Ever since I discovered that hummingbirds can exist on sugar-water it confirmed all my suspicions that these tiny vivid flying miracles were Disney-ish creatures, who, in all likelihood exist in cartoonish technicolour and probably help Cinderella get dressed each morning. I was pondering their adorable feeding habits as I sat in Atelier, chef Marc Lepine’s restaurant, after my own gloriously improbable meal. I’d been introduced to Marc by Frankie Solarik, of Barchef fame. Frankie is one of the world’s most dazzlingly creative bartenders. The first time I had one of his deconstructed cocktails– an Aviation magicked together with a multilayered jelly, pearls of maraschino and edible flowers– I remember clapping my hands together with pure childlike joy, quite intoxicated– first with glee and then gin. ‘No wonder the two are friends.’ I thought, as I beamed at the hoop of crispy carrot that circled my plate, evidence of that same mischievous mad-scientist brilliance, yet this time with food, not cocktails. Continue reading →
For relatively small city, Victoria punches well above its weight when it comes to its cocktail scene. Talented bartenders like Veneto’s Simon Ogden and Little Jumbo’s Nate Caudle and its manager Shawn Soole are leading the way in innovative cocktail creations. The city’s annual Art of the Cocktail festival brings together like-minded boozehounds and bartenders alike for three days of seminars, parties and tastings.
The Grand Tasting event is always an excellent opportunity to discover new spirits and learn more about old favourites too. For so many cocktail fans it’s the stories behind the spirits which are part of the attraction, and there was one which really stood out for me this year. It’s a truly Canadian spirit Ungava gin, made in NE Quebec. Covered in snow and ice for nine months of the year, with the aurora borealis shimmering overhead, this remote part of Canada produces the botanicals which give the spirit its sunny colour and herbacious taste. Hand-harvested by Inuit on the tundra, the gin contains: Nordic juniper, Labrador tea, crowberry, wild rose hips, arctic blend and cloudberry.
I was excited to see New Theatre Spirits & Tonic, who I’d met on my first visit two years ago back with another delicious creation, this time it’s a ginger ale which was based on a 100-year old law suit which was debated in the House of Lords and concerned an old lady who discovered a snail in her drink. You can read the full story here – and it’s a good one – but more importantly it’s a delicious drink, so look out for their Donoghue & Stevenson’s Dead Snail Ginger Ale – guaranteed to be 100% snail-free.
From cocktail contests and bar games which pit bartenders against each other in a battle of speed, knowledge and style, to a vintage fashion show and etiquette chat during cocktail hour, your cocktail festival weekend can take in plenty of fun – as well as booze.
Education is a huge component of the festival and I attended a fantastic seminar with Peter Hunt from Victoria Spirits on Bitters, those mysterious little bottles which are the spice cabinet of any back bar. Bitters in cocktails are similar to acidity in wine or hops in beer; they balance out sweetness and add complexity to the flavour. Peter took us through the history of bitters from their medicinal use in Egyptian times to using Pink Gin (gin with angostura bitters) in the 1800s as a traditional seasickness cure. Until the creation of the FDA in 1906, Bitters companies could – and did – make wild claims about the properties of their Bitters from saying they could do anything from curing the ‘impure state of your blood’ to fixing liver complaints.
To be certified as a Bitter the botanical blend used (herbs, spices, fruits) need to be bitter enough not to be able to be drunk by itself. We got to make our own Bitters, but a warning, care needs to be taken with making bitters at home, sure, natural is best, but Mother Nature has teeth and claws: for instance, tonka beans are banned in the US as they contain courmain which can cause liver damage – although it has a delicious vanilla-like smell and flavour, almond kernels contains cyanide, nutmeg can be toxic… the list goes on. However, in the hands of an expert you’re perfectly safe. Bitters can be used in the kitchen as well as on the bar, Vancouver’s Bittered Sling Extracts were created by a chef-bartender combo with the express purpose of creating products which would add a depth of flavour to both cocktails and culinary creations. You can use Bitters in sauces and in salad dressings, in baked goods like brownies or as a marinade for meat, there are some great recipes here to try.
