons in bison bone marrow bring a robust meatiness to the dish, we use Alberta bison which are hormone and antibiotic-free and grass fed. The eggs are from Richmond’s Rabbit River and the greens from Maple Ridge – where I live. The watercress really excites me: it’s flavourful and peppery, so the croutons need to be weighty enough and the egg has to be cooked a certain way to hold into the salad. Then we add “soil” of dried morels which are in full swing right now across BC with freshly-ground local hazelnuts.”

ForageTo make the dish, Chris starts with the garlic scapes, blanching them in salted boiling water for a minute and then plunging them into iced water. They’re set aside to grill at the last minute. Next a generous scoop of clarified rendered bison bone marrow is spooned into a pan and heated. Chris hand-tears bread to toss in the fat to make croutons. They are sauteed in the pan for a few minutes until golden-brown and then drained on paper.

ForageWhile all this has been going on, the eggs are cooking in a combi-oven at 64 degrees for 45 minutes. They’re removed from the heat and doused under a cold tap to stop the cooking process.

Forage The scapes are dipped in the remaining bison fat and flame-grilled and the salad dressed with a red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing (3 parts oil 1 part vinegar). Forage

The dish is plated with the croutons tossed across the peppery leaves and scapes, with the egg resting on top. “It’s a great dish,” says Whittaker, “As the season changes and evolves so will the ingredients, so once the garlic scapes are over we’ll put radishes or dried tomatoes in instead.”Forage

Jul 13

Toronto Spa Adventures: The Ritz-Carlton

I’m not at all surprised that the Ritz-Carlton spa in Toronto bagged the No 1 spot on Travel and Leisure’s 2013 World’s Best awards. I visited recently and lay on a lounger wrapped in a waffle cotton robe in the rare spa sunlight (why are they always usually hidden in a basement) on the 5th floor. The light streamed through the windows and caught the floating jellyfish-like lights hanging from the high ceiling. I wriggled my toes with happiness, sipped a little citrus water and felt a mild ripple of annoyance that I couldn’t have spent more time here. I had to race out after my facial so no time to swim or bubble away in the Jacuzzi, but no matter, I decided to make the most of my time in this lovely light room and waited for my therapist to collect me.

MY BLEND spa lounge

MY BLEND spa lounge

I was booked in to try a MY BLEND facial, a new range from Clarins, I was excited to try it because the first spa treatment I ever had was a Clarins facial. I remember being so excited about the whole unfamiliar experience. Now, some hundred or so facials later I thought back to the rather tatty little treatment room in a sports complex ‘spa’ in Seven Sisters London and felt that yes, a facial at the Ritz was definitely a step in the right direction.

I floated off with my therapist through the sunny room towards the softly-lit treatment room, I made to get on the couch and then had a rather nasty shock as I was ushered towards a computer. I had not read the spa menu. Turns out the new facial’s “ultra-personalized experience begins with a thorough, 20-minute skin analysis by your skin coach using state-of-the-art diagnostic imaging technology.” So instead of seamlessly going from calm spa waiting room to super-chilled spa treatment room I now was expected to tap in 20-minutes worth of typing on a screen.

The salt water pool

The salt water pool

There’s no way I’m going to sound like anything but a grumpy old curmudgeon when I talk about this, so I’m just going to come out and say it. I don’t think computer screens have any place whatsoever in a treatment room in a spa. None at all. My happy calm spa-bubble popped. You couldn’t skip any of the pointless ‘what’s your email’ type questions and the screen was slow to respond. Losing my cool rapidly I was jabbing the screen now, grumbling to the therapist and starting to remember that tatty Seven Sisters spa as an oasis of relaxation in comparison to my luxe computer cubicle.

I asked the therapist if anyone liked this part and her answer surprised me. Older women loved it, they adored tapping their info in and having their skin photographed. Also younger clients thought it was great fun too. Exhausted 30 and 40 somethings like me though? Not so much. The machine analyses your skin and prescribes a bespoke facial treatment for you, blended in the room by adding “optimum concentrations of peptide complexes, vitamins and plant extracts to increase your skin’s natural defense potential, strengthen its regenerating capacity and protect it from premature damage.” All of which, to be honest – a good therapist could diagnose and prescribe by looking at my skin under a light. There was one bright spark though; your face gets photographed and the machine said that my skin was that of a late 20-something (I’m 43!) so I did end the process with a smile on my (surprisingly youthful) face.

