This is the EXPLORE page, where Ticket to Tasty will transport your senses to the most mouth-watering places on the planet!
- A CUTE INVITE: Send this out at least two weeks prior to the event since the holidays get booked up quickly. There are tons of stylish, free e-card designs on celebrations.com
- DECORATIONS: We bought some beautiful and affordable paper stars to hang above the bar, festive napkins, cute cookie take-away bags and matching gold-rimmed cocktail glasses.
- A CLASSY COCKTAIL: We made a big batch of cosmopolitans inspired by the recipe in Ina Garten’s book, Foolproof and they were a holiday hit! The best part is, you can make it in advance and shake one up for each Guest over ice when they arrive. Find the recipe here.
- SAVOURY BITES: We opted to make a few tasty appetizers to balance off our sweet treats with some savoury nibbles. We made sausage stuffed mushrooms, coconut shrimp and a veggie platter.
- A ROCKIN PLAYLIST: We chose to set the tone with Lauren Conrad’s holiday playlist on Songza and it was a winner.
- AN AMAZING BATCH OF COOKIES! Choose a family favourite or try a new recipe, and coordinate with your pals so you don’t get duplicates. Also, if your friends aren’t bakers, make sure they know it’s OK to bring a store-bought batch. We hear Santa likes a wide variety!
By CALEIGH HALL
Every November Toronto hosts the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo bringing together oenophiles and foodies alike. Ticket to Tasty’s Justine and I had the chance to get in on the action on opening night, and as first-timers, we learned a lot about how to maximise this event without feeling completely and utterly overwhelmed! Our top tips for next year’s show? Read ‘em here:
1. Coat Check – Groan. We know it is annoying to wait in line and pay for someone to hang up your coat, but trust us, its a zoo at the expo and your jacket becomes a nuisance when you’re trying to balance a glass of wine and a delicious cheese sample. Check it.
2. Sample tickets – there are multiple stations around the expo to buy these, so don’t bother waiting at the booth just off the escalator. Buy them at the back and laugh at the other folks in line while you sip on your wine!
3. Food Picks – arrive hungry, but don’t get trigger happy upon arrival. Justine and I shared an extremely mediocre, dry prosciutto panini form San Danielle, and then came across the likes of crab cakes, pad thai and pulled pork. Avoid buyers remorse and hold out for the good stuff!
4. Everyday Wine Picks – It’s mostly the big wine companies that come to this event, so do a bit of research ahead of time, and find out which big names you want to try to store as classic, everyday vino in your kitchen (e.g. Kim Crawford, Ruffino, Cupcake, etc.).
5. Vintages – Justine and I found that while the expo was a great chance to try everyday-priced brands, it was an even greater opportunity to try some higher ticket wines at the Vintages station. There, they stock bottles between $17 and $300, and really, when else are you going to get to try a bottle of that caliber? Bite the bullet, pay the tickets and try some extra special wines. They’re expensive for a reason – they were our favourite, most memorable glasses of the evening!
Justine and I left feeling fulfilled, but there were definitely some clear winners and stations to avoid. Here are our top picks and ones to miss:
This wine was medium-bodied and fruity with notes of smoke and dark fruit. It would be the perfect bottle to accompany an Italian dinner with friends.
A bottle to Invest in – La Porta di Vertine Chianti Classico Riserva 2008. $49.00
Think dark cherries, mint and spices all melding together in a mind-blowing melt-in-your-mouth flavour. The person pouring it called it a “wine of character.” ‘Nough said.
Best Bite – Mini Crab Cakes from E11even
These crab cakes were meaty with some Asian nuances that made them super savoury.
Best dessert – Vegan brownie from Feel Good Guru
This small brownie packed a punch of rich, chocolaty flavour that left nothing to be desired. It was a sweet end to a tasty evening.
ONES TO MISS
Fell flat – Santa Julia Organic Brut Sparkling Wine. $14.95
Oh we so, so, so wanted to like this one. It was organic, cheap, and sparkling, but alas, was just too good to be true. This sparkling wine was super sweet and the bubbles dissipated quickly. The fact that the tasting card calls out “banana” as a dominant flavour is just wrong.
Dry dud – San Danielle prosciutto Panini
Not only was this Panini boring and dry as the desert, the people serving it were even worse. One server shoved a Panini in his mouth ahead of a paying customer. Eek!
With 38,000 guests in attendance every year and 1,500 wines, spirits and beers to try, it’s no surprise that this event is one to look forward to. The triple T gives the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo a huge thumbs, so keep it on your social agenda to eat, drink and be merry in 2014!
By JUSTINE FROSTAD & CALEIGH HALL
Smoked salmon, dill, flour, sugar, butterscotch chips; as we drove up north we couldn’t help but recite our shopping list for the first annual Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at Camp Cucumber. Hosting any gathering requires planning, but this party has a special meaning to us, so we wanted to make sure everything from the invitations to the menu was spot-on.
Since 1990, Camp Cucumber has provided a week-long summer camp in Minden, Ontario, for single mothers on social assistance and their children aged 5-13. Simply put, camp is expensive, and the incredible leaders behind Camp Cucumber want these families to have the opportunity to leave the stress of everyday life behind and enjoy quality time in the Canadian north. Just being there for one day was enough time to see how much this awesome group of women and children appreciate the camp and staff. We were honored when Camp Cucumber’s Art Director, Jen Werry, asked for our help in creating this magical day she dreamed up for this year’s group of women.
One our favourite tea houses of all time is Alice’s Tea Cup in NYC. Together we have shared countless memories there, often tucked at a corner table with friends and high towers of delicious treats and warm tea. We definitely drew on our experiences from Alice’s for inspiration when we were crafting the menu for this Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Here’s what we came up with:
~ Buttermilk scones (classic!)
~ Banana butterscotch scones (soon-to-be-classic!)
~ Lemon poppyseed cakes with vanilla frosting
~ Tea-bag-shaped sugar cookies, dipped in chocolate
~ Party sandwiches; cucumber and salmon, both with dill cream cheese
~ A selection of teas including Organic Peppermint, Vanilla Rooibos and Cream of Earl Grey, all donated by David’s Tea in Toronto ♥ ♥ ♥ A HUGE THANK YOU FOR THIS GENEROUS DONATION! ♥ ♥ ♥
Baking up a storm at the cottage the day before was so much fun. Blasting Jack Johnson’s classic album In Between Dreams, we danced around the kitchen, cutting, mixing, melting, stirring, and all the while looking forward to the big day. A hot summer day got hotter with the oven working its magic so we took a quick dip in the cool lake as our bake break.
The big day arrived and we had the air conditioner on full blast as we drove over to the camp, ensuring our baked goods didn’t continue to bake in the car on the ride over. When we arrived we transformed a part of the dining hall into a place worthy of celebrating these mothers and all that they are doing to better the lives of their children and themselves.
Tickets-in-hand, the ladies gathered outside for their entrance challenge: a game of blindfolded croquet with the Queen of Hearts! Once the challenge was complete it was on to tea time and as they walked through the door they were greeted with a sprinkle of fairy dust – another cue from our beloved Alice’s Tea Cup! The mums decorated hats the day before and looked tea-party-pretty as they shared stories and scones around the table.
Near the end of the tea party, each mum was given a pink piece of paper in the shape of a heart and asked to write down one thing she loves about herself. One-by-one the women stood up and shared what they wrote. We were so touched to be a part of those special declarations. Seeing everyone support each other as they overcome a lot of challenging situations reminded us of the true importance of gathering with the ones you love. Home-making a meal and setting the scene with fun decorations and centerpieces is certainly special and a lovely effort for your guests, but the real meaning comes from the people you bring to the table and the memories you make there.
Lots of love! Justine & Caleigh
Special thanks to Jen Werry, Patti Thompson, Diane McQuaig, the incredible kitchen staff and, of course, all the awesome mums we got to host!
By CALEIGH HALL
After Fes it was on to the desert! This was by far one of the highlights of the trip. We got to experience the rolling, orange sand dunes by camel-back, and slept in the desert with our Berber nomad tour guides. Seeing the sunrise and sunset in the middle of nowhere really gave us an appreciation for how beautiful Morocco can be.
After continuing our tour for 2 more days, Josh and I wound up in Marrakech. This was by far the most developed city on our travels, and for that reason it was a nice place to end the trip. We explored the markets, finally got to indulge in some wine (since 98.7% of the country is Muslim and doesn’t drink), and relaxed at Hotel Almas by the pool. We ended the trip just as we had started, sipping on “Moroccan Whiskey,” a.k.a sugary mint tea and taking in the sights and sounds. I would recommend Morocco as a travel destination to anyone with an adventurous spirit. It is certainly a trip that Josh and I will never forget!
By CALEIGH HALL
March was a whirlwind of a month for my boyfriend Josh and I. I was in the throws of exams for culinary school, he was studying for his own exams, and we were faced with packing up our entire London lives in anticipation of moving home to Toronto (by the way, isn’t moving the worst?). By the time March 26th hit we were ready to escape London for a while to enjoy the sights and sounds of somewhere new and foreign. Morocco was our destination of choice as it was relatively close to London, and offered a completely diverse set of places to visit – everything from seaside to the desert.
We started our trip in Tangier which is at the top of Africa, and on a clear day you can wave across the Strait of Gibralter and see their neighbour, Spain. We opted to hire a “tour guide” (i.e. we hopped in a cab and got the full coastal tour for $20). This was ideal, as it would have been impossible to see the little towns and attractions around Tangier otherwise. We liked Tangier, but didn’t love it. The main highlight was our beautiful boutique hotel called Dar Nour, and their restaurant with a scenic view in the medina called Le Salon Bleu. There we enjoyed Morocco’s traditional cuisine for the first time: Tagine with couscous. This was one of our favourite Tagines of the trip, as it was flavourful, fall-off-the-bone and offset by delicious roasted almonds and olives.
The actual setting of the restaurant was visually stunning as well. They had hundreds of cactus silk spools stacked in the wall to make this beautiful blue backdrop to our meal. A big hit of the trip!
What we found at Dar Nour as well, were beautiful rooms that could inspire any artist (apparently Matt Damon has stayed there!), and a wonderful free breakfast which you come to appreciate when you’re out walking all day. They had the traditional bread, eggs, delicious Moroccan dried and fresh fruits, and freshly squeezed O.J. Boy, did we miss this when we moved on from Tangier!
Next we set off to Fes on the train which took about 4 hours. We had read that Fes was “the soul” of Morocco, and we soon figured out why. It is literally like taking a step back in time to a place that actively chose not to evolve, and to keep their traditional ways alive. Josh and I arrived in the rain to the hustle and bustle of the medina, which after a peaceful time in Tangier left us feeling a bit shell-shocked. After a couple of days in Fes, however, we started to find our groove and really enjoyed the tour from a local that showed us through the maze of alleyways and all the different trades. These included Fes’ tanneries, intricate woodworking, and carpet/scarf makers. Josh even had a chance to be a Saharan desert nomad in his blue head scarf for all of 2 minutes…
We found refuge at Cafe Clock which was an oasis from the winding streets and passageways of Fes. We ended up coming back to this place again and again because of their wonderful hospitality and their delicious food. Over the course of our time there, we got to try the Tabbouleh and Falafel, Lamb Burger and Cafe Clock’s famous specialty… Camel burger!
