restaurants


19
Nov 14

Get Your Skates on to Victoria

It’s winter in Canada so what are you going to do but enjoy the great outdoors? This year, Victoria’s Fairmont Empress hotel is hosting an outdoor skating rink on its front lawn, which faces out towards the harbour all strung with festive lights. There is something rather magical about skating outdoors and it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful background than the Empress. Special events include a Christmas Eve skating session with elves, hot cocoa and cider and Sunday skates with santa. Tickets are $10/$5 per session and skate hire is $5. The rink opens on Friday 20th November and runs till mid-January. Open from 5-9pm weekdays and 1-9pm weekends.

So, now you’re in Victoria, what else is there to do?

wiv2BREAKFAST:  Usually I’m not a doughnut fan, but Yonni’s Doughnuts at Discovery Coffee could be the one which changes my mind. I had a Honey Crueller, all eggy sweet and delicious, it matched perfectly with their Gob’s Magical Espresso blend. I took a bottle of the Cold Brew coffee home and had it for breakfast the next morning. Sure Cold Brew coffee may have more than a whiff of needless hipsterism about it but when it’s as buttery and chocolatey as this, well, call me a hipster and be damned.

wiv1LUNCH:  Oh hurrah! My all-time favourite Vancouver sandwich, the Meat & Bread porchetta is now available at their beautiful new location on Yates Street. Taking the idea of doing one thing and then excelling at it, Meat and Bread’s empire is gradually spreading and you know what? Good. They do things right: the bread is a custom-made ciabatta roll and the meat in their legendary porchetta sandwiches is the finest grain-fed, free-range pork from Two Rivers Meats. If businesses must become chains then at least let them operate on an ethical basis. And yes, I know that Meat and Bread also do other daily sandwich specials but after two years I’ve still not managed to go through the doors and say anything other than ‘Porchetta with extra crackling, please’.

WIV6TIME FOR TEA:  Silk Road Tea are based in Victoria’s Chinatown (the oldest in Canada! Take a look around on this Vine clip.), the creation of Tea Master Daniela Cubelic. I cannot say enough great things about this store! Going far beyond what you’d imagine a tea shop to sell, Silk Road have a wide range of beauty products (and an in-shop spa), shelves of wildly desirable tea paraphernalia –try going in and not immediately needing to own at least three tea pots, infusers and assorted pieces of cocktail ware – and best of all a long tasting table with comfy stools. I went to an iced tea event in the summer which was a blast and gave me so many ideas. This winter their free-to-attend workshop events include Winter Wellness classes, a tea jam-making event and learning about immune-boosting tea blends to ward off colds and flu.

wiv4DINNER:  Sure, there are plenty of great restaurants in Victoria but right now I am OBSESSED with the ambrosial brisket at Hanks Untraditional BBQ. This place is a tiny blink-and-you’ll-miss-it barbecue joint but oh my, it’s worth stopping in. All the meat comes from those super-ethical Two Rivers chaps and you can taste the quality in every bite. My recommendation? Have one of the platters with the cornbread, all warm and buttery from the oven. The pulled pork is amazing and the potato salad superb. Damn, I am actually drooling just writing this.

wiv5STAY:  With Veneto, one of the finest bars and restaurants downstairs and boasting a pole position slap bang in the heart of town, it’s hard to better the location of the Rialto. The rooms are both spacious and spotless and best of all, come with a pleasing raft of extras including free wifi, vouchers for coffee and pastry from the lobby cafe, and best of all, a voucher for a cheese plate at Veneto. Very cool! Oh, and the one thing that won me over completely? Ear plugs. Acknowledging that yes, they are a central hotel and so the street can get noisy is honest, but then immediately sorting that issue out is smart. I love that.

wiv3GET THERE:  I am obsessed with the float planes which whizz across the waters here in BC. I can see them soar above Stanley Park from my window and it’s always a fantastic day if I know that I’m going to be onboard Harbour Air. My advice? Don’t hang back and be polite. Immediately ask the pilot is there’s a chance that you could sit up front, as sometimes there is a spare seat and it’s the best view in the house! If not, don’t fret, you’ll still be amazed by the view from the windows. Top tip: at the Vancouver terminal downtown you can score free espresso-based drinks and tea, as well as a muffin or fruit when you present them with your boarding pass. Also, the Victoria terminal seems to have a penchant for playing excellent 80s music. Prepare to rock out before take off.

MORE INFO:

Tourism Victoria

 

 


19
Aug 13

Gastown Eating adventures: Bambudda

Drinking rose-floral cava-y Fitzgerald cocktails and enjoying the late-evening sunshine. Officially the best new fun in Gastown

Drinking Fitzgerald cocktails and enjoying the sunshine. Officially the best new fun in Gastown

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.

Oh. My. God. Chicken skin of pure crunchy deliciousness

Oh. My. God. Chicken skin of pure crunchy deliciousness

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.

Mr Bambudda, Ray Loy and Buck Friend on bar duties

Mr Bambudda, Ray Loy and Buck Friend on bar duties with my new favourite Tsui Hang cocktail

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.

Yin and Yang.