A bit of a step up from the Seven Sisters sports centre.

A bit of a step up from the Seven Sisters sports centre.

Computer turned off, everything now improved dramatically. My therapist was great, I love the facial massage techniques that Clarins have, the plant-based products and well…  everything. My skin felt gorgeous afterwards, I could fool myself that it was almost as good as that 21 year old who skipped out of her first facial thinking I WANT TO DO THAT A LOT MORE.

So, this is a plea to Clarins MY BLEND: put the machine outside the treatment room, don’t spoil that hallowed spa space with day-to-day work paraphernalia. Out of all the places in the world I never want to see a computer, I think a spa treatment room is number one. Please just concentrate on your great therapists and treatments. With love, a fan.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Toronto and stayed as a guest of the Ritz Carlton – all views are, however 100% my own. 

For more info:

Ritz Carlton.

Address: 181 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3G7

Phone: (416) 585-2500

Jul 13

Weekend in Whistler: Summer fun at the Bearfoot Bistro

Six bloody Caesars - only one can win

Six bloody Caesars – only one can win

There’s something about Whistler that reminds me of my home town Brighton; oh, not in appearance, it couldn’t be different. Pristine and shiny, thoroughly modern Whistler is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, its inhabitants all seem to be like the girl or boy from Ipanema, all tall and tan and young and lovely. Whereas my beloved Brighton, in the words of Keith Waterhouse, “… looks as though it is a town helping the police with their enquiries.” But there is something in that ‘determined to have a good time even though it’s clearly hours past your bed time’ Brighton spirit that burns in Whistler too.

I recognised it the second I clapped eyes on the Bearfoot Bistro’s Chief Bad Decision Enabler, Andre Saint-Jacques, so no surprise at all that some of the best fun to be had in BC is always at his restaurant. The Bearfoot World Oyster Invitational and Bloody Caesar Battle took place this Sunday. A charity fund raiser for Playground Builders, an excellent Canadian charity who build playgrounds in areas of the world affected by wars. By the end of the afternoon enough money had been raised to construct three playgrounds in Afghanistan. So I’m not going to feel a jot of guilt about anything that happens here.

Judges Chefs Robert Clark and Pino Posteraro deliberate

Judges Chefs Robert Clark and Pino Posteraro get serious

Two contests were in play – six mixologists battling it out for the honour of the best Bloody Caesar (it’s a much-beloved Canadian drink – essentially a Bloody Mary with clam juice added) as well as the fastest oyster shucker contest. I couldn’t wait to see the shuckers in action, 13 competed from as far afield as Sweden, Denmark and Japan. Before the doors opened the judges got stuck into the cocktails, everyone else got to sample the six different kinds from booths set up around the restaurant and downstairs in its famous champagne cellar – which is usually where you’ll find M. Saint Jaques merrily sabering a champagne bottle or two. Along with the caesars, wine flowed freely and we were kept from slumping to the ground by a stream of bite-sized goodies from Chef Melissa Craig’s kitchen.

Delicious vanilla nitro ices

Delicious vanilla nitro ices

By the time the shucking contest came around it’s fair to say that everyone was feeling at their most Whistler-ish and the cheers were deafening. The rules are strict in these contests and closely adhered to. Each shucker is presented with a tray of three varieties of oyster, they have to shuck 30 and present them “upright, free from shell and blood in a whole top shell.” They are scored not only on time but also the appearance, presence of shell, grit and the cut of the meat. I was fascinated: each shucker had such a different technique, from the sorting at the start – some piled them like legos, others lined them up neatly – some wore gloves, others went in bare-handed (one was bare-footed) and others wound tape around their fingers. Each shucker has a timer and each heat must begin with the shuckers hands in the air above their oysters and the one to finish first must raise their hands again.

Adored Noriko, she seemed to be having such a great time

Adored Noriko, she seemed to be having such a great time

The first heat was over in a matter of minutes. It was shockingly fast. They tore through those shells like hot knives through butter; it was fantastic to watch. There were four heats in all and then a final round. My two favourites, Noriko Kamashima from Japan who shucked in a gloriously calm fashion with a beatific smille on her face and the looks-a-bit-like-Eric-off-True-Blood Dane, Simon Toensager didn’t make it, so I had to pick a new favourite from the finalists. I went with the only shucker to have cleaned the shells from his station to save the Bearfoot staff the trouble, the beaming bearded Eamon Clark from Rodney’s Oyster House in Toronto who was the 2011 champion.