…To be continued…
By DAISY MIERS
Pizza Express, 99 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6LF
I recently attended my first Calzone Master Class at Pizza Express. They are adding their first calzone to the menu and we spent an evening learning the principles behind the ‘perfect calzone,’ which was followed by a hands-on lesson.
Meet Antenor – the Development Chef at Pizza Express. Originally from Brazil, Anternor moved over to the UK unable to speak any English and took up any job he could in a restaurant. During his time in London, he has taught himself English and is the top man at Pizza Express in the country. He can also make a ‘perfect calzone’ in less than 2 minutes. Yes, I know ladies, it’s impressive.
The principles behind making a calzone are quite simple; you need lots of flour to stretch the dough, spread out your ingredients evenly, and keep the seam thin while folding over so the filling can take center stage and you will want to savour every last bite, which we did! The calzone that has been added to their menu is prosciutto and pesto. It is full of ham hock, garlic mushrooms, roasted red onion, mozzarella, Grana Pandano, baby spinach and a homemade gruyere, parmesan and pesto sauce. Yum!
You begin by stretching your dough. Start with it in a ball and press down from the top to bottom with your fingers, slowly pulling it away and stretching it to a larger circle. A rolling pin is used to thin it out even more. Place it on a round cooking tray and it should cover it perfectly. Next, add the mushrooms, making sure they are spaced out and only on half of the dough. Then add the ham hock, red onions, mozzarella, Grana Pandano and pesto sauce. Use half of the parmesan and a little oregano, salt and pepper.
Now the tricky part - slightly moisten the bottom edge (the one with all the fillings) with some water. Take the edge of the dough from the half without the toppings and fold quickly over the filling. Line it up with the bottom edge and press firmly down with your fingers to ensure that it is sealed all the way around. This next step is the one to master – you need to fold over in a tight little twist from one corner to the other. This keeps the seam thin and makes sure the calzone is closed tight so that the filling can steam and the calzone can puff properly. Cover with some oil and sprinkle with the remaining Grana Pandano.
The spacing between the ingredients is the key to making sure the heat gets into all the spaces. Pop into a very hot oven (around 400 degrees) and let the magic happen. To be sure we had the proper experience, Pizza Express had us try a calzone made by their pizzaiolos, airing on the side of caution that perhaps our calzones wouldn’t turn out quite as well. However, they should have had more faith as all the calzones puffed up and turned out quite well! Although, the more calzones the merrier.
The calzone was absolutely scrumptious. The pesto and cheese melt, becoming all gooey, the ham, mushrooms and onions are all soft and superb. I definitely recommend this combination to anyone heading to Pizza Express. Another one of my favourite additions to the menu at Pizza Express is their polenta chips, which are served as a starter or side. They are lightly fired in a rosemary herb batter and served with a honey mustard sauce – a terrific pairing. Overall, this evening was a fun way to learn about the thought that goes into adding new menu items and, of course, taste the new additions!
By DAISY MIERS
Ponti’s ~ 5-7 John Princes Street, Oxford Circus, London W1G 0JN
Tucked behind the hustle and bustle of Oxford Circus, you run into a beautiful Italian restaurant on John Prince’s Street – Ponti’s. There are a few around London, and what makes Ponti’s so special is its’ commitment to its heritage. Originating in Piacenza, in the Emilia Romagna region, they make sure to have as many regional ingredients as possible, along with techniques and methods of cooking from that area, to be sure they are providing an authentic Italian food experience. You can Meet the Family and chat with the amazing Maitre D, Ricardo, who can show you all the photos of the family around the restaurant.
They are passionate and committed to the exceptional food of the region. Dishes are simple and prepared using the freshest quality ingredients with twists on traditional classics. Several dishes are denoted with the DOP logo, the official mark which certifies that the products are genuine speciality products from the region. So, the Parma Ham is from Parma and nowhere else.
I spent beautiful London evening trying the new menu at Ponti’s, along with learning to make my own pizza! The night was appropriately named ‘Pizza School,’ but by the time we actually came to create our own pizzas – I was bursting. We arrived at Ponti’s restaurant and were greeted with a glass of Prosecco from the Emilia Romagna region, which is where Ponti’s originated. We then mingled for a bit while eating delicious olives and sipping our prosecco. From there, we took our seats and cue the food.
Their menu of starters may inspire you to create your own versions for your next get together…
- Antipasti skewers – olives, sun blushed tomatoes, Parma ham and buffalo mozzarella. Served with a homemade pesto
- Fritto misto – lightly dusted king prawns & baby squid, deep fried until crispy & serves with lemon mayonnaise
- Cheese wrapped in Parma ham (new for fall) – Scarmoza smoked cheese wrapped in Parma ham with a light sage butter served with Italian focaccia bread Mini bruschetta on chargrilled Altamure bread. Served with Mediterranean vegetable caponata and another, vine ripened cherry tomatoes, mozzarella di buffalo & rocket
- Scallops (new for fall – my absolute favourite) – pan seared scallops wrapped in Parma ham and cooked in a light garlic butter with a side of warm focaccia bread
- King Prawn (new for fall) – pan cooked king prawns infused in garlic butter, fresh parsley and warm focaccia bread
- Pollo Rosmarino (new for fall) – pan cooked rosemary marinated chicken breast, char grilled vegetables, wilted spinach & pesto
Needless to say – everything was absolutely delicious. The scallops in particular were cooked perfectly. The garlic butter and focaccia were also heavenly. After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves full of their entire starter menu, while sipping on delicious crisp white wine and robust red, served in bowls, the main event for the evening kicked off: making your own pizza. We were shown how to get the perfect pizza dough, rolling secrets and how to get just the right amount of sauce and toppings.
The options for toppings were their house tomato sauce, mozzarella, goats cheese, sun blushed tomatoes, basil and EVOO cherry tomatoes, salami, chillies, onions, rocket, mushrooms and olives. Once you had created your masterpiece, it was taken and placed in their impressive pizza oven where you were able to watch the magic unfold. It took under 5 minutes in their oven and the results were incredible… still dreaming of my perfect pizza.
by CALEIGH HALL
DSTRKT ~ 9 Rupert Street London W1D 6DG, United Kingdom
The Place: In the heart of the bustling Piccadilly neighbourhood lies Dstrkt – a swanky restaurant by day, and base-bumping club by night. George Yaneff (formerly of Bazaar Restaurant by the famous Jose Andres and SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills) is at the reigns of this glamorous venue, and has created a wonderful a la carte and tasting menu that rises to the interior decor. If you’re not dining at Dstrkt, then you might be there sipping drinks into the early hours with the likes of Drake, Rhianna, and Jay-Z who have all frequented this hot spot.
The Mood: Dstrkt has a distinct air about it. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s underground, or that the walls are draped in black and candles are lit everywhere. Whatever the decor may be, you just can’t deny the amazing “theatre” affect of the kitchen being open and within sight from your table. All I can say is, make sure you put a little bit of effort into what you look like before coming here…you’ll be happy you did!
The Service: The service was very attentive, but junior at the same time. You could see a lot of the pretty young waitresses (obviously good looks was a qualifier in the interview process), getting coached by the maitre d and finding their groove with the timing of the meal. Overall though, the staff were pleasant and helpful in explaining each dish.
The Drink: Since this restaurant turns into a nightclub after dinner service, the cocktail menu abounds – and I love it. Among the extensive list of aperitifs, my dear friend Carolyn and I tried the champagne with elderflower and lemon, as well as a gin cocktail infused with raspberries, soda, and essence of lime. The cocktail menu is about as long as the wine menu with in-house creations, so it’s worth it to come a bit early and enjoy some bubbly before the meal.
The Food: Dstrkt offers an a la carte menu of small plates, or you can get the chef’s tasting menu for 55 pounds per person. Our table opted for the tasting menu to really make a night of it, and to be honest, everything we wanted to try was on the tasting menu so it was worth it to go all-in. We were not disappointed. Not only did all of the courses come out perfectly timed together, but the combination of each course was well balanced and complimented each other brilliantly. We started with a Sevruga caviar blini which was melt in your mouth, which was then followed by the seafood course. This included Devon crab cakes with garlic yogurt sauce, seared Scottish sea scallops with sweet pea puree and lemon and wild sea bass & confit baby fennel. The highlight of this course by far were the yellow fin tuna cubes with soy “air” and avocado mousse.
On our next course we enjoyed the grilled flatbread with macadamia nut pesto immensely as well as the sauté pardon pepper with a sherry vinegar reduction. The men at the table were ecstatic when the Scottish rib eye steak came out, but the one that stole the show in this course was the Truffle potato gnocchi with cheddar espuma, chives and nutmeg. I swear, I have never had a richer more delicious gnocchi in my life.
Dessert was a bit of a disappointment, but after eating 11 other courses we weren’t too upset about that. You definitely come here for the mains, and may as well have another glass of wine for dessert.
The Cost: 55 pounds per person for the tasting menu, and between 7-15 pounds per tasting dish. A bit expensive, but reasonable enough for a swanky spot like this.
The Rating: 4/5 All things considered, a friendly staff, delicious meal and sumptuous bevies make this a meal to remember if your’e looking for a special occasion.
* Interior photos of the restaurant space courtesy of Dstrkt.
by CALEIGH HALL
Weslodge 480 King Street West, Toronto Ontario, M5V 1L7
The Place: Weslodge Saloon is the latest King West mega-restaurant from owners Hanif Harji and Charles Khabouth (from such entertainment hot spots like This is London and Guvernment). The intention of the restaurant is clear – to build Toronto’s only upscale saloon for the bankers and clubbers who want to kick back and drink some libations. With it’s two stories and sectioned off areas, you can tailor your experience to whatever you’re in the mood for, including a long beautiful dark wood bar, big booths for drinks and dinner with friends, or a dining area upstairs for private events.
The Mood: This place is buzzing with all walks of downtown life. You have your Harry Rosen-clad I-bankers that are there for the after work whiskeys, short-skirt clubbers looking for some bevvies before the bar and the 20-30 somethings out for date night with their friends. On top of that you have some of the baby-boomers there who feel comfortable in the tavern-like setting. The brilliance of the Saloon theme is that it attracts all different types of people, making the feeling there a bit less pretentious then you would expect from a King West eatery.
The Service: The servers are professional, educated on the menu, and just downright nice. All of them don jeans, simple white shirts and leather tool belts and gun holsters making the experience more informal and on-theme. Our server was attentive and very helpful with the menu, suggesting his favourites and bringing the food in a timely manner. Not only did he take care of us, but the managers also checked in on our meal to ensure we were having a great experience. The restaurant’s saloon theme may be casual, but the service is polished.
