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


16
Aug 13

Squamish Fest 2013: sunshine, queues and a visit from the fun police…

Gorgeous location

Gorgeous location

They do music festivals differently here in beautiful British Columbia; surrounded by breathtaking mountains with blazing blue skies overhead. Half-way between Vancouver and Whistler, I’ve only ever driven through Squamish but now I’ve seen how beautiful it is, I think I may be making it a destination rather than a drive-through.

Ah. Off putting queues

Ah. Off putting queues

It was a line-up that batted well above its boutique festival status with big names like Macklemore & Lewis, Vampire Weekend and QOTSA headlining. One major difference between European festivals and BC ones seems to be the drinks licensing, unusually, if you wanted an alcoholic drink you had to have it in a fenced-off area. So – a queue to get into the beer area, then a queue to load up the smart-chip wristband as it was a cashless bar system and then – yup – another queue to buy the drink. I may be British but no one likes to queue that much! And I have to say that charging $2.50 each time you charge your wristband is not a ‘nominal amount’. It felt unfair and I’d really encourage the organisers to re-think this next year.

Enjoying Macklemore & Lewis from behind the beer garden fence

Enjoying Macklemore & Lewis from behind the beer garden fence

Price concerns aside, this was a magical festival: as the sun set over the mountains, watching Jurassic 5 go through their paces through a haze of smoke I loved the goofy good-natured atmosphere. There was a stylish Topshop area where you could stop by and get your hair and make-up made festival-fabulous, a definite Glastonbury-esque dress-up vibe with costumed stilt walkers and a glitzy gaggle of burlesque lawnmowers.

Burlesque lawn mowers

Burlesque lawn mowers

Plenty of kids had come dressed in Macklemore-esque thrift shop-style fake fur coats: I met a trio of good time-busting ‘Fun Police’ and best of all, had a huge hug from a guy dressed as a bear. You don’t get that in England! The festival next year is set to be the biggest in the Pacific North West with a 35,000 per day capacity. Keep an eye on their site for line-up announcements.

They want to take down your particulars

They want to take down your particulars


13
Aug 13

Introducing Vancouver’s Swiss Bakery Frissant

You’ve probably heard of the cronut – a croissant-doughnut hybrid created by Dominique Ansel for his bakery in New York City that has had foodies lining up around the block from before dawn to get their paws on the fried sugary treats.

Yeah. It's pretty damn big.

Yeah. It’s pretty damn big.

Well, New York is awfully far away to visit for a doughnut so thankfully Vancouver smarty-pants, the Swiss Bakery up on East 3rd Ave. by Main street have been beavering away and whipped up their own version: a frissant – a fritter-croissant amalgamation. I kept meaning to go and check them out but last week I got a furtive phone call from my lovely neighbour, Sean “Hey” he hissed, “I’m in the Swiss Bakery, I can get two of each – which frissant do you want, Hazlenut or Vanilla?”

I didn’t have to think twice. Vanilla please, and when are you coming back?

A box of bad decisions right there. Yum.

A box of bad decisions right there. Yum.

Half an hour later my door bell rang and up Sean came with the goods. Oh boy. I eagerly cut it in half, snapped a few pictures and dived straight in. Crisp and sugary on the outside, it was surprisingly light and fluffy on the inside. Not greasy whatsoever and you could see the flecks of vanilla bean in the piped-in filling: always a good sign.

Look! You can see that it's real vanilla.

Look! You can see that it’s real vanilla.

Sean had warned me that just one was like two doughnuts but I couldn’t just have half and leave it at that. Oh no! I gobbled the second half up and sighed with pleasure. Gorgeous. Of course, I felt kind of sick for half an hour afterwards and jittery with the rush of sugar but oh! It was worth it…

Get your frissant on: The Swiss bakery


12
Aug 13

New Truck in town: Aussie Pie Guy

July saw the launch of a new ‘pod’ of food trucks in Vancouver down by the Queen Elizabeth theatre. It’s a great spot – there’s a shaded seating area  and there’s usually three or four trucks to choose from. I wanted to give them a few weeks to settle in before popping by, but it’s been hard to wait as I heard one was an Australian pie truck; a decade ago, I spent time travelling around Australia and like most people who visit, fell madly in love with their pies! I had a chat with co-owner Kayleigh to find out how the first few weeks of launching a new truck had been going.

Aussie Pie Girls

Aussie Pie Girls

What’s been the biggest challenge so far
Biggest challenge has been figuring out what we’re doing! Our inventory was a problem from the first day, we had one guy in the kitchen and two of us in the truck – we couldn’t keep up – which was not a bad problem to have but the first day we sold out in an hour, which was awesome but we needed to find someone else for the kitchen immediately! That’s all sorted now though but it’s been a steep learning curve.

Where’s the Australian connection – because you sound suspiciously Canadian!?
There are three of us, Matt, one of the partners is from Perth. I travelled to Australia in 2011 and ate pies the whole time I was there – I was so in love with them and there are so many Aussies here in Vancouver and they all love pies too. That was our motivation, no one was doing this, we don’t have a food background, we just wanted to make a business together and we love the Aussie pies.

Vancouver loves its food to be fresh, seasonal, local and organic – how do your pies fit with that?
We try to get everything local, fresh and organic as much as we can. Especially with the proteins – meat, eggs – all from locals farms with free-range eggs. We see our egg guys at the farmer’s markets and I love being able to point at them and say they’re our supplier.  It’s fun working with the farmers, plenty of good relationships to build there.

Your basic piegasm

Your basic piegasm

How’s the QE pod working out?  
Everyone on this strip is new at this. We’re all learning from each other and telling each other which festivals and events are good, bouncing ideas off each other. There’s no rivalry, just so much support.