Eamon Clark: this is what winning looks like

Eamon Clark: this is what winning looks like

Turns out I can pick a winner. Eamon finished fastest and also – after a l-o-n-g deliberation by the judges – came out top on points. He scored a $5000 prize, a huge trophy that I wouldn’t have liked to try and take back on the plane and a whole year of bragging rights. I didn’t do so well guessing the best caesar. I liked Justin Taylor’s from Yew at the Four Seasons in Vancouver best, but local lad Scot Curry from the Alta Bistro scooped the $5000 instead. Full of nitro vanilla ice cream, awash with caesars and feeling like a girl who should go lie down somewhere, I sat on the stairs outside and waited for the Pacific Coach to pick me up. I’d stare out of the window on the two-hour trip back to Vancouver at the dazzling sea and mountain scenery on the lyrically-named ‘Sea to Sky’ highway, I might have been far from Brighton but oh – that town is starting to feel like home.

You can see why it's called the Sea to Sky highway

You can see why it’s called the Sea to Sky highway

I travelled as a guest of the Bearfoot Bistro  – thanks for that! Also thanks to Pacific Coach for the return ticket. As ever – my opinions are 100% my own.

More info:

Pacific Coach Lines

Whistler Hilton Resort

The Bearfoot Bistro 

Tourism Whistler


Jul 13

Join the club: Toronto Ritz Carlton

Some names bring with them an almost-too-high expectation of luxury. Tiffany’s for example; it’s impossible to say it out loud and not imagine the gleam and glitter of diamonds. I felt the same about the Ritz, the name alone conjures up images of crisp uniforms, chauffeur-driven Bentleys purring at the kerb, silver salvers and the click of designer heels skittering across a marble floor. Romantic? Me? Well, maybe a little. But that’s the thing with big-name hotels they have a lot to live up to.

Might this be a tad too much in my flat?

Might this be a tad too much in my flat?

So, high expectations for the Ritz on my first stay, but you know what? The Ritz Carlton didn’t get to be The Ritz Carlton without delivering on the promises that its name makes. I was already delighted in the time it took me to get from the door to the reception desk – coppery maple leaves embossed on the shiny marble floor, the glittering chandelier-art that bounced light around the spacious lobby and the Canadiana art on the walls – all were lovely (I later discovered that the Ritz has some 450 Canadian works of art dotted around the hotel – better than some art galleries!). My grin got even broader as I was told that I was staying ‘in the club’ so I got escorted by an equally delighted staff member “Oh, you are in for such a treat…” up to the 20th floor to check in.

I’d been unaware of the Ritz’s ‘hotel within a hotel’ concept – but here it is: if you don’t think you’re already being spoiled silly then you can take things up a notch and book in to Club Level which gives you access to a private check-in and lounge which has an impressive food and drinks programme all day and evening, offering time-appropriate snacks, from breakfast and juices through to hors d’oeuvres, wine and sweets. It has a fabulous view of Lake Ontario and the CN Tower from its squashy sofas and comfy seats. I popped in a few times and there was always a happy buzz about the room – I loved that it was full of people who seemed to be genuinely appreciating it – there was no eye-rolling sense of entitlement here which was a really pleasant surprise.

Club level: you've arrived...

Club level: you’ve arrived…

After check in it was time to check out my room; I’m always amused when I stay in a suite that’s clearly larger than my flat at home and this had to be at least double if not triple the size with a picture-perfect view of the Tower from the floor to ceiling windows. I kept my curtains open all night – impossible to stop watching the tower glowing different colours – at one point it lit up in a kind of dreamy shimmer, for all the world like the Aurora Borealis, it was superb.

There’s a kind of fantasy bubble that the best sort of hotel makes you feel you’ve stepped into when you stay; everything is beautiful, nothing feels like too much trouble, the staff are friendly but never obsequious and you feel genuinely delighted to just be there and glide around the public areas with a slightly foolish grin on your face. I spent almost the whole time I was at the Ritz with precisely that daft grin on my face. For once, the reality is just as good as the legend – I felt more spoiled than a Kardashian when I left, but oh! so much more classy.

Love this view!

Love this view!