The Drink: The spirit list is lengthy, proving that Toronto’s cocktail and dark liquor trend is here to stay – at least for now! Interestingly, you can order cocktails by the glass or by the bottle, including their most popular menu items: Negronis for $14 a glass or $120 by the bottle, Tobacco Manhattan (using a house tabacco tincture) for $17 a glass or $175 per bottle, or the Smoking Poncho for $19 a glass. On top of that the restaurant offers 31 different whiskeys and a well-rounded wine list of old and new world wines. These great wines do come at a price though – starting at about $14 a glass or $55 a bottle.
The Food: Well-seasoned, rich and delicious – this menu has something for everyone, yet still manages to stay on-theme with it’s saloon roots. On this evening TTT founder Justine and I decided to enjoy 4 different dishes from the appetizer and sides menu and couldn’t help stealing bites from each other’s plates. To start we dined on Bison Tartar with chiles, thinly sliced cornichons and sprouts served with sourdough toasts ($15) and a Scallop appetizer with lentils, a caper vinaigrette and chanterelle mushrooms. The former had a great balance of acidity, and pure meatiness enhanced with an infused oil, but the scallop unfortunately came out a bit overdone, despite its delicious accompaniments. After that Justine and I enjoyed the Jerusalem Artichoke Salad (an entirely underrated and underused veggie in my books) and the Asparagus Puff Pastry ($10 and $6 respectively). While both were delicious, the Asparagus Puff Pastry really stood out using a delicious seasonal ingredient (asparagus), with a light ricotta infused with lemon zest. Puff pastry can be heavy at times, but this one was not – it was light and filling all at once.
The Cost: Unless you’ve got the corporate visa or it’s a special night out, you might want to find another saloon in the city to hang your cowboy hat. Mains ranged from $17-$32, and drinks can easily rack up the bill. Dinner for two with a bottle of wine and 4 appy’s/sides came to $130 (before tip.. eek!). But my spidey-sense says that most of the patrons frequenting this spot aren’t concerned about the bill.
The Rating: 3/5 Great food and friendly service – but just not worth the price to make it a weekly destination. Try drinks before the bar instead.
by JUSTINE FROSTAD
As someone who normally opts for wine over beer, Toronto’s Festival of Beer, held at Bandshell Park in Toronto’s Exhibition Place, was a great opportunity to do a lot of sampling and give into ‘beer pressure.’ This was the 18th year of the festival, which ran from July 27-29 and was a medley of tasty grub, live music and, of course, beer.
Upon arrival festival-goers were given a small glass stein to cart with them from booth to booth. The stein came with the price of admission, but tokens had to be purchased to pay for beer. Each token was $1, with samples varying in cost from one to four tokens.
Walking from booth to booth builds up an appetite and the fest was full of food to feast on. There was a pig roasting on a spit, Toronto’s beloved Belly Busters submarine sandwiches, beer-infused grilling in the grill tent, a variety of food trucks including Caplansky’s, Oyster Boy lobster rolls, and my personal favourite, melt-in-your-mouth sandwiches at Fidel Gastro. Ticket to Tasty’s Caleigh Hall and I, shared the “Diablo’s Right Wing,” which is spicy pulled butter chicken with a carrot slaw and lemon dill aioli, and the pulled pork with bacon…both sandwiches were unbelievably good!
Admittedly, I was pretty heart-broken that I missed Friday’s headlining music act, the one and only Salt-N-Pepa, but the live music I was able to raise a glass for included, Gentlemen Husbands from Cobourg, Ont., Detroit Rock City All-Stars and Big Wreck, among others. Beyond the hired entertainment, many of the attendees became entertainment as they danced the day away, walked around in fun, original Steamwhistle box hats, and took part in mini competitions.
The crowd was mainly twenty-somethings soaking up sun and beer. There was definitely an energy you could feel right when you walked in and, once I replaced my tears with beers over missing Salt-N-Pepa, my experience was overwhelmingly positive.
As I wandered around beer-tasting, a few stuck out to me. Keep in mind; I was on a mission to find beers that were full of flavor, not too heavy, with a smooth finish. I am certainly not an expert on beer, but the following beers have uncovered my new-found love for it:
Overall, the sunny celebration was a testament to the dynamic and bottomless beer options out there, featuring more than 200 varieties of beer. I’ll drink to that!
by CALEIGH HALL
The Grove, 1214 Dundas Street West Toronto
The Place: Dundas West’s latest hipster haunt taking on modern English food in a comfy, humble setting.
The Mood: Light and inviting, as if you were invited over to a friend’s house for dinner. There were people of all ages, shapes and sizes, making it feel warm and unpretentious. The rustic wood, torn drywall and exposed brick give it a wonderful warmth and a casual feel.
The Service: It is very rare to find a restaurant in the Dundas/Queen West area that has a staff that is unpretentious and kind. Seriously – I was floored by someone genuinely asking how my day was, and checking in on how the meal was. It made me realize how much I was used to condescending hipsters serving my meal. If you ask either of the owners, Richard Reyes or Fritz Wahl, they’ll tell you that they treat the restaurant as a functioning family, and expect nothing but exceptional service for their Guests.
The Drink: I enjoyed an exceptional Pimm’s Cup ($10) to start the meal which was bright, beautifully constructed, and not too sweet. With the meal, I moved onto a glass of Cabernet Sauvingnon from Washington state ($11) from their short, but well-balanced wine selection. They have a wide range of cocktails with ingredients ranging from homemade, rosemary-infused gin to their own strawberry simple syrup for a fruity sparkling wine cocktail. Needless to say, if you come here, then cocktails are the only way to start off the meal!
The Food: We were delighted to receive amuse bouches of homemade chips and catsup, as well as cucumbers with a yogurt masala dip. I then started off with their parsley root soup with snails, house-smoked bacon, and fried bread which has been on the menu since they opened in April. Although rich, this was perfect to share with a friend, and I enjoyed every last bite. From the crunchiness of the crouton to the sweet smoky bacon and the buttery snails, everything worked together to make an unbelievable flavour. I followed the soup with a white fish served with fava beans, more house-cured bacon, sundried tomatoes and a bean puree. Again, although rich, the white fish was not overpowered by the strong flavours of the bacon and sundried tomato.
The Cost: All this flavour and attention to detail comes at a price. Mains ranged from $18-24, and appys from $9-15. Cocktails were around $10 and wine ranging from $11-15 per glass.
The Rating: 4.5/5 Great food. Amazing service. But a little too costly to make it an everyday dining occasion.
by CALEIGH HALL
Grand Electric, 1330 Queen Street West Toronto, ON M6K 1L4, (416) 627-3459
The Place: Since it opened earlier this year, Grand Electric has been the Mexican taquieria sensation that has caught the hearts and wallets of the Toronto foodie following. Situated in the up-and-coming area of Parkdale, patience pays off here as the waitlist each night can be anywhere from 1-4 hours long, all for… $3.50 tacos.
The Mood: The mood is youthful, very casual and, as always, in my West Queen West posts, hipster. The servers wear anything from high-riding daisy dukes to full arm sleeve tattoos and Alf t-shirts. This is parallel to the look and feel of the spot. Lots of rough, young wood furnishings, old school chairs and 6-pack beer cartons to hold all your condiments. As of this summer you have your choice of dining in two different spots: the main dining room, or the backyard patio. For all intents and purposes, the back patio is a much more pleasant space to sit as it is airy and almost feels like you’d been invited over to someone’s backyard patio for dinner.
The Service: Here is where the experience struggled to its feet. It was clear that it was our server’s first time to the rodeo, as she came and checked on us, I kid you not, 10 times in 20 minutes. We literally had to tell her we’d flag her down when we knew what we wanted! Though it was quick and friendly, the service here was clearly junior and awkward.
The Drink: Grand Electric offers a variety of delicious cocktails and beers along the Mexican theme with a focus on bourbon and tequila. I enjoyed a delicious and refreshing bourbon-ade that was not too sweet, and totally perfect for the patio.
The Food: The whole point of this place is to serve delicious food fast, and cheap. That means a variety of $3.50 tacos brought fresh and hot to your table. This evening we dined some of the other delicacies of Grand Electric, all under $10, with the main right of passage being their famous guacamole. Using traditional, and simple flavours of avocado, chiles, garlic and lime this creamy and delicious starter is paired with house-made, well-seasoned chips. We followed this with the spicy fried squid and the tuna ceviche. It is astounding how good these dishes are for being so inexpensive.
The Cost: Cheap. I mean real cheap – everything on the menu is under $10 and the taco menu is $3.50. I have no doubt this is why there is consistently a 2 hour waitlist.
The Rating: 4/5 I would have easily given this place a 5 based on the amazing value equation they offer, but the service dropped it down to a 4.
By DAISY MIERS
Alma’s, 30 Borough High Street, London, SE1 1XU
The Place: A tiny, would-walk-past-it-every-day-without-a-second-glance, hole-in-the-wall, but an amazing place to stumble upon.
The Mood: I have only been for lunch, but I wouldn’t say it has a defined ambience. There are cute little lights on the wall and random art, but that’s combined with linoleum floors with diner chairs and tables. Very purpose built in my opinion.
The Service: The woman who owns/runs/works the lunch shift is wonderful. She is so friendly and efficient; it quite literally makes my day. From her regular greeting of, ‘Hello Darlings,’ to getting the bill at the end, it’s quick, enjoyable and delicious.
The Drink: I usually just get water as its lunch and I’m due back at the office. But they have Italian beers sold by the bottle such as Moretti, as well as a limited wine list that I often see people enjoying over the lunch hour.
The Food: The place deserves a serious prize for their pizza. It is terrific. Pizza is also my favourite meal. It does not boast to be stone grilled or whole wheat or anything fancy. It is just GOOD old-fashioned pizza. I have tried quite a few and will say I am right back to their Calabria pizza, which has the most delicious calabrese salami on it and paired with their to-die-for chili oil (seriously, the best I have ever had). Their gnocchi is delicious as is the ham and cheese calzone. Basically, if you have an hour for lunch and want a full meal (i.e. a full pizza or pasta dish) and don’t want it to be rushed and able to sit in a restaurant – this is your spot. The only thing I would suggest is that they invest in some serrated pizza knives.
The Cost: Their lunch menu boasts a whopping £5.95 deal for any pizza and almost all of their pastas (you really only pay more if you’re going for a special). It’s an incredible deal and I have only once paid over £5.95 when I had a beer with the meal. It is an affordable, speedy, delicious meal that leaves you satisfied.