Yin and Yang.

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

Website: Bambudda.ca

Twitter: @bambuddagastown

Facebook: www.facebook.com/Bambudda


25
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


17
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

 


10
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


7
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


1
Jul 13

Two things I Just Remembered Which Utterly Delighted Me About the Four Seasons in Toronto

This is very silly and completely brilliant.

This is very silly and completely brilliant.

1. They have the most gloriously bonkers watering system in their garden. Really. It’s a giant – and amusingly effective – misting device. I saw it working and raced to run through it. Pleasingly refreshing, I felt as though I had plunged into an 80s music video as I was suddenly obscured from view by the clouds of mist. Fantastic! Cute design and I loved the metal cut-outs of flowers too.

I'm having serious problems trying to NOT lick the screen right now

I’m having serious problems trying to NOT lick the screen right now

2. I had breakfast at Cafe Boulud and tried the absurdly decadent duck confit hash. This is a crazy thing to eat first thing in the morning but oh, damn – it was brilliant. Just fabulous. The duck confit was as meltingly-perfect as you would ever wish a confit to be, the hash – mysteriously – not really what I’d call a hash at all. Instead eggily-yellow Yukon potatoes – that were surely part-butter – rested under the tangle of duck with two free-range eggs on top. I am drooling just thinking about how wonderful it all was when the yolk met the duck and the potatoes. If you are in Toronto you really should go and have this. It’s fabulous.

I travelled as a guest of Toronto Tourism and the Four Seasons – but as ever – 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


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


10
May 13

In which I get all fan girl-ish about Organic Ocean’s Steve Johansen… and eat a LOT of Spot Prawns

So... these are mine. What are YOU having?

So… these are mine. What are YOU having?

If there was any kind of polite or non-insulting way to compare someone to ‘Moby Dick’ I would absolute declare that right now, I feel a little like Captain Ahab. For the past four years I’ve heard tales of this mythical character who roams the oceans… I’ve listened to stories about him from every single great chef I’ve met in Canada and I’ve gleefully cleared my plate whenever one of his fish has been on it. So when I realised that the ‘Steve’ I was sitting next to tonight at dinner was Steve Johansen from Organic Ocean I had this sudden flash of fan-girl Ahab-ness, but there the metaphor kind of breaks down because A) he’s the fisherman and really, B) you can’t call someone ‘Moby Dick’ and hope to not be slapped in the face with a haddock next time they see you – but I hope you see my hideously laboured point? You do? In that case, I’ll go on…

I’ve been so inspired by Steve’s vision of sustainable fishing; it simply wasn’t something I gave a lot of thought to before but the more I stay here in Vancouver eating the freshest, most seasonable produce and learning more from the excellent folk at Ocean Wise about sustainable fishing, the more I see he’s quite the visionary.

The A Team

The A Team

I’ve been reading and hearing about the Spot Prawn festival for so long and this weekend I’ll finally get to experience it. I quizzed Steve about starting it along with Chef Robert Clark seven years ago: “For years almost all our Spot Prawns went to Japan, and here we were in BC eating farmed Tiger Prawns – all exported.” he said, rolling his eyes, “Robert and I were talking one winter and he said,  ‘I want these prawns to stay here.’ So we came up with the idea of the Spot Prawn festival. The first year there were 300 people, last year there were 2500 people. People love the idea of a local sustainable seafood and these prawns right here,” (he jabs the glistening silver-pink raw prawn on his plate for emphasis) “They were caught just six miles from this table.”

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans - so apologies for this not-great image!

I was booted out of the way by iPhone-waving seafood fans – so apologies for this not-great image!

He’s right – it’s a great story and one that Chef Ned Bell is telling from the kitchen at the Four Seasons Yew Restaurant. I’d been invited along to taste the very first of the season, and for once being late paid off for me, I skittered across the steps by the hotel just in time for the first catch of Spot Prawns to come in. There were TV crews there, hordes of eager photographers all to snap the first sight of the Spot Prawns. Steve and his fellow fisherman Frank bounded out of the back of the truck with their haul and raced inside to the kitchens with the chefs.

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

Quivering slightly and translucent, the raw ones tasted candy-sweet

We were treated to five courses of table-bangingly wonderful food – a joint venture between the chefs Clark and Bell that was a deft masterclass in showcasing wrigglingly-fresh ingredients. I ate raw candy-sweet Spot Prawns and Thai-style pickled ones with a peanut-y crunch, spiked with mint. I could have happily inhaled a satin-smooth pea soup made rich with prawns cheerily bobbing under the surface and spangled with salty crisp fork-shatter bacon. But best of all, a ‘Surf ‘n’ Surf’ where Spot Prawns met the most juicy succulent halibut and basically made out all over my plate.

Oh. My. God.

 

Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

Thai-style with an un-Thai like (but perfect) Mascarpone-lime swirl

There are just a few short weeks of the Spot Prawn season, Yew are running a ‘Fans & Followers‘ five course menu from Saturday May 11th till Friday May 31st. Dive in; it will be wonderful.

I was a guest of Yew but – as ever – my words are 100% my own. I loved this. Really, really loved it.

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