The Ritz Carlton are currently running a ‘Treat You‘ package which I think is a pretty good deal. It starts from $750CAN a night – BUT! that’s for two people and includes Club Level access (so that’s breakfast, mid-day meal, light snacks, hors d’oeuvres, alcoholic beverages and sweets – all included) plus roundtrip airport transfers, internet access AND – if you book for two nights you get the third for free. The perfect ‘champagne’ experience for ‘cava’ prices. Ts & Cs – of course – apply.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Toronto and stayed as a guest of the Ritz Carlton – all views are, however 100% my own. I just really, really enjoyed this!  

For more info:

Ritz Carlton.

Address: 181 Wellington St W, Toronto, ON M5V 3G7

Phone: (416) 585-2500

Jul 13

Calgary: Open for business


From @ballen29 "Calgary in a nutshell. #Proud"

From @ballen29 “Calgary in a nutshell. #Proud”

I don’t know how much people in the UK have heard about the recent flooding in Alberta, but it’s been a tragedy for the city of Calgary with freak flooding claiming the lives of four and tens of thousands of residents evacuated from their homes as a state of emergency was declared across the city.  Shocking pictures of the famous Saddledome stadium showed the water had risen ten rows deep and the Stampede ground was flooded. Yet within these scenes of devastation, Calgarians have shown themselves to be bold and determined, because unbelievably the Calgary Stampede, the ‘Greatest Outdoor Show On Earth’ has gone ahead and Calgary has declared itself open for business.

Dazzling rodeo skills

Dazzling rodeo skills

Only a few of the planned events have been cancelled – the Saddledome isn’t in any shape to hold concerts right now – but all the traditional fun of the Stampede is still going ahead – and Calgarians need you to visit to show your support. Watch cowboys and livestock being put through their paces in the Stampede Rodeo at the Grandstand, from penning to barrel racing – this show has it all.

Fancy something more sedate? Then check out the ‘dancing’ shire horse shows, where beautiful Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire horses move to the music of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.The food on the Midway is legendary – if it’s deep-fried and on a stick – it’ll be there… and yes, that means deep-fried butter, double-bacon deep-fried corndogs and even chocolate-covered bacon.

If you can’t make it to the event which runs till the 14th July, then show your love and buy a ‘Hell or High Water‘ T-shirt. That’s what I did. Impressively, the t-shirts have raised more than $500,000 so far, which will all go directly to the Canadian Red Cross Alberta Floods Fund.

"My annual: I'm on a horse. Tweeting."

“My annual: I’m on a horse. Tweeting.”

One last reason to visit the Stampede – as well as those gorgeous cowboys, you may get chance to see Canada’s new heartthrob, Mayor Naheed Nenshi who has won effusive praise from every corner of Canada for the compassionate and take-charge way that he’s handled the crisis. This, from the Globe and Mail explains why: “He worked for 43 straight hours: tweeting, imploring, directing, assisting, cheering on and cheering up residents who saw homes ruined and possessions literally float away. He was cheerleader, director, benevolent scolder. ‘Help your neighbours, he exhorted, be it with a shovel or a ride. Hug your emergency providers.’ His new “home” became the back seat of helicopters or in front of news cameras. He provided updates several times a day – one in the middle of the night. He used Twitter to get the word out. Well-wishers finally started a social media movement to get him to go home and take a nap.

For full Calgary Stampede listings see the official website (http://calgarystampede.com/) and for the latest on travel across Alberta and the latest news on the recovery efforts across the province, visit the travel update page http://update.travelalberta.com/

Jul 13

East of Main Cafe: Food with a heart and soul

Food production has such a ‘butterfly effect’ on the world; grow fruit and veg with pesticides and you affect the eco-system, grow them with the wrong kind and you affect the life of bees, which affects every one of us. Get those chemicals in the food chain and water supply and it can have a serious affect on health and fertility – a butterfly flaps its wings and half a world away, everything changes… 

I was thinking about how small things can have a huge effect as I listened to 12-year old Celestine Hilechi, singing her heart out for us at the Project Limelight event at the East of Main Cafe. She was fantastic, eyes lit up with pure joy, she radiated happiness and a dash of star quality and thanks to the Project Limelight programme, she’s learning how to express that and now has the confidence to sing – unaccompanied no less – to a room of strangers.

Project Limelight's songbird, the fantastic Celestine

Project Limelight’s songbird, the fantastic Celestine

To put this into a little context, I should explain a little; walking through parts of Vancouver’s Downtown East Side (DTES) always feels like a shock; there are serious homelessness and substance abuse and addiction issues, whole blocks are taken up with shopping cart-pushing addicts. I say again – after the beauty of the surrounding area, the pure gorgeousness of Vancouver as a city – the grinding poverty of the DTES is a nasty shock. It’s an area that needs help and needs support and there are businesses who are taking up the challenge.