I travelled as guest of Tourism Victoria and Art of the Cocktail, however my words are 100% my own.
Fish are meant to symbolise good fortune or luck within certain Asian cultures and it was a serendipitous fish which led me to Gastown’s newest hot spot, Bambudda. I’d seen the most enchanting dessert picture on Twitter – two fish swimming in a perfect blue on a plate – the fish were white chocolate and lychee milk tea – too pretty but I wanted to eat it! The next day by pure luck I happened to meet someone who worked there, which decided it for me: fate had stepped in so I needed to go and check it out.
I’d mentioned to a few people I was going and everyone had two words for me “chicken skin”: turns out that they do a nifty fried chicken skin bar snack that was an absolute must-have. Guess what? Everyone was right on the money. But before we get to the crunch of the food – what’s the restaurant like? Well – on a warm Vancouver evening it was heaven to sit at the open-front bar. Their floor to ceiling windows pull right back and so we sat, red lanterns bobbing overhead, drinking pleasingly intoxicating cocktails while being charmed by barman Buck Friend.
Tardis-like, this place is far, far bigger on the inside than it seems on the outside. There’s a blue-toned private dining room that has ‘family party’ and ‘fun birthday dinner’ written all over it – then there’s the date-friendly dining space that spreads back through the building. Hand-etched wallpaper (which reminded us of Blanche from the Golden Girls’s palm-printed lair but in a really good way) and cute vintage accents make this new kid on the block feel like an always-been-there old favourite.
“But what’s the food like?” I hear you roar “Tell us about the skin!” Well – it’s pressed flat overnight, trimmed of any fat, baked in the oven and then quick-fried. And it’s so damn good that I went back two nights later dragging a friend with me. Give it a judicious squeeze of the black pepper-dipped lime and you have one of the best bar snacks I’ve ever tasted.
I got to try a mini sampler of a few dishes from Chef Keev Mah’s menu: think nouveau Dim Sum – the stars for me were the perfectly-cooked scallops, a sweetly-gooey spiced BBQ pork bun and Law Bak Go, a puréed buttered mash of a radish made into a hashbrown-like wedge and served with meltingly-tender brisket. It’s strange to feel so excited about a radish but this was magnificent – I tried this on the second visit and if anything it was even better. I tried the Crispy Pork Belly, Hong Kong BBQ style with a Maple Hoisin sauce, the texture of the pork belly was everything you’d wish for: it shattered in a satisfying bite, the meat a perfect soft juicy fall-apart counterpoint – but oh! too much salt… the one bum note in a perfect symphony.
And what of the dessert fish? A little sweet for me – but they swam prettily in their drinky waters of Blue Curaçao – frankly anyone who put something this delightful on a plate deserves an award. It’s rare to be so utterly enchanted.
Also extra marks to the inspired Cold Tea-esque cocktail creation, Tsui Hang, served in a teapot, a Dark Horse rye made fragrant with salted plums, goji berries and iron budda tea – it had an infused Budweiser syrup in the mix – I adored this and to my knowledge it’s the first beer-infused syrup I’ve encountered in Vancouver. Go drink and snack at the bar, flirt with the lovely staff and then stuff yourself silly: you can’t fight fate.
I was a guest of Bambudda the first time I visited – but as ever – my words are 100% my own
BAMBUDDA 99 Powell Street, Gastown Vancouver
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
I travelled as a guest of Toronto Tourism – but as ever – my views are 100% my own.
Find out more: Toronto Tourism
I’ve had my eye on the Shangri-La hotel ever since I moved to Vancouver. Towering above the other buildings in the city, it’s been a glittering landmark and one that I’ve been increasingly eager to check out. Turns out waiting two months to visit was two months too long. Where has the Chi spa been all my life? Why aren’t I there right now? If I ask nicely, do you suppose they will let me move in?