The Rating: 4/5
By JUSTINE FROSTAD
The Frying Pan Pier 66 Maritime, New York City
The Place: A historic lightship called “The Frying Pan” that was restored, and turned into a trendy dive bar on Chelsea Piers in NYC. According to The Frying Pan website, the ship was built in 1929 and sank at one point, spending three years at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay before being hauled out of the water, restored and moved to NYC. The boat is docked on a railroad car barge so you can walk the tracks to the main seating area or snag a seat on the boat itself, which although restored still has that authentic, rustic feel and artifacts set up. It definitely makes for an interesting drink/tour with pals.
The Mood: An inviting atmosphere and energetic crowd. I have yet to come across someone who was disappointed by The Frying Pan. There is plenty of seating for large groups, and lots of nooks and crannies if you’re looking to cozy up with a date. During the busier hours (weekends, sunny afternoons) it is definitely noisy, but I think that adds to the energy of the experience. The last few times I’ve been to The Frying Pan there hasn’t been music playing. I know they do play music, so I could have experienced a few one-off days, but I’m a big fan of having tunes at any bar I go to and I certainly think the right music would get this ship rockin’ (cheesy, but true!).
The Service: You order at the center bar and are given a light-up pager to alert you when your food to ready. This adds to the casual vibe and means you can order in waves and at your convenience. However, it also means that no one checks on you, and there is a bit of a rushed vibe when you’re placing your order during peak times. It is understandable, given the foot traffic they receive a sunny day, but if you dilly-dally at the counter with your order be prepared for a good old tap-of-the-foot.
The Drink: A bucket of 6 Coronas will run you about $35 U.S, a glass of vino is $8 U.S, and sangria or prosecco cost about $9 U.S, so the drink prices are comparable to a quality bar in the middle of Manhattan. The drink list is not extensive by any stretch; it basically consists of corona, house wine, Prosecco, sangria (my favourite!) or juice/soda/water. That being said, when you are looking out on the water, sun shining, ship swaying, and there’s a bucket of coronas with lime in front of you, it’s hard to complain.
The Food: Simple and delicious. The food is way tastier than your run-of-the-mill pub fare and I love the back to basics approach, with none of this “sauce on the side,” “hold the oil,” “steamed veggies instead of fries.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for healthy options, but I think there are times when you should go ahead and enjoy that crab cake and the sauce it’s smothered in. My boyfriend Justin and I went as the sun was setting and shared a few plates, which I think is the best way to enjoy The Frying Pan. We had the crab cake with avocado, chipotle peppernade and golden gazpacho vinaigrette ($14 U.S), the goat cheese with roast beet & green apple salad with candied pecans ($12 U.S), the steamed P.E.I mussels with white wine-lemon garlic broth ($12 U.S), and a side of the old bay garlic fries ($4 U.S). I’m drooling as I write this….
The Cost: For a fabulous spread of fresh, tasty grub and a bucket of coronas it cost about $80 U.S for the two of us. All things considered; the atmosphere, the quality of food and the location, I’d say this is a fairly reasonable price, and the portions are large enough to share. I’d sail away with this dive bar any day!
The Rating: 4.5/5
by DAISY MIERS
Viet Garden, 207 Liverpool Road, Islington, London, N1 1LX
The Place: A great, off-the-main-road Vietnamese place to get a delicious and inexpensive meal when you don’t feel the urge to cook, spend a lot, or wait.
The Mood: The restaurant is bright and always buzzing with people.
The Service: Extremely fast and friendly. Whether you are getting take-away or eating in, you get the same smiling faces helping you out and making sure you are well fed.
The Drink: Their home made lemonade is fantastic, a bit on the sweet side, but when you mix it with a bit of sparkling water, it is divine. They offer Tiger beer as well as Tsing Tao and a couple of other Asian beers.
The Food: I am pho-obsessed, so you can imagine my joy when I discover this place less than three minutes from my house, which make delicious pho at under £5 ($8 CAD). The chili beef is amazing, as are the noodle dishes which my boyfriend usually goes for. I have to say I have become a bit of a creature of habit and do more often than not get their delicious pork and prawn summer rolls to start along with prawn crackers, Pho-ga and ice cream for dessert. All this and a drink for £12 ($19 CAD), ah-mazing!
The Cost: If you haven’t figured it out by now, this place is budget friendly without sacrificing quality or service.
THE RATING: 4/5 – it is what it is – tasty and affordable!
*Please note: all currency conversions are based on approximate value.
By DAISY MIERS
The Albion 10 Thornhill Road, Islington, London, N1 1HW
The Place: A pub tucked-away in a beautiful area of Islington. It is very secluded, but well known due to its’ extremely large beer garden, which often has a two week waiting list for Sunday afternoons in the summer and a large interior with high ceilings, the option of comfy armchairs with low tables and even more seating out front of the pub.
The Mood: It’s beautiful, big, open and has an exquisite, vintage charm. The huge beer garden in the back is amazing for its location. The garden boasts many long picnic tables so that lots of people can enjoy the beautiful sunshine on a sunny day. It’s also extremely home-y with long tables, big arm chairs and fireplaces in the back. It’s a lovely place to spend an afternoon outside in the summer or curled up by the warmth of the fire when it’s cold.
The Service: I am not wild about the service, but I suppose it could be a bit disappointing when you compare it to the pub itself and the warm setting. They just aren’t as accommodating as they could be in my opinion and I guess given the demand for this place, they don’t HAVE to be… but that’s not the point.
The Drink: The bar offers a good selection of spirits, as well as, numerous ales and lagers. Their wine list is also quite extensive and with a solid price range. It’s not a cocktail bar, but they do offer a nice cocktail list and those that I have ordered have been done well. But, like I said, it’s an English pub that will pride itself on local ales and lagers, as well as having good wines to accompany the food properly rather than intricate cocktails.
The Food: I have to say, considering the reputation of the Albion I was expecting better food than I have experienced. For the number of times I have eaten here and the slight pang of disappointment I get every time, it is not my first choice. I have been there for lunches in the sun, a Sunday roast and dinners, but must say, each of them left me slightly unsatisfied. I probably wouldn’t have minded that my roast beef was slightly over cooked and that the gravy, after I asked for it, was extremely watery – had I not been paying £16.95 ($27.32 CAD) for it. I think that’s the kicker. The food is relatively good, it’s just when you attach the price tag, you realise that you are not getting good ROI. I think the way to do the Albion is to get a bunch of friends that like to eat together and order the Whole Suckling Pig for £300 ($483 CAD), or a side of Lamb for your roast. When you split that cost between the group, you will probably be spending about the same amount, but that may be where the deliciousness lies.
The Cost: If you’re just going for drinks and some snacks, you can get away for under £20 ($32.24 CAD). If you are looking for a Sunday roast complete with Bloody Mary’s and the likes, you are looking at over £30 ($48.36 CAD), and for a nice dinner with wine, definitely over £40 ($64.48 CAD).
*Please note: all currency conversions are based on approximate value.
THE RATING: 3.5/5
By DAISY MIERS
Caravan, No 11-13 Exmouth Market, London EC1R 4QD
The Place: Quite a swanky and ‘in demand’ hot spot. This is a great place for a meal when you crave something a bit more extraordinary, as the food is consistently delicious. However, you need to be willing to pay that bit extra for it.
The Mood: They’ve gone for quite a cool, minimalist, almost warehouse interior. Compared to their sister restaurant The Providores it seems much more vacant, but this shouldn’t fool you as it fills up quickly and there is usually a 15-30 minute wait. The restaurant is bright and open with big windows that ensure a lot of natural light. At night it is lit up by candles and very romantic, however most nights of the week – you need to be prepared for a busy environment, but if you like buzz and want to be ‘seen’, this is your place!
The Service: I have eaten here more than a few times and have to say that the service has never blown me away. They are friendly enough, but it seems as though, most of the time those that work there could not think of anything they would rather be doing less. However, the lack of enthusiasm has never deterred me and when probed, they definitely do offer some good menu advice.
The Drinks: In the evening there are plenty of wines by the glass and given its Australian and New Zealand background, there are plenty from the Marlborough region (a personal favourite). As for the morning, their coffee (as they double as a roaster) is delicious and their tea selection is extensive. One thing that I almost always order on those Saturday brunches is their fresh squeezed orange juice. Although it is by far the longest wait time of all their morning options, and you can get it at most breakfast joints – they must add a secret ingredient because it is a cut above all the others I’ve tasted so it is well worth the price and wait.
The Food: I have only experienced lunch and dinner a single time each, but I am seriously in love with their brunch. The lunch and dinner were both delicious, but a bit heavy on the game meat selections, which I am not a huge fan of. They were still delicious and I can only guess if you are a fan of game meat, you will love them all. They create small dishes to dine on consisting of ox tongue, chorizo, pig cheeks etc. Their soup I had for lunch was an amazing lentil and carrot with a hint of curry and was a perfect lunch for warming-up. Where they really win me over though is with their brunch. Even something as standard as scrambled eggs they do superbly. They are the perfect consistency, complete with spring onions and on delicious granary bread. I usually go for the smoked salmon on top. They also make baked eggs, which come with tomato ragout, Greek yogurt and optional chorizo – out of this world. Their eggs benedict are complete with bubble and squeak along with black pudding. On weekends, it’s quite busy for brunch, so I recommend going with no more than 4 people. Also, be aware that if you are lucky enough to be going for brunch on a weekday – the kitchen closes at 11:30 and reopens at 12 with strictly lunch. I thoroughly recommend trying to make it there for brunch.
The Cost: For brunch, you are looking at £12-15 depending on how many drinks you get. Most of the dishes are from £8 – £12, which isn’t outrageous. It is a bit more expensive than your Breakfast Clubs and the portions are smaller, but with more quality ingredients and dishes, I think you get a higher standard meal. It’s a place to go when you’re feeling something a bit different, maybe a little experimental treat but don’t want to break the bank. For lunches and dinners, with sharing and a glass of wine, you can get away with £20 each.
The Rating: 4/5
by CALEIGH HALL
The Saint, 227 Ossington Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M6J 2Z8
The Place: The newest restaurant to hit the Ossington strip, The Saint touts itself as a Tavern offering french bistro type food.
The Mood: Hard to describe, but it felt a bit forced. I was expecting a dark and cozy tavern, but felt like I was in a big, white bistro. I believe the mood would be better if you could get the round booth seats close to the bar, but we were sitting at the front at a tiny round table. The most beautiful part of the restaurant was the 40-foot zinc bar at the heart of the restaurant. It alone would woo me into sticking around for a bourbon cocktail.
The Service: The server was good, cheery and helpful in suggesting menu items. He did, however, way under-pour our glass of wine which made me resent him.
The Drink: The Saint offers a whisky- and bourbon-heavy menu which also features eight beers on tap and two cocktail lists, one of classics ($14) and another filled with more modern twists ($16). We opted for red wine by the glass this night around $9 a glass.