What would you tell anyone who wanted to get into working with food trucks?
It’s definitely hard work, I’m used to office life, this is physically hard work standing on your feet all day – we’ve got an oven going on in the truck and there’s no AC  – it sucks the energy out of you!  It’s exhausting but I knew what I was getting into – any start up is hard but I’m really enjoying it.

Pies glorious pies

Pies glorious pies

I adored the ‘Shane’s Pie’ that I tried made with free range BC beef short rib and veggies with a red wine jus and apricot hoisin sauce on creamy mashed potatoes. There are veggie choices too and even a ‘Hip pie’ – vegan and gluten free. I’ll be back soon to try their take on my favourite Australian pie of all – a beef, bacon and cheese variety that was introduced last week. Oh – and you absolutely have to buy a bottle of Bundaberg ginger beer to have with it; I used to be addicted to this stuff – spicy and so good! And you even get a free Tim Tam with each pie (an Australian chocolate biscuit). Bargain!

Find them: at the corner of Hamilton and West Georgia street. Online and on Twitter.


08
Aug 13

The best view in town: celebrating fabulous fireworks on English Bay

The sky over English Bay explodes with colour

The sky over English Bay explodes with colour

Every summer something kind of marvellous happens in Vancouver – not once, not twice – but three times: the annual Honda Celebration of Light competiton sets the sky over the English Bay ablaze with 25-minute soundtracked performances of fireworks from three competing nations. When I moved to my apartment here in December, I was told that I had a great view for the fireworks; they were not joking, ten days before the competition began, a barge appeared on the bay directly outside my balcony!

The United Kingdom kicked off on July 27 with a blistering James Bond-themed extravaganza that took in all the hits from Goldfinger to Skyfall, Canada went for their homegirl, Celine Dion belting out ‘What A Wonderful World’ on July 31 and Thailand closed on August 3 with a classical Thai music. I’m a sucker for a good firework display at the best of times, but to have three in the space of just over a week was extraordinary.

Great stuff from Great Britain (biased, me?!)

Great stuff from Great Britain (biased, me?!)

An estimated 1.2 million spectators attended the three-day event and – of course, because it’s Vancouver and they just do this stuff wonderfully – you couldn’t see a trace of them the morning after. The judges went with the loudest of the three displays – Canada  – who are this year’s winners.

Winter has its many attractions here with the North Shore mountains just half an hour away and Whistler close by, but oh – summer in this city is a winner too. Dates for the 2014 event will be announced by the end of September. You couldn’t pick a better time to visit than to watch these shows. Live music, a dazzling display by the Red Bull air show and fabulous atmosphere – see you next summer.

Kind of amazing to see how many boats gathered to watch it all

Kind of amazing to see how many boats gathered to watch it all


01
Aug 13

Adventures on Vancouver’s North Shore: Kayaking at Deep Cove

Get ready to take the plunge

Get ready to take the plunge

I’m not a sporty person. I fall too much. Slip over. Lose my balance and hurt myself. I’m a natural-born loser when it comes to competing with Vancouverites who seem to be always racing up mountains on the thigh-burning Grouse Grind, gracefully paddleboarding across the silky waters of English Bay or merrily gliding along on rollerblades. I may as well book myself a nice bed in hospital before even starting out on any of those. But it seems like I may have found a sport that even I can’t screw up: kayaking.

No one told me that it was possible to do exercise and enjoy a doughnut at the same time, yet that was precisely what I did half-way through my happy paddle along Indian Arm at Deep Cove. I thoughtfully bit into my glazed doughnut, paddle balanced across my kayak, and beamed with delight at the mountains soaring up before me, the hills green with dense woodland and the sea an endless midnight blue bobbing all around me.

The perfect view

The perfect view

I was anxious before I started. If anyone was going to wind up soaking wet, clinging to the kayak and embarrassed it was almost certainly going to be me, but I was told that no, it was ‘almost impossible’ to fall out of this kind of kayak (once I’d got over my initial fear I tried wriggling about to see just how true that was and I felt perfectly safe).

Getting from the kayak to the water was a concern but happily all I had to do was get comfy and settle myself inside it on the little beach by the water. I would be pushed into the water rather than having to try and shuffle down myself. The only ‘technical’ information was about the rudder which is controlled by your feet. You adjust little straps to bring the peddle close enough and then press right to turn right and left for left. Easy!

Look! Doing sport! (Doughnut out of sight).

Look! Doing sport! (Doughnut out of sight).

There’s a tremendous sense of accomplishment with kayaking, you can feel like you’ve got the hang of things incredibly fast. Within ten minutes I’d worked out that I could paddle in a circle, stop, go backwards – I felt like this was something that I could easily do again. And wow – what a place to do it.  I’d taken the ferry from the heart of Vancouver across to the North Shore – just a few minutes – but I was deep in dazzling nature after a brief car ride. Deep Cove is gorgeous: just beautiful. We’d stopped in at Honey’s to get doughnuts on the way to the kayak hire shop, later we’d enjoy a post-paddle feast of perfectly-crisp calamari and a garlicy humous with summery Aperol Spritzes at the Arms Reach Bistro. I may have been less than an hour away from the bustle of Vancouver but I felt I was on holiday. Feels like fun’s always a sure thing on the North Shore.

Reward for a good day kayaking.

Reward for a good day kayaking.

I paddled along as a guest of Vancouver’s North Shore tourism – but as ever – views are 100% my own. You should do this: it’s fun! 

Find out more:

Vancouver’s North Shore Tourism  

Deep Cove Canoe and Kayak


26
Jul 13

Blueberry season hits BC

Image

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.


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


19
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


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

 

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