Checking in was a breeze, I’d arrived early to visit Chi (OH MY GOD, THE SPA!) and the concierge had spotted me loitering in the lobby with my case. He immediately took it from me to save me the effort of wheeling it to the lift and promised to have it sent to my room. Case-less I zipped on up to the fifth floor… The lift doors open and you’re faced with a cascading wall of water over shimmering rock. A sense of calm is established immediately. I’d booked for the Element Vitality massage, a treatment which combined a variety of massage styles, Swedish, shiatsu and reflexology – blending the best of East and West – as the rest of the hotel does. I visit a lot of spas and I can say, hand on heart, that I don’t think I have ever seen treatment rooms like these before. Each room is its own fully-equipped spa, complete with huge soaker tub, steam room, fireplace, changing area, showers and relaxation area. Very impressive. I wish I could pretend that I am cooler than I am, but as I am not, I’ll confess that I WHOOPED when I saw it.
The first part of the treatment was a ten-minute steam. I love any massage that starts this way; your muscles warm up and the therapy is is much more beneficial. I steamed in my private cabin & then took a warm shower, wrapped myself in a robe and padded out to my therapist who’d prepared a herbal tea for me to enjoy while I chose which ‘element’ scented oil I preferred for my massage. I chose ‘water’ which she told me meant fluidity, travel and independence – exactly right for me. The combination of the different styles was superb, I felt positively boneless when I reluctantly left the couch an hour later. Just a great treatment. In fact, I felt so relaxed I couldn’t face dressing, so packed up my boots and all in spa gift bags, and wafted up to my room on the eleventh floor with a Mona Lisa-like smile on my face.
I had an impression of smooth crisp fine linens, a decadent bathroom with a gloriously waterfall-like shower and soaker tub, with a whole shelf of doo-dads and what-nots in the bathroom – combs and toothbrushes and all, but then I saw the bed and fell soundly asleep. Always the sign of a stellar massage. The need for unconsciousness immediately afterwards.
I woke to all that I moved to Vancouver for; that wonderful view of city, mountains & water. I sat on the edge of the huge bed and hugged myself with delight. I’d woken feeling refreshed and ready for action – and that meant dinner at MARKET by Jean Georges and afterwards a party to celebrate the release of the new Bond movie, Skyfall in the Xi Shi Lounge.
And so – to MARKET, honestly? Not the most exciting of rooms, maybe it’s the lighting? Dim, but not intimate, something felt off, and truthfully, the menu didn’t have me leaping with anticipation either. Its focus is on “reinventing classic dishes by infusing eclecticism”. Hmm, a burger with black truffle and Brie, soy-glazed short ribs with apple-Jalepeno puree and a lot of mushrooms seem to feature (not great for me with my raging mushroom allergy). I guess if I hadn’t been going to a slinky-dress party afterwards, I’d have dug in, embraced a loose waistband and had the beef tenderloin. But a slinky dress night it was, so I hit up a trio from the Raw Bar and planned to sample my date’s rack of lamb.
How lovely when your expectations are shattered; the food was perfect. Just wonderful. The tuna tartare with avocado, spicy radish and ginger dressing was one of the best things I’ve eaten. The flavours sung. So incredibly fresh and that perfect balance between spice and heat. The rice cracker-encrusted tuna was marvelous too and the oysters so good I’m afraid I had seconds. The lamb? Heaven. Perfectly pink and given an edge with a chili-crumb crust. I may have had more than my fair share. But I’m not changing my mind about the room, until I try lunch there in daylight, and see whether that makes a difference.
On to the party – I’d heard nothing but great things about bartender Jay Jones, who shakes it up at the Xi Shi Lounge – which would be because he’s rather superb at what he does. My new off-list love is a Last Word, a cheeky Prohibition-era blend of gin, green chartreuse, maraschino and fresh pressed lime juice. Jay whipped up one of the best I’ve had and, bless him, didn’t insist I stick to the evening’s Bond-a-licious creations, although, yes – I had to try the Vesper, of course… The night span past in a whirl of Bond themes, casino fun, glammed-up willowy women and towering Canadians in sharp suits. Hurrah!
Morning arrived with a sore head and (thank goodness) an in-room breakfast, complete with old-school warming cupboard so my much-needed eggs and bacon didn’t get cold. As I write this at home, I can see the Shangri-La through the rain clouds. If I squint I can just about see where the spa might be… how I wish I were there right now.