Project Limelight is a charity founded by sisters Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver, both born and raised in the DTES with successful careers in the film business (respectively as a casting director and owner and manager of a studio) who wanted to give back to their community. Project Limelight works with at-risk kids aged between 8-15 in the neighbourhood – children who typically wouldn’t get within shouting distance of creative theatre work – and pulls them into a hard-working, fiercely disciplined programme. Each session lasts for four months running three days a week. At the end of the four months the children perform an impressively professional full-length production which lets them show off the skills they’ve learned.

Project Limelight's Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver with Chef Tina Fineza

Project Limelight’s Maureen Webb and Donalda Weaver with Chef Tina Fineza

I must admit – I was a theatre group kid – I loved the fun, the sense of community and the freedom of expression that it taught me. I made great friends and learned about the importance of showing up and doing your absolute best. But I was lucky – I had a stable family life, having that three-days-a-week rock of normality (plus a free healthy meals and snacks) must mean the world to some of those children. And you can imagine the immense effect that four months of positive attention can have – when this butterfly flaps its wings it changes the whole direction that a child’s life can go in.

They rehearse upstairs from the East of Main cafe where 100% of their profits go towards the Project Limelight Society. That’s reason alone to go there – but of course, because it’s Vancouver, food with a heart has a soul too. Talented Chef Tina Fineza has designed a  pan-Mediterranean tapas-style sharing plates menu, packed with fresh and spicy flavours, taking a delicious journey across the world wherever it touches the Med. Hop from a ras el hanout-spiced lamb tagine from Tunisia to an aromatic aubergine (eggplant) Greek moussaka to (my favourite) an Italian raw courgette fragrant with lemon with a faint crunch of pistachio.

Simple and just delicious

Simple and just delicious

It’s a perfect storm of good intentions resulting in great things; an excellent menu in a cute venue, where your money goes directly to helping out a brilliant cause, which then affects the lives of those around you. This butterfly’s wings are certainly flapping in the right direction. Go join in and flap yours too.

Find out more: 

East of Main cafe www.eastofmaincafe.com/

Address: 223 E Georgia St, Vancouver, BC V6A 2Z9

Phone:(604) 899-2777

Jul 13

Five Rules for Successfully Ordering Room Service

There's something rather stylish about curry accompanied by a starched tablecloth

There’s something rather stylish about curry accompanied by a starched tablecloth

Despite staying in dozens of hotels each year, I could count the times I’ve ordered room service on one hand – I’m usually whizzing around, trying to fit in as many restaurants, bars and sights in whatever city I’m visiting to spend too much time in my hotel room. That’s why I got excited when I stayed at the Four Seasons in Toronto as they invited me to check out their in-room dining programme. Really? After a long flight AND an early start I could just… relax?! Hold me back…

There’s a kind of glamour and old-world decadence to that heated cart covered in heavy, beautifully-ironed white linen trundling to your room. But I discovered that it takes a certain level of skill to successfully order from a room service menu – a skill that I, as a rookie, did not have.

Toronto is known as being a city of neighbourhoods and I thought it was a neat touch that the menu reflected this with a ‘Streets of Toronto’ section – butter chicken from Little India, a souvlaki sandwich inspired by Greektown  – I wanted to hop around town so picked the butter chicken, a maple-braised pork belly pad Thai, a starter of BC Dungeness crab popcorn and I couldn’t resist the Nanaimo Bar with Brown Butter ice cream too. When presented with ice cream as room service you order it, right? Just to see if it makes it to the room or melts on the cart.

Crunchy - and I really liked the salsa.

Crunchy – and I really liked the salsa.

About half an hour after ordering it all arrived and after taking a few photos I dived in. I eyed the ice cream with some trepidation – it looked good on its bed of ice – would it manage to not disappear into a puddle before I got to it? First up the popcorn crab; the breaded shell was still crunchy, the crab was tender  and the lemon-saffron aioli it came with just tangy enough. It was good, but not great – it was like ordering something fresh from a fryer and then leaving it for half an hour – which, to be fair – was pretty much what I had done, although, of course, the heated cabinet had kept it warm.