The Food: We decided to share a few plates which ended up being a balancing act at our tiny table. We started with 6 Malpeque oysters served with a house-made shallot mignonette. They we delicious, a bit briny and very meaty. We followed that with Steak Tartare ($14) and a Goat Cheese salad ($11). Both dishes were wonderful and presented well. If we hadn’t opted for sharing plates, it would have been a very expensive meal, as mains ranged from a $16 Burger to a $49 T-Bone steak. All the items stayed within the classic bistro realm, but seemed quite pricey.
The Cost: For 3 small dishes and 4 glasses of wine our dinner came to over $100 for two. To me that seems a little pricey for what you get, but given the opportunity to be in a booth, try a main dish and sip on a special cocktail, the value equation may have been there. It certainly wasn’t for us that night.
The Rating: 3.5/5
By CALEIGH HALL
So I’ve officially hit my quarter life crisis, and realized that I NEED to take this cooking and baking habit to the next level. That’s why I’ve decided to take George Brown’s Baking Arts class in Toronto every Tuesday night. Over the past two weeks, it has quickly become my 3-4 hours of zen.
In class 1 we learned how to make flaky pastry dough, and in class 2 we learned how to roll out the dough and make the filling. I was astounded by how much I learned about why the particular ingredients were so important. Some tips that were helpful for the dough were:
~ USE pastry/cake flour, because it has less protein in it, and enough gluten to produce the perfect structure and flakiness!
~ DON’T USE all-purpose flour because the dough will turn out tougher.
~ USE vegetable shortening or lard as they both have less water in them, and create a tasty, flaky pastry.
~ DON’T USE butter because it has more water in it, and will shrink your dough in the oven.
One thing to note about the recipes is that they’re in grams and ml’s. We scale all ingredients in class to keep the quantities exact – baking is a science after all!
Ingredients (Pie Dough)
- 750 g Pastry Flour
- 500 g Shortening or Lard
- 250 ml Water (cold)
- 15 g Salt
- 30 g Brown Sugar
Directions (makes 2 pies)
- Rub shortening into flour until reduced to irregular pea-size or walnut-size pieces.
- Dissolve salt and sugar in cold water, add all at once, mix just enough to incorporate. Do not over-mix.
- Transfer dough to floured table, shape into a think roll, cover and allow to rest for a few minutes before rolling. If not using right away, then wrap it up in plastic and put it in the freezer. Pull it out about an hour before using to come to room temperature when you’re ready to make your pie.
Rolling Method (for 2 pies)
- Prepare pie dough; allow to rest for a short time.
- Divide dough into 4 pieces.
- Roll each dough to size and shape of pie plate so that there’s also enough to hang it over the edges. Fold the pie dough in half.
- Pull the flat side to the middle of the pan, and fold over the other half onto the plate to fill the pie tin. Pick it up and drop it gently to get the dough into the pan. Cut off the excess dough with the back of a knife or with a scraper.
Ingredients (Fresh Apple Pie)
- 20000 g (12) Apples
- 1 tsp. Lemon juice
- 500 g Sugar
- 50 g Instant Mod. Starch
- to taste Cinnamon
- 2 x 250 g Pie Dough
- 60 g Butter
- 1 Egg (plus 1 tsp water), for egg wash
Directions (Fresh Apple Pie)
- Peel, quarter, and core apples. Slice in an irregular fashion. Sprinkle lemon juice over apples to keep them from oxidizing and turning brown.
- Blend sugar and starch. Add cinnamon, pour over apples, mix thoroughly.
- Roll-out pie dough to an inch longer on all sides of the pie plate (per above). Line the pie plate with the dough, and fill it with 1/2 the apple mixture. Make the egg wash and brush a thin layer of it around the edges of the dough.
- Roll the second crust to the same size as the bottom of the pie crust. Fold it in half, and with the lage end of a piping tip, cut out a hole in the middle of the crust on the long side. Pull this on top of the pie half way and unfold the other half to cover the apples entirely. Secure it by pressing down on the crust with your flat index finger.
- Brush egg wash over the entire pie, and bake at 350F for about 40-45 minutes or until done. NOTE: If you want to add some pretty cut-outs on top, roll out all the extra dough and using either a pairing knife of cookie cutters, cut out your favourite shapes, and egg wash them on top of the pie.
By DAISY MIERS
Galvin 66 Baker Street, London, W1U 7DJ
The Place: One of the well known French family Galvin Restaurants. They are all Michelin starred and this is, I believe, the original one and the least formal of them all – hence the bistrot.
The Mood: Noticeably cosy, warm and busy right away. We had reservations but still had to wait slightly over half an hour for our table, to be fair, it was a Friday night and they seated us downstairs to wait – but it did mean that we went through a bottle of wine BEFORE dinner. Definitely has a great ‘hot-spot’ vibe while still maintaining a very classy atmosphere with booth style, wood décor.
The Service: The servers were overall friendly, but had an air of pretention. They were helpful but not overly. I got the impression that they felt that if you were eating there, you should know about all the ingredients and not ask any questions. On the plus side, the lack of fuss means that you can really enjoy the meal itself and the company you are with.
The Drink: The wine list is predominantly French, which is certainly not a problem in my eyes. I adore French reds. The wine is also surprisingly not too pricey. There are a few bottles that are very expensive as with all restaurants, but for the most part you are looking between £20-£40 ($31.50-$63), which for a restaurant like this, is very welcome.
The Food: The main dishes were not as good as I was anticipating, although they may have been overshadowed by our amazing starter – the escargot. This is the first time I have ever had escargot, and my lord I have been missing out. These were by far the highlight of the meal. For a main, I ordered Pig’s cheek – which was tasty, but I think is the wrong cut of meat for my taste. We also had a Beetroot Risotto, which reminded me of Mistura back in Toronto, and the Sea Bass which I think was the biggest hit. If there is one thing I would recommend on the menu it would undoubtedly be the Escargot.
The Cost: I think for a nice meal here, at least 2 courses and a bottle of wine, you can easily spend £40-£50 ($63-$79), which isn’t too bad. But realistically you’ll get three courses and a couple of bottles of wine. My ideal night would start here with simply a nice bottle of red and the Escargot.
The Rating: 3.5/5
By DAISY MIERS
The Narrow Boat, 119 Saint Peter’s Street, Islington, London, N1 8PZ
The Place: A canal side pub that is a great spot in the summer where you can grab a pint, and sit on the canal with the ducks and swans passing by. It is actually the first pub I went to, my first weekend moving over to the UK. A few friends, and I, spent the whole afternoon relaxing there, in the warm sun.
The Mood: Brighter than a pub and slightly classier than one (in the upstairs dining area). Despite the location, which allows for beautiful little balconies you can sit on, to dine over the canal, as well as the picnic benches canal-side, there is nothing spectacular about the place. The interior décor has no design elements that stands out in my mind. There are simple, cream coloured walls, and a few pieces of art.
The Service: I have never thought much of the service, they always seem to forget to bring one thing, or something takes a while, however when I went there with my boyfriend’s family for his birthday lunch, we realised just how bad the service can be. Perhaps it was because we were there for a Sunday brunch – I have only been there for dinner before – but they all must have been as hung over as we were, because the service was horrible. The food didn’t take long, it was more that they knew it was a birthday and that we were ordering lots of sides, drinks, and waters, yet they never checked in with us; and getting their attention was nearly impossible.
The Drink: They have a good selection of beers on tap, and ciders (which is my drink of choice on a sunny summer day), the wine is not too expensive and they have a good, variable list. If you are just going to drink though – you should know that you can sit all along the canal and in this lovely country, buy your own beer/cider/wine/wine coolers/cocktails, and just park, soak up some rays, and watch the canal boats go by on your own. (Though if anyone asks, I didn’t tell you this).
The Food: I always like their food. It’s very ‘safe’ in the sense that they have a risotto, a fish and chips, a tuna niçoise, a lamb, a sausage and mash – kind of touching on everything, and they do it well (though not fantastically), but for the price there are no complaints. The Sunday Roasts – which we had when I last went – were massive, and probably the least satisfying meal I have had there. The food is usually a bit more tasty, where as these roasts were a bit bland, which was disappointing as they looked delicious (especially the Yorkshire puddings), and I mentioned the service worse than usual.
The Cost: Not very expensive. Mains tend to be from £10-£14 ($15-$22) and starters/puddings all around £6 ($9)
THE RATING: 3/5 - I don’t want to fully deter anyone, this is a very nice place to dine with a couple of friends, or on a date – never too expensive, and you can’t get a much better location than tucked away in Islington.
By JUSTINE FROSTAD
The Toronto Underground Market (TUM) has been hosting fantastic food events at the Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto and I had the pleasure of attending the March 4th event. TUM is a social food market, dedicated to bringing the community together in the name of great grub. At the event you can sample food from vendors, including home cooks, budding entrepreneurs, and professional chefs. I sort of think of it as eating at a tapas restaurant that’s a fusion of every genre of food. Meanwhile, you get to mingle with friends and strangers who have something in common with you – a love of good food and great conversation. What I find especially neat about the whole TUM experience is that most of the food you taste is something you probably would never have had the chance to try otherwise, because it’s not necessarily available in mainstream restaurants or shops yet. There is definitely a reason why it says,”come taste the future of food in Toronto,” on the TUM website!
This time around I noshed on some fantastic treats, including Cashew & Coco peanut butter & jam tarts (swoon!), mini sloppy joes, peanut butter cupcakes (also mini) topped with bacon, and pork belly sandwiches, all the while slurping up a few stellar grapefruit margaritas, made with Tromba tequila.
If you live in Toronto, or just happen to be visiting, I highly recommend you check out the Toronto Underground Market.
By JUSTINE FROSTAD
The Place: I can’t think of anywhere as adorable & delicious as Alice’s Tea Cup in New York City. This is easily one of my favourite places, in one of my favourite cities. The fact that it has an Alice in Wonderland theme is just the ‘cream on the scone’ for me. They have three locations in New York: Chapter I – 102 West 73rd Street, Chapter II – 156 East 64th Street, and Chapter III – 220 East 81st Street. I’ve been going to the West 73rd Street location for years, so whenever I’m in NYC that’s the one I enjoy re-visiting.
The Mood: Charming and inviting, with the sweet scent of baked goods filling the air. When you walk in, you are greeted with a glass case full of sweet and salty treats, ranging from double chocolate cookies to pumpkin scones, to red velvet cake and everything in between. The whimsical theme can be felt in every aspect of this tea house. There are quotations from Alice in Wonderland on the walls, kids (or kids at heart) can have fairy dust sprinkled over their head as they make a wish, and if you choose to eat there, you are served on uniquely mismatched plates and tea cups. Simply put, Alice’s Tea Cup is for anyone who delights in the darling!
The Service: Kind and knowledgeable. With hundreds of tea options, I’m always impressed by how much the attentive servers know about the various flavours and effects of the teas. The servers are also very helpful with regards to advising on portions, selecting specials, and just making the overall experience pleasurable.