I stayed as a guest of the Shangri La, but my views are 100% my own. And I still wish I could go and live in that spa.
1: Wine dinners are good dinners
And no, not just because you get to try many different wines (although, yes – that is a bit of a bonus too) but because of how much you get to learn in a fun way. I went to the Tinhorn Creek winery dinner at Nita Lake Lodge‘s Aura restaurant. Over four mouthwatering courses, plus dessert, we sipped our way through Tinhorn Creek’s Oldfield series of wines and heard from their Viticulturist and Vineyard Manager, Andrew Moon on the fascinating process of what goes into creating the wines. Just two years ago I tried my first wine from the Okanagan in British Columbia, now I try hard not to drink anything else (did you even know that Canada made wine?! Alas, due to the industry’s current boutique size, they barely export at all. I suspect that in ten years time, Canada will be where Australian wines are now – everywhere and beloved). Tinhorn Creek was new to me, but I’ll be looking out for their wonderfully strawberry-ish Series 2 Bench Rosé and ambrosial Kerner Ice Wine from now on. Fact of the night for me, was learning how the Rosé was made, I had no idea that in cold seasons you can make great rose from Cabernet Franc grapes, so in colder years, you are likely to have more Rosé being made.
2: It’s called Crush for a reason
The Crush tasting gala takes place in Whistler’s Sea to Sky ballroom in the conference centre in the village. It’s a chance for dozens of wineries to show off what they do and it’s a great opportunity to work your way through a dream of a wine list, one sniff, swirl and sip at a time. Of course the key part to managing that without needing to be carried out is the all-important ‘spit’ bit at the end. If you swallow down dozens of different wines, well – you can guess the rest… I’ve come to the conclusion that either Whistler folk are just very polite and fear causing offense by spitting in public or they really like to drink… I got there on Saturday evening and didn’t see one ‘spit’ all night! Everyone was awfully happy though. The room was heaving, men in suits accompanied women in thigh-grazing minis and vertiginous heels as they clomped from table to table. Earnest conversations took place over swirling glasses between winemakers and wine-lovers. I tried a few wines, sticking as always to my Canada-only policy, I loved Inniskillin’s Pinot Grigiot – I’d only tried their ice wine from the Niagara peninsular in the east of Canada so was delighted to see that they had west coast Okanagan vines too. Pineapple-y and fresh this is another for my To Drink list…
3: Cooking demos always have great food
The Viking Stage Series of demos in the main foyer of the conference centre were great. If you love cooking shows then you’d love this. Chatty chefs cooking up a storm in front of you, explaining tips and tricks of the trade and then lovely, tasty samples coming out to the gathered crowd. Yum! I watched the Street Meet food truck chefs whip up heavenly sausage Arancini and pumpkin canollis which they paired with Vancouver’s Granville Island beers. Definitely a hot ticket and at $30 a great price to try something new.
4: When you put twenty champagnes in one room, people gon’ go cray-cray
Araxi‘s Bubbles and Oceans party is legendary in Cornucopia circles. One price, twenty different champagnes and sparkling wines and freshly shucked oysters and seafood canapes. “Go to the back room” everyone advised me. “The back is where it’s at”. So after queueing for 20 minutes in the minus 6 degrees chill, I tottered on frozen legs to the back room and found some rather delicious cavas and champagnes. The pours were generous and there was absolutely no question that there would be any spitting here at all! I wandered as best as I could through the packed restaurant to watch the live entertainment, Kytami, a new age “violinistextremist”, she was amazing and I’d love to see her in concert as it was tricky to thoroughly soak up her music over the cheery roar of the crowd. My advice on this is to come with friends and wear steel-toe capped boots. I have a bruised foot from some gal’s spindly heel who clobbered me in her rampage to grab some of the (admittedly delicious) shrimp!
