Posts Tagged: bars

Jul 13

Toronto Adventures: where to drink

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

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

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

The fantastically talented Sarah Parniak @s_Parns

The fantastically talented Sarah Parniak @s_Parns

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

The ultimate 'local' Toronto dive bar

The ultimate ‘local’ Toronto dive bar

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

Cash only at The Embassy

Cash only at The Embassy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find out more: Toronto Tourism

Nov 12

Food and drink adventures in Yaletown

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?

As you can imagine, this disappeared fairly swiftly…

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’d never seen this before: aburi flame-seared sushi from Minami

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!?

It tasted just as good as it looks.

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.

The winner! Thanks so much to Ariane Colenbrander for this great image.

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…

Oct 12

Cocktail adventures in Victoria

There are few things that make me happier than discovering new ways to get pleasantly tipsy, which means that two days at Victoria’s Art of the Cocktail festival ( had me walking around with a silly grin on my face the whole time.



Bartenders, as a breed, tend to be playful types. Get a bunch of them from as far afield as the USA, Holland and the UK in the same city together, then stir in distillers, premium spirit companies, small-batch artisan spirits makers and a gang of devoted cocktail fans and you have a guaranteed recipe for mayhem. Add to that seminars and parties spread over three days in a gorgeous city and you can see why the Art of the Cocktail is my new favourite festival and I’m already wondering when I can get my ticket for next year’s event.


Here are the five things I got most excited about…

1. Cocktails and food pairings. Over at the Fairmont Empress Bengal Lounge booth, I tried a superb combo of an Apricot Summer Haze (Apricot puree, Finlandia vodka, Grand Marnier and Stellar’s Jay) served with a selection of Vancouver Island cheeses and the Fairmont Empress’s own honey. I’m going to look out for somewhere I can have a cocktail-matched menu in the same way that you have wine-paired meals. If you know of somewhere – tell me!


2. Tea in cocktails. I attended an excellent seminar hosted by Daniela Cubelic from Silk Road Tea (, and Solomon Seigel, an award-winning bartender from Fire & Water in the Victoria Marriott. For me this was one of the most exciting sessions of the weekend. Solomon is a self-confessed tea-geek and it’s glorious to be in a room with someone who so clearly loves his subject and really goes that extra mile to discover amazing flavours. Tea frozen into ice cubes with vodka, tea made into a simple syrup and blended, tea-infused cocktails that have been forced carbonated… I am so inspired by this and can’t wait to start experimenting at home.


3. Artisan small-batch fruit liqueurs. Usually I’m no fan of liqueurs, they either taste syrupy or have too strong a punch of alcohol. Then I tried the Okanagan Spirits ( Raspberry liqueur. It was the purest burst of fruity flavour imaginable. Sunshine in a shot glass. I want to visit them and see what else they do. And then drink it.


4. Victoria Spirits Oaken Gin. I’m already a raving fan of the brilliant Victoria Spirits ( and their gin, so I was excited to visit them to see how they distilled and what new projects they were working on. Their barrel-aged gin is superb. It has a more complex, deeper flavour and it’s another spirit that I really want to experiment with to see how it works in cocktails.


5. I was taken out to the Sea Cider ( farm in Saanichton for lunch and adored it. It really reminded me of a Basque cider house and the long flight of their eight different ciders that I tried really impressed me with the huge variety of products; from light apple-y blends and cloudy scrumpy-ish brews through to a perfect honey-ish Pomona that will pair perfectly with cheese, like an ice wine.

I travelled as a guest of Tourism Victoria – however, my views are 100% my own.


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