The Drink: Considering the fact that Alice’s specializes in tea, it’s no surprise that their selection is stellar. You are guaranteed a wide selection of teas, including Margaret’s Hope, which is “an aromatic autumn blend and a wonderful Darjeeling,” (according to their tea list), Sessa, “a sweet, smooth and hearty Assam,” and, my personal favourite, Mauritius, which Alice’s tea list describes as “broken tea leaves with a hint of vanilla…a strong tea from the island of Mauritius.” TTT’s Caleigh Hall and I always pick up bags of Mauritius tea for each other every time we visit NYC. This tea exchange has become a lovely tradition for us.
The Food: It may be word of mouth that gets you in the door, but if you’re anything like me, the food will keep you coming back for more. Spread a layer of homemade preserves on a melt-in-your-mouth scone, dip a decadent cookie into your exotic tea of choice, or fill up on a bunch of nibbles here and there. The food is simple and satisfying. I adore the poached eggs on spinach with a buttermilk scone on the side of course from the Brunch Menu. Another brunch favourite is the vanilla tea infused granola, with yoghurt and berries. At lunch I usually opt for one of the sandwiches, I particularly like Alice’s albacore tuna salad with capers, cornichons and shallots in a whole grain mustard vinaigrette, on semolina with black sesame seeds.
The Cost: Scone with raspberry preserves and homemade clotted cream – $3.50 (US), pot of tea with two scones, preserves & cream – $12.00 (US), nibbling on party sandwiches, scones and other scrumptious treats while enjoying a piping hot pot of tea with a group of your closest pals – priceless.
THE RATING: 5/5 – I know a perfect rating may leave you with the highest expectations, but I am utterly confident that if you find yourself at Alice’s you will have a TEA-rrific experience!
by DAISY MIERS
Aurelia, 13-14 Cork Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 3NS
The Place: A small Mediterranean restaurant tucked away in Mayfair. It combines Italian, French and Spanish cuisine in an effort to combine all the regions that were unified by the Via Aurelia.
The Mood: The place was quite light and bright…but empty! Granted, we went on a Sunday – but the two places we had looked at going to before, couldn’t fit us. Anyway, it filled up around 8/830pm, and soon we realised that the lack of customers had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of food.
The Service: Very friendly and helpful. We had a lovely woman for the food who suggested some dishes and also let us know that everything we ordered could be shared and apparently that’s how they prefer the meal to go – a continuation of the Via Aurelia theme. It was great advice as we were all having a hard time deciding on one dish on the menu so we were quite relieved to hear we could appropriately share off each others’ plates. The wine sommelier, Roberto, was great and always had our wines topped up.
The Drink: As we were being taken out, I didn’t have a long glance at the wine list, but I can say that it was extensive and the red Barolo we had was superb. I think that based on the fresh and quality ingredients that they use in their food, it would be hard to imagine them not having that same philosophy when it comes to their wines.
The Food: The food was very good, and we were lucky to try quite a few items off the menu. However, even though the food is apparently meant for sharing, it does not come presented that way. Regardless, we made it work. For starters we had the crispy baby squid, burrata with datterini tomatoes and basil, salad of lobster, shaved baby fennel and preserved lemon and sobrasada: warm spicy Majorcan sausage with honey and walnut crostini. All of these plates were delicious. The crispy squid, I have to say, I was very excited for, but I have had this done better. The burrata cheese was heavenly as was the lobster salad. I did quite enjoy the sobrasada and although I am usually one to find Spanish sausage very salty, paired with the honey and walnut crostini it took on a new flavour for me.
For mains we had buckwheat ravioli with swiss chard and fontina, saffron gnocchi with artichokes and pecorino, pappardelle with wild boar ragu, Dover sole a la plancha with lemon and olive oil, lamb cutlets with hot pepper and aubergine and sirloin steak with rocket and aged balsamic. Yes, we ate lots. For the mains, my favourites were the gnocchi and the lamb cutlets. I was unable to decide between the gnocchi and the wild boar pappardelle as ‘my choice’ and glad that they both came, as I went for the pappardelle and I usually love wild boar in my pasta – but not this time. This was my least favourite dish I think. The ragu was a bit too stringy and pulled it seemed. Still tasty, but I am glad that was not my dish for a main as the others on the table out shone it. The lamb was wonderful, the steak cooked perfectly, the buckwheat ravioli was very tasty, but quite a small portion and the dover sole – well that is just an exceptional fish.
For dessert we were all quite pleasantly full and so just had some ice creams and sorbets (chocolate, vanilla, raspberry and lemon to be exact – which I want to think were homemade, although it was never specified) and an extremely large chocolate truffle. All very tasty.
The Cost: I was not aware of the final bill, or the price of the wine – but I can safely say this is quite an expensive restaurant. It has ‘cheaper’ options – but it’s a place that, for the few pounds extra, you should get the food that you want. Starters seemed to be from about £6 – £12 ($9-$18), pastas were from about £13-£18 ($20.50-$28) – yes, for pasta. Mains (meat and fish) around £25-£35 ($39-$55).
THE RATING: 4/5 – something is stopping me from giving it more. Many dishes were superb, but some not. I’m very glad we decided to share all the dishes – Hedging our bets.
by CALEIGH HALL
This Valentine’s Day I was given the most thoughtful gift from my boyfriend – a couples cooking class at the Calphalon Culinary Center in downtown Toronto. The theme of the night was “Couples Cooking Spanish” taught by a chef named Glen. We learned how to make a number of Spanish delicacies including: Manchego Empanadaillas, Clams with Tomato & Lemon, and Lemon Tarts with Almond Crust.
Overall, the experience was truly a foodie’s heaven on earth. The kitchen was beautifully set up, they had 10 different knives to work with, they had the ingredients ready to go, and they had prepared all the pastry dough in advance. I debating hiding under the sink and living there after the class.
The teacher was informing without being condescending, and funny without being obnoxious. He taught the recipes with a Michael Smith “cooking… without a recipe!” approach, so that you could go home empowered to make them on your own afterwards. We tried to pick our favourites from the night, but they were all truly delicious in their own right. The Paella had a smokey flavour from the chorizo and smoked paprika, but also had sweet notes from the lemon and the red peppers. The clams were delicious, and by far the easiest item to make. They would make a wonderful big pot appetizer for a meal with friends!
Try any one of these recipes – you won’t be disappointed. And to all men out there struggling for a Valentine’s Day gift – get her a cooking class at Calphalon!
By DAISY MIERS
The Place: London’s Dinner in the Dark. The thought behind this dining concept is to experience what a meal would be like if you were blind. The idea being that when you remove the visual stimulus from a meal – do you enjoy it more, less, or does seeing your food really matter?
The Mood: It’s hard to evaluate the mood as you are in the pitch black and so cannot see anything, obviously. But when you first arrive you are warmly greeted by the staff that take your meal and drink orders and explain the evening to you. As you wait, it’s a very surreal experience as there is just no way to know what to expect in the slightest. The first thing I noticed was how loud the restaurant was, and how you have absolutely no idea how large the room is or if you’re going to trip and fall over something. But no, you get to your table and I have to admit I felt very uneasy at first. In those first few minutes I had a brief bout where I was close to asking if we could leave. However, the food then starts to come quickly – which is a really good thing as it completely takes your mind off your fears and you start to settle into the evening. We had a really enjoyable evening and once you stop talking about ‘wow, it’s really dark. I mean I knew it would be dark…but it’s REALLY dark. I can’t see anything.’ you actually become incredibly relaxed. I think a bit of it has to do with the giddiness you feel at first, experience something so unique, and then starting to acclimatise and get a sense of how to do it all.
The Service: The service was good. We were greeted in a friendly fashion and told to place our belongings in the provided locker before they explained the evening. Our waitress, Sarah, was lovely – we met her in the hallway and she placed my hand on her shoulder and Charlie’s hand on mine and led us into the room. She would then remember our names, as well as the other tables she had and each time a course was served, she would come over and say ‘Daisy? I have your wine, I need your hands.’ I would then put up my hands and she would locate them, and place the wine or dish in my hands before doing the same to Charlie. It is extremely hard to not be completely amazed at how they are able to navigate when you are just seated in the dark and feeling completely useless.
The Drink: Very standard. Had a martini cocktail to start and then given a glass of red and a glass of white with the meal. Nothing spectacular, but no complaints either.
The Food: So, this is what the night is about, learning to eat and appreciate food that you are unable to see. When you arrive you are asked to select one of four options: red, blue, white or green. Red being meat, blue: fish, white: chef’s surprise, and green: vegetable. I went white which I was told was a surprise as you get a bit of each, and Charlie went for Red. I realized how important the visual of food is to my dining experiences. That, or the food was just average. Basically, you eat all your courses and try to decipher what you are eating and then at the end of the meal you are to guess what you had and find out how good your taste buds/knowledge of food is. All the courses are designed to be able to eat with your hands as it’s quite difficult to put food on a fork in the dark. At first I was placing the food on the fork and then eating it, but by the end, the fork was only used when Charlie and I thought it would be fun to try and feed each other in the pitch black – it’s incredibly amusing and difficult, FYI. For starters I had a tuna and swordfish Carpaccio and Charlie, a beef Carpaccio. My main the consisted of duck (which I am overall not a fan of, and was able to know that I did not want to be eating it, even in the dark – amazing), a potato dish , some chicken skewers that were very delicious and another tuna tar tare type dish. Charlie had an assortment of meats including duck, bison, steak (which was very tasty!) along with potatoes and a veg. The sides were definitely the hardest/least refined portions to eat. Pudding was the winner. We both had a raspberry pot with sponge and fresh raspberries along with delicious chocolate truffles – definitely a good note to end on.
The Cost: The Degustation Surprise was £67/per person ($102.50).
THE RATING: 3.5/5 – Everything about this place was nice, but nothing blew me away. While I’m not sure if I would be craving to go there again, I am so glad that I did this and had a wonderful evening. It really shows how much you and whoever you are with have in common. So much is based on visual cues; it is amazing when there are none to see what you are able to talk about. Overhearing other conversations are also quite amusing. But the food is only OK.
by CALEIGH HALL
The Place: O.Noir, Toronto is located in an underground space at Charles and Church Street in Toronto. The concept invites their Guests to experience food, drink and conversation in complete darkness – without sight. You place your order at the beginning of the visit in the bar area, and then enter into a dark room to dine.
The Mood: Dingy and stale is how I would describe this place. When you first walk in, you enter what was an old tavern that they have not bothered to update. Then you are taken into the dark dining room where the seats are made of plastic and the setting includes mesh sponge placemats (like the ones you used to have at camp) and tiny paper napkins. Upon first entering I also felt almost nauseous and anxious due to my lack of sight, but this feeling passed after some time in the darkness.
The Service: Smug and impersonal. Literally, I felt like the hostess was scowling at all of my friends when we came in, and I overheard her complaining about customers in the dining room – talk about unprofessional! Then when we were dining in the dark, it felt like our server was trying to herd us through our meal as quickly as possible.