5: Everything is more fun in a hat
Oh wow, how I love a tea party. And how much do I love tea-infused cocktails! So the blend of the two at the gorgeous Fairmont Chateau Whistler in its Mallard lounge was my idea of heaven. It was a sold-out event and I loved the effort that everyone had made. All the women had feathery fascinators or smart cocktail hats. The triple-layered tea tray made me so homesick for Brighton and tea at the Grand! Gorgeous little ham and cheese puffs, pink-hued sweet scones with just-right clotted cream and oh! The cocktails were great too. I tried a green-tea infused Martini which was perfect. Loved this event. It was the first time it has happened at Cornucopia and it’s definitely going to be coming back next year.
I travelled as a guest of Tourism Whistler, but my views are 100% my own.
The annual En Route Best New Restaurant awards came out recently and shockingly, didn’t have a single Vancouver restaurant on the list. I’ve realised in the few months that I’ve been in town that Vancouverites get very excited about new openings and each seems to be greeted as the Second Coming…
I get that.
New is exciting and everyone wants a new place to succeed, but me, I’m a little more excited about the classics.
With restaurant failure rates running high (around 60% fail within their first three years) to me, the definition of a successful restaurant is one that keeps people coming back for more, year after year. With that in mind, I wanted to raise a glass to West and its inspirational bartender, David Wolowidnyk who won Bombay Sapphire’s ‘World’s Most Imaginative Bartender Award’ for his Beldi cocktail earlier this year.
The gin is infused with saffron and ginseng, Martini Bianco cold-steeped with Green Tea and mint, add to that a cinnamon syrup, bitters and a toasted Coriander mist and you have a rightly world-class drink. I sniffed; a spicy whoosh of coriander, then drank and tasted mint and the green tea, before the warm cinnamon took over. Like a good perfume, this drink has layers; spicy and sweet then minty and aromatic. I love the lemon garnish – a star punched out of a thin peel to represent the Moroccan flag. It’s that kind of attention to the small details that make West a bar that you want to come back to again and again.
I love the bar, a cherry wood counter running along the side of the room adjacent to the restaurant. An old-fashioned library staircase rattles across the back wall as David and his team climb up and down, handing bottles to the waiting staff. It’s dark; it’s the kind of place you want a long, late lunch or dinner spent playing footsie under the table. Bottles, neatly arranged and under-lit glow like jewels. There’s a handsome list or you can ask David to make you something special, tell him what you’re in the mood for and see what he suggests. You will not be disappointed. West’s days of appearing on any ‘Best New…’ list disappeared a decade ago – and oh! How relieved they must be. Cheers to a Vancouver classic.
I’m slowly getting to know the different neighbourhoods around my new city, Vancouver. Yaletown is at the lower tip of the downtown core bordered by the water of False Creek, and the streets of Robson and Homer. It used to be a heavily industrial part of town, but now the warehouses and loading docks have been transformed. It reminded me a little of London’s Docklands in spirit; it seemed to be all about shiny shops and designer-y stores. My first impression (truthfully) was that Yaletown seemed a little… fake. A tad shallow, perhaps?
It’s lucky I don’t mind admitting when I’m wrong. Yet again, first impressions have proved deceiving. Turns out that Yaletown’s a sizzling hotbed of great little restaurants and bars. Independent business seem to thrive here and one way of showcasing that is in their celebration of food and drink, the Taste of Yaletown, an annual event where more than 20 restaurants offer three-course tasting menus for as little as $25.
I went along to the launch and got to try little bite-sized offerings from a few of the restaurants participating. It’s a brilliant way to get people to get out of their restaurant-rut and experience new places. With so many participants though I have to ask the organisers to think about extending this to a month. How else could I do all 23 in just ten days!?
As this is Vancouver, the innovative cocktail scene wasn’t going to be left out and a week later, Yaletown hosted a Shake Up cocktail contest with six of the local bars using a Bacardi rum as a base. I found many of them a little sweet for my taste, apart from the offering from Julia Diakow, from the New Oxford who’d made a gorgeous walnut-infused maple syrup creation, called 15th and Maple with Benedictine and apple cider.
Julia wound up winning honours that night, so yaaay for me, picking a winner. Looks like all those hard hours I put in on a bar stool weren’t in vain…