The noodles were prettiest so they were next; alas, they were kind of gummy. Like a teething baby, they had not travelled well. I nibbled on a few veggies before heading for the cashew and raisin-studded butter chicken, which – I can definitely say is THE thing to order. Heaven on a plate with just the right balance between that sweet, creamy buttery taste and the warm glow of spice and heat. The rice hadn’t dried up and the time in the heater hadn’t hurt the curry at all.

The ice cream was a little liquid around the edges by the time I dug in but oh! It didn’t matter at all. It was ridiculously good. I wished I’d had time during my stay to go and have some more. It was up there on the deliciousness stakes with my adventures with the Sunday Morning Ice Cream club…

So, my Five Rules for Successfully Ordering Room Service are…

* Think ‘what would be best as a take away’?

* Anything that can tolerate sitting in a warmer works – curries, soups etc.

* Anything that should be gobbled up fresh off the griddle or out of a wok does not.

* Anything that’s deep-fried probably won’t be at its best but will still be good if you’re craving stodge.

* If there is ice cream – order it anyway – even a little puddly it’s better than NOT ordering it. And slurping it up whilst dressed in a robe, flicking between channels, eating off a gorgeous crisp white tablecloth-draped table – unbeatable.

I stayed in Toronto as a guest of Toronto Tourism and the Four Seasons. However – as always – my views are 100% my own. 

 Find out more: 

Four Seasons, 60 Yorkville Ave  Toronto, ON M4W 0A4, Canada
Tel: +1 416-964-0411

Toronto Tourism



Jul 13

Toronto adventures: Where to eat


Welcome to the T-Dot.

Welcome to T Dot.

Cafe Keriwa, 1690 Queen St W. T 00 1 416 533 2552. You simply don’t hear enough about First Nations (Aboriginal) cuisine in Canada. Is it because (as had been suggested to me) they don’t traditionally have a ‘restaurant’ culture?  I have no clue, but I do know that I want to learn more and eat a lot more of their food. If you’re in town then a perfect place to start is Cafe Keriwa who serve Blackfoot First Nations-inspired dishes using traditional Ontario ingredients like sea buckthorn berries and stinging nettles. Absolutely delicious.

First Nations-inspired cuisine and utterly delicious

First Nations-inspired cuisine and utterly delicious

Grand Electric, 1330 Queen St W. T: 00 1 416 627 3459. It’s the hottest taco joint on the block – with all the apparently ‘necessary’ hipster restaurant ‘rules’ – no reservations, no cheque splitting, a menu with very few items and service that veers between delightful smiles and ‘you’re-lucky-you’re-even-eating-here’ scowls.  That said, there’s a reason why there are queues every day to eat at Grand Electric – the tacos are flat-out wonderful. Just amazing. The ‘Jesus Juice’ cocktail was pretty damn fine too. Join the queue and take your chances.

My favourite, the Baja gish taco

My favourite, the Baja fish taco

Saint Tavern, 227 Ossington Ave. T: 00 1 647 350 2100.  There was nothing I didn’t adore about brunch at the Saint; from the lovely room with its booths, long bar and superb service to every damn thing on the menu. There was an absurdly delicious bacon-maple-bourbon dish that had me cleaning my plate with sticky fingers, a fine alternative to boring old eggs and bacon when paired with a gorgeous creamy-spicy paprika-dusted deviled egg. Even the rice krispy-encrusted French Toast made me gurgle with foodie-glee. And I don’t even LIKE French Toast.  Love, love, love.

Rice krispy-crust French Toast YUM

Rice krispy-crust French Toast YUM

Dakota Tavern, 249 Ossington Ave. T: 00 1 416 850 4579. I can’t recall the last time that just walking into a restaurant made me want to cry with happiness. It was a bright sunshiny Sunday when I found the Dakota Tavern. I pushed open the door and went into the beer-y darkness and down a flight of stairs into a windowless basement… only to find a magical room – lit with fairylights – a sweet, smooth bluegrass band playing on the handkerchief-sized stage and the room filled with starry-eyed music fans forking up the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast.

Take a seat and soak up the magic

Take a seat and soak up the magic

Hawker Bar, 164 Ossington Ave. T: 00 1 647 343 4698. There’s a slightly annoying trend for places to not open for lunch around the Parkdale/Ossington area – so I didn’t get to eat at a few of the places I meant to visit… however that did mean that I wandered into Hawker Bar by complete chance and was rewarded by a brilliant East-meets-West fusion of a pulled pork steamed bun for lunch.