The Drink: I am doing a sober January, so all I had was tap water, but friends had wine, and said it was fine.
The Food: Disappointing! We all thought that this concept would take advantage of the darkness and the Guests heightened senses to create a wonderful and complex meal, but every course was uninspired and lacking flavour. I had the salad option which was literally arugula, parmesan shavings and raw mushroom slices. My main was “marinated shrimp” (no clues as to what the marinade was), dried tomato risotto and greasy green beans. It tasted like they had made the food and let it sit for 30 minutes. Not only that, but to be honest, I ended up having to eat with my hands because I couldn’t see. Great.
The Cost: $32 plus tax. Ridiculously expensive for the sub-par food and service. I would rather have gone to a nice restaurant down the street in Yorkville for a great meal!
THE RATING: 1/5 – While the concept of eating in the dark to heighten the senses is cool, this restaurant was a complete disappointment.
by JUSTINE FROSTAD
I recently had the pleasure of traveling to St. George’s, Grenada where I enjoyed sun, sand, island excursions, and some seriously scrumptious food. In fact, one thing that surprised me about the island was the widespread use of Nutmeg. Before going, I knew that Grenada was known for its spices (Nutmeg in particular); but I was not aware of what a key export it really is there. Nutmeg is even on the flag!
I realized how indigenous it truly is when I was on a hike where I actually saw the spice pressed into the mud. And, once we reached the stunning waterfall? You guessed it – more Nutmeg! This time the Nutmeg appeared to be caught in a rubbery, red, web-like membrane, which I found out from our lovely hiking guide was Mace (another distinct spice). Perhaps I missed the memo, but prior to my visit to Grenada I didn’t know that Nutmeg and Mace grew side by side.
FUN FACT: our tour guide also mentioned to us that Grenada is the world’s second largest exporter of Nutmeg, after Indonesia.
When I’m vacationing somewhere like Grenada I can usually be found on the beach, nestled into a brightly coloured beach towel with a good book, drinking a fruity cocktail created with an undisclosed amount of sugar, or testing out the local restaurants. One of my favourite meals on this trip was with my boyfriend Justin at La Luna. Tucked away at the bottom of a winding road, La Luna sits next to a sandy beach with decor that appears to be inspired by places like Indonesia and Bali. Admittedly I was slightly surprised to discover that the menu at La Luna revolves around Italian flare (with some Caribbean fusion, naturally). I caught up with La Luna’s Chef Daniele Gaetano, and he let me know that the restaurant imports their ingredients direct from Italy. This explains how they managed to incorporate such authentic flavours in their dishes! The taste really took me back to my year spent abroad, in Florence, Italy. One of the dishes I loved during our decadent dinner was the Conch Carpaccio. It was light, and full of flavour.
Justin and I also enjoyed the most delectable, melt-in-your-mouth Pappardelle Laluna with Nutmeg (again!) cream, and a Porcini mushroom sauce with sausage and parmesan. As the Italians would say, it was “molto bene!” Risotto, deep sea crab, and lots of cocktails soon followed; needless to say we were ready to beach ourselves after that meal (but opted to go out dancing instead)!
The rest of the week was just as delightful, from showering under waterfalls and water-skiing, to witnessing my first crab race. I was also able to eat beef for the first time in 3 years! A few years ago I started having an allergic reaction to it, and was told it could be caused by the hormones. When I was in Grenada, Chef Gaetano took me to a fantastic butcher, and he explained that use of hormones in beef is not permitted on the island; so I took a chance on it, and ended up enjoying the most fantastic Beef Carpaccio and Veal with Frites.
Over all, Grenada was a series of unforgettable experiences. I would like to say thank you to the following people for making it so memorable:
- My host-with-the-most Justin Gauthier ♥ ♥ ♥
- Chef Daniele Gaetano
- Winn Klaine
- Bryan Gershen
- Christen Hanley
- Stephanie Alessi
- Ryan Perdzock
- Tricia Paparone
- Lorenza Malaguti
By CALEIGH HALL
The Place: A wonderful hole in the wall on Bathurst at Queen Street. It has a very industrial, hipster feel with Edison bulbs and mismatched furniture common to most restaurants in the Queen West area. The people are just as hipster and cool.
The Mood: Friendly, relaxed and casual is what this place exudes. You can come here to have an entire meal, or just sit at the bar for a drink. Either way, you’ll find people from all walks of life coming in to unwind.
The Service: Very casual, but attentive and friendly. They give you a great run-down of the menu with informed suggestions, and help you figure out how much food is enough, since they serve snack-size portions. I liked that the restaurant was small, as it kept the service very intimate.
The Drink: I had a glass of the house sparkling wine to start off the meal. It was a Freixenet Cordon Negro from Spain, and it was dry and delicious. My boyfriend Josh had one of the 6 local draughts they had on tap, the Flying Monkey’s “Hoptical Illusion” which he loved. I think it’s so wonderful that a snack bar like this can say, “see ya later Molson and Labatt”, and give the little brewery guys a chance in the spotlight. 416 Snack Bar is fully stocked with great beer, wine and cocktail choices, so to all you plenty-of-fishers – note this spot in your black books as the perfect first date spot!
The Food: 416 Snack Bar is just that – a snack bar – which is made evident in their menu which states, “cutlery-free since 2011”. The portions are small, but they are all around $6 or less for a few bites of heaven. While there, Josh and I enjoyed the Jamaican Beef Patty, Steak Tartare, Sushi Side Salad, KFC (Korean Fried Chicken) and Steamed fish bun. The beef patty was authentic, spicy and had a wonderful flaky pastry. The Steak Tartare was melt-in-your-mouth with overt additions of cornichons and grainy mustard. The sushi side salad was served in a piece of romaine lettuce like a wrap (so inventive!), and had nori, ginger, crunchy fried onions and a housemade spicy mayonnaise. I am drooling as I write this post.
The Cost: Very reasonable. 4 snacks and 3 drinks came to around $75 for two – a very afforadable night out. The value for money was definitely present.
THE RATING: 4/5 – This is the perfect place to throw on your best hipster outfit and enjoy a casual meal and a delicious (and local) bevvie!
by DAISY MIERS
Shoreditch Location, 56 Shoreditch High Street, London E1 6JJ
The Place: In the Tea Building in Shoreditch, close to Shoreditch House and above a great club, Concrete. Pizza East is one of those restaurants that always seems to be busy, very busy. The warehouse, industrial feel is paired very well with the building and the high ceilings make the place feel endless.
The Mood: Hustle and Bustle is what this place is about. There are always many people filling the place, either eating or waiting (hoping) for a table. This is not an ideal place to go if you don’t have a reservation as you can be waiting for over an hour in the small bar to get a place squished on a 14-20 person long table. They are certainly trying to utilise as much space on their tables, but with the amount of open space, you can’t help but wonder if they have used it properly. Other than that, it is always incredibly lively and busy which is usually when you know you’re in a place in high demand!
The Service: Very casual service, and very friendly. I’ve had mixed service here though. Sometimes extremely friendly and helpful with suggestions and bills etc, and other times it’s extremely difficult to even get their attention – this can easily happen on the same night, as if they get bored. On the whole, I am usually satisfied with the service when I leave the place.
The Drink: Nothing quite goes with pizza like a nice cold beer. While their selection isn’t vast, they have the essentials. A couple of beers on draught, a few bottled, some cocktails and a decent standard selection of wine.
The Food: As the name states, they are known for their pizza. The first time I went, I got the margherita – I thought, if they make good pizzas, then their margherita should be a great place to start. And it was. It was delicious. Their crust is puffed up perfectly and the ingredients are great, not too much sauce or cheese, simply delicious. The other times I have gone, however, I have opted to try something a bit fancier and expand my repertoire here… not a good idea. I have been disappointed each time and leave thinking ‘I should have just stuck with what I know’. This is not how it should be. The only other one that I did like, but not as much, was the broccoli and spicy sausage. I have also had a few of the starters including the pork chop and the fig bruschetta. The pork chop was OK – too much fat in my opinion though and hardly any meat on the bone, but presented nicely. The fig bruschetta was definitely the winner, despite the figs being out of season – it was still very tasty.
The Cost: Quite pricy for pizza. The margherita is the most reasonably priced, which is usually the case, however from there the pizzas get quite pricy. The meal with a starter, a fancy pizza and a beer cost £30 ($47), which in my opinion, for pizza, is pretty steep – especially if I’m not leaving incredibly satisfied, and considering my love of pizza. I would much rather travel to Franco Manca (review coming soon), or round the corner to The Regent Pub!
THE RATING: 3/5 – I shouldn’t have to order the most basic option on the menu to be satisfied.
by CALEIGH HALL
El Fogon, Playa Del Carmen, Mexico
Calle 6th & 30th Ave
The Place: A hole in the wall serving up authentic Mexican food in the heart of Playa Del Carmen. This restaurant is a short walk from the main strip, but is well-worth going off the beaten trail.
The Mood: In a word – fun. The walls are painted in bright Mexican colours, the servers are cracking jokes, and almost everybody has a drink in their hand and a smile on their face. This place was clearly not just a tourist attraction, but a local hangout for the people of Playa.
The Service: Informal, fast, and funny. The servers all speak English, but were overjoyed to hear me practice my broken Spanish with them. They eagerly provide recommendations based on your taste, and can explain how each dish is prepared and served.
The Drinks: El Fogon has a great list of Mexican beers, sodas and beverages, but we went for the Margaritas. Although you could tell they weren’t the real deal (a.k.a. made from fresh lime juice and not sugary substitute), they were a great accompaniment to our meal. My suggestion: stick to a bottle of Corona or Sol.
The Food: El Fogon specializes in a dish called “El Pastor” which is basically a Mexican version of a donair. The meat is cooked on a rotating spit for hours to render a delicious roasted flavour, and is then sliced onto a plate with other ingredients like queso fresco, spicy sausage, onions and spices. They bring 3 types of salsa to the table, along with a cucumber/radish/lime plate and a plate of grilled nopales (cooked cactus) and onion. In addition to this our group had nachos and guacamole to start, traditional fajitas, and another version of el pastor. The one thing our whole group noticed was how salty everything was, so perhaps ask the server to keep the seasoning to a minimum.
The Cost: So affordable! This meal of 3 main dishes plus nachos and guac, and 2 rounds of margaritas cost $80 for 4 people. That’s $20 per person, including tip! Needless to say, if you’re in Playa del Carmen, you’ve got to visit this spot. It’s authentic, cheap and cheerful!
THE RATING: 4/5
by DAISY MIERS
Wright Brothers, Borough Market Location
11 Stoney Street, London SE1 9AD
The Place: An authentic oyster bar located in the lovely Borough Market. They have also opened a location in Soho, which I have yet to try. Great atmosphere, incredibly romantic and a tremendous spot for a serious treat.