Yeah, OK - having menus on cardboard is a touch hipster, but I loved it

Yeah, OK – having menus on cardboard is a touch hipster, but I loved it

Caplansky’s, 356 College St. T: 00 1 416 500 3852. The one thought that dominated my mind as I sat and grazed my way through a ‘highlights reel’ at Caplansky’s? ‘Damn. I haven’t eaten enough deli food in my life.’ I could go on for hours about the sheer brilliance of the kishke with smoked meat gravy, the hand-sliced in-house smoked meat, the grilled salami with chopped liver and red onions, but I’ll just get upset that I live so far from Toronto and can’t go and have it all RIGHT NOW. But you know what? You go when you’re there and have it for me.

Home-smoked and hand-sliced

Home-smoked and hand-sliced

I stayed in Toronto as a guest of Toronto Tourism. However – as always – my views are 100% my own.

Find out more:  Toronto Tourism

Jul 13

Toronto Adventures: where to drink

Pondering the big questions... 'What shall I have to drink?'

Pondering the big questions at Cold Tea: ‘What shall I have to drink?’

Thanks to Toronto’s hardcore ‘no drinking after 2am’ laws a tradition of ‘cold tea’ came into being. After a night out, you’d make your way to an in-the-know Chinese restaurant and order up a teapot of ‘cold tea’ and get a pot of beer. Riffing on the name, the brilliant Cold Tea Bar opened a few months back in the Kensington neighbourhood – but there are no teapots here – just exceptional cocktails, funky tunes, a lovely little patio garden and a Dim Sum cabinet for tasty cheap eats. The exciting thing about Cold Tea is that unless you know it’s there – you’ll never find it… it’s inside a shopping mall, behind an unmarked door. No sign – no clues – just a red light outside. Fantastic. Cold Tea, 60 Kensington Ave. T:00 1 416 546 4536. 

The fantastically talented Sarah Parniak @s_Parns

The fantastically talented Sarah Parniak @s_Parns

On a sunny day, you’ll find the tiny patio at Ronnie’s totally packed. As it gets late, this pleasingly sketchy-feeling neighbourhood joint gets rammed inside too. There’s a British pub-style snug, any amount of things from animal skulls to odd art nailed to the wall and the toilets are kind of grim. But you cannot beat it for atmosphere and the bar guy seemed kind of keen to hand out shots at 3pm – always the sign of a good bar. Ronnie’s Local 069, 69 Nassau St. T: 00 1 416 340 1110

The ultimate 'local' Toronto dive bar

The ultimate ‘local’ Toronto dive bar

Around the corner from Ronnie’s and Cold Tea is the British-run Embassy with its cute diner seating, retro-radio fixtures on the bar taps and DJs at the weekend. This has a relaxed vibe and a dinky little front patio garden. Embassy, 223 Augusta Ave.T: 00 1 416 591 1132

Cash only at The Embassy

Cash only at The Embassy

I can’t think of a single cocktail bar – anywhere in the world – that has served me drinks as exciting and extraordinary as the ones that Frankie Solarik makes at Barchef. Frankie uses molecular gastronomy techniques to create fresh takes on classics; I tried an Aviation which arrived with multi-layered jellies and caviar pearls of Maraschino to melt and pop into the perfect drink in my mouth. Frankie also conjures up exciting new experiences like the ‘Cedar’ which my friend Alyssa described as ‘like drinking a cedar closet – but in a really, really good way’. I love this place; theatrical drinking of the best possible sort. The room is great too – all swagged velvet curtains and dim, dim light. Barchef, 472 Queen St W. T: 00 1 416 868 4800. 

All hail the chief: the bar genius Frankie Solarik @FrankieSolarik

All hail the chief: the bar genius Frankie Solarik @FrankieSolarik

Boasting one of the biggest pub gardens I have ever seen, the Cadillac Lounge in Parkdale has a frankly unpromising exterior (giant car sticking out of the wall in a schmaltzy 90s-retro style) but ignore that and head inside. The drinks were large and inexpensive, the music good and loud and the multi-layer garden clearly the right place to be on a warm Toronto night.  Cadillac Lounge, 1296 Queen St W. T: 00 1 416 536 7717. 

Ignore the car. This is actually quite a cool place.

Ignore the car. This is actually quite a cool place.

I travelled as a guest of Toronto Tourism – but as ever – my views are 100% my own. 

Find out more: Toronto Tourism

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