The Mood: Whether you are dining or just having some drinks, this place is great. The outdoor décor is complete with large oyster barrels as tables and stools. While the interior keeps the high stool idea, it also features long tables, as well as bar seating around the kitchen. The place is always lit with candles, which adds to the whole romanticism of the place, pair that with the oysters (a natural aphrodisiac), the bubbles from the champagne and the rest is up to you!
The Service: Extremely educated is what jumps to mind first. Given the shorter menu, the daily specials, as well as the various origins of the shellfish, the servers always seem to be well-versed on the menu options. They also share their knowledge of the different regions so you can be sure you are going to enjoy your choices. The staff is friendly, accommodating and very patient if you are looking to have a long dinner with wine (or champagne) and oysters to start and then gradually order dishes while just chatting over the candlelight.
The Drinks: They have great cider (Aspall) on tap, along with Bitburger lager and Guinness (compliments oysters well). On that note, their champagne list is also very good quality. Wines are delicious, from a wonderful Pinot Grigio to Sancerre – I have to admit that I am guilty of only going for their white wine selection here, but the red list is just as impressive.
The Food: The oysters here are fantastic. Being an oyster bar, one would hope they are exceptional, and they really are. I actually find it hard to pick apart a dish here, as the many times I have been lucky to dine here, I have been highly impressed. With the oysters, they always have a few different kinds to choose from. For mains, they have a constantly changing board of specials, which is predominantly seafood. There is regularly a scallop dish, a whole fish (i.e. sea bass or sole) dish, and a steak and oyster pie (which you dump the oysters in yourself), usually around 8 dishes in total. The sides are equally as appealing, ranging from kale, to bak choy, to purple sprouting broccoli, the list goes on. Any choice from this restaurant and you are sure to get a wonderfully thought out and prepared meal, leaving you completely satisfied, and hopefully in a state of bliss by the time the bill arrives.
The Cost: Wright’s is an expensive meal. As are most oyster bars, but given the atmosphere of this place and its reputation for all dishes, you are not looking at anything much less than £40-50 ($64.50-$80) per person, and I would say that is being a bit reserved. Mains range from £17-24 ($27-$39), the beverages are fairly pricey, and the oysters go for a pretty penny (too bad none of them have pearls!). On that same note, if you are looking for a treat (or are lucky enough to dine out at this price regularly) Wright’s is well worth digging in your pockets for.
The Rating: 5/5
by DAISY MIERS
37 Charlotte St., Westminster, London W1T 1RR
The Place: A contemporary Japanese Robatayaki restaurant in the heart of Charlotte St. Robatayaki is where the diners will sit around a central Robata grill as the chefs grill seafood, meat and vegetables. Roka is also in Hong Kong and has another well known sister restaurant in London called Zuma. Both have incredible reputations and I had been itching to get here with all the awards it is racking up.
The Mood: The atmosphere is great. It’s very swanky with the seating around the grill, the low lighting, the use of wood and full glass windows. The round and minimalist furniture really compliment the full glass windows and give a year round sense of dining ‘al-fresco’. We were there on a Friday night, quite early, but the place was already buzzing and by the time we were comfortably fed, it was completely full. Despite being a busy restaurant, there is a very nice sense of privacy at the restaurant. I can’t quite put my finger on it, perhaps it’s just the nature of everyone in the restaurant being very engrossed in their own evening and food, but you really can focus on enjoying the company you’re in.
The Service: It was good. Nothing too special, but just what was necessary at this restaurant. At some points I did feel slightly rushed to make decisions on drinks and food, and once we had decided, it came quickly. I know they are expecting quick turn overs for dinner, which is fine, but then of course towards the end of the meal when you are looking for the bill and trying to leave, it’s impossible to get their attention despite having 3 or 4 different people check on you throughout the meal.
The Drink: They have a house liquor called Shochu, which is appropriately the name for their cocktail lounge below. Shochu is a Japanese distilled beverage, not to be confused with Sake. The cocktails were really delicious and had quite a range of flavours, from ginger ales, to sours, to peach and pear. I especially recommend the Shochu Mojito – it is amazing. Their wine list and beer selection is also extensive. However, we opted to stick with cocktails throughout the evening and sample some of them as we were doing a tasting night!
The Food: Very good. We did the tasting menu which consisted of 12 courses, starting with chilli garlic cabbage, which was probably my favourite. It was delicious, spicy and so yum – not the cleanest to eat though. Then on to a sashimi platter of tuna, salmon and sea bream along with tuna tartar and tuna and sea bass ‘wraps’. I say ‘wraps’ because they weren’t actually what one thinks of as a wrap, but it was sashimi style, with more to it – having the fish wrapped around some sort of noodles or vegetable. The sea bream sashimi was incredible; I have never had it before and couldn’t believe the tastiness and texture of it. We then had crispy calamari, house specialty sushi as well as beef and ginger dumplings, delightful. This course was followed by grilled asparagus, fried aubergine, chicken skewers (fantastic!) and finished with black cod. The dessert was well presented and also quite interesting. It consisted of a delicious peanut, vanilla and chocolate sundae with sesame poki sticks, definitely the winner. We also enjoyed the black sesame mochi ice cream with cherry blossom macaroons, coconut and pear sorbet along with fresh fruit. I would highly recommend the tasting menu. I have heard that the lamb cutlets are pretty phenomenal, which weren’t on the tasting menu we did. But to get a sense of the restaurant and, not to mention a delicious meal, tasting menu all the way… for the first time at least!
The Cost: Not too bad for what you think it’s going to be, given the reputation. The tasting menu we did was £50 ($80) each, and there was a premium tasting menu for £75 ($120) each, both minimum of two people. The drinks are reasonably priced at around £7-9 ($11-14). So it doesn’t have to be an outrageous spend for a seriously good restaurant.
THE RATING: 4.5/5
by DAISY MIERS
The Regent Pub
20-203 Liverpool Road, Islington, London, N1 1LX
The Place: The Regent Pub makes some incredibly delicious pizza. It also has a great selection of beers and a very cool atmosphere. Given it’s location, I’d say it’s a great meeting spot and I also find I run into people there all the time, especially if they are sitting outside as it has the outdoor seating right on the pavement.
The Mood: The first thing you will notice when you step into the place is the red mood lighting. Right away it makes the place feel cosy and really completes the eclectic vibe of the room.
The Service: This is traditional pub style in that you order your food and beer at the bar and pay in advance. This makes service simple and ultimately you don’t have to worry about a final bill. As a result, the atmosphere is casual, but for a local pizza joint, I really like it. Regardless, the service is still great. They always have extremely friendly people behind the bar and the service is always quick, whether it’s for a pizza or just a drink.
The Drink: I only really ever order beer here as I think pizza and beer is one of the greatest combinations. But they have a great selection of beer, despite being a small pizza place. They have decided to go with more quality, unique beers on tap, which I really enjoy. Trying new beers is always fun as there are just so many out there. They also make a great Bloody Mary, which is lovely to have while sitting in their outdoor seating area, especially after a big night, enjoying a pizza is a great way to recuperate.
The Food: The pizza here is great. I really, really enjoy it. They offer a few salads and things, but their main pieces de resistance is pizza, and when they do it so well, why focus on other things? They have a fantastic list of different kinds, some from the usual parma ham, to extremely inventive pizzas, which I always give a try. They cook the pizzas in a huge wooden oven and the whole kitchen area is basically in the bar, so I often will go and chat to the chefs to see if they are recommending anything that day. I just find that they always have the perfect crust, not too thick and soft, not too thin and crispy. They also aren’t stingy on the toppings. The one thing that is a huge let down about this place, is their chilli oil. I am a massive fan of chilli oil and The Regent just has not figured it out. It looks great, it looks super tasty and spicy and like something I want to drown my pizza in, but it’s not. It’s not tasty, it’s not spicy and I do not want to drown my pizza in it. Because of this I will almost always order a pizza with fresh chilli on it, but sometimes I really want a veggie pizza with an egg, or the mushroom pizza, in which case I don’t want the chilli to be on the pizza, but in the oil I can dip it in. This is a pretty big deal for me, but I try very hard to let it slide because everything else is so good. So just be warned, if you like chilli oil and are at The Regent, give it a taste first before pouring it all over the delicious pizza and being severely disappointed.
The Cost: Pizzas range from £8 – £11 ($13 – $18) which is pretty standard. Beer is not outrageously expensive either.
THE RATING: 4/5 – Mainly because of the chilli oil.
by DAISY MIERS
Park Tower, 101 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7RN
The Place: Chef Pascal’s award winning restaurant in the heart of Knightsbridge. Specializing in seafood, it was voted 6th best restaurant in Great Britain in October this year. They pride themselves on the sustainability of their fish.
The Mood: First thing I noticed was that the place was empty. There was no one in the entrance lounge and very few people in the large, bright back room. It was an 8 o’clock reservation on a Thursday night, so I expected it to be busier. In their defense, it did fill up a bit in that room, but not enough to get the buzz of a great, sought after hot spot restaurant. The room was also quite bright – a bit too bright in my opinion. Not only does that take away from the intimate setting of an evening meal with your beau, but the tables are an odd rectangle shape that puts those sitting on the booth side noticeably far from the diners on the chairs. Ambience was definitely off here, or just not what I was expecting.
The Service: I have to say, I did like the service. We were greeted and sat by an extremely friendly man, who checked in on us periodically throughout the night. He took our cocktail orders but was not allowed to take our food orders. There was a separate server for that, and a separate sommelier for the wine. I didn’t mind this approach; probably because it wasn’t too busy you weren’t getting lost in the number of guests. I can imagine, though, if it were busier, trying to keep track of your wine (as they keep it chilled away from your table) and getting dessert menus etc might be tricky. I like the familiarity you can develop over the night with your server. While that wasn’t missing on this particular evening, I can imagine that there are times it might be.
The Drink: We had a delicious Albariño… you’ll come to know how I feel about these. It was delicious and a perfect pairing for the fish. Their wine list wasn’t extensive but tasty, as was the liquor choice and even beers were not a let down. What I didn’t enjoy about the wine list was that they had only a couple of choices in the £20-£40 ($32-$64) price range, beyond that they seemed to get quite expensive. It was hard to find a nice bottle at an average price. That being said, the wine was delicious, just a bit of a guilty pleasure price-wise.
The Food: We started with an amuse-bouche of ceviche, cous cous and avocado mousse. I then enjoyed the yellow fin tuna tartar, soft shell crab and sushi roll with wasabi sorbet. My boyfriend, Charlie, enjoyed the hand dived scallops with pork belly, quail eggs and truffle potato mousseline. Both were incredibly delicious. My main was the sea bass, one of my favourite fish, cooked in basil oil and served with artichoke compote and ratatouille, as well as an olive tapenade and barigoule sauce. I thought the flavours went well together, but my filet was slightly overcooked, making it a bit too dense for my taste. I was expecting it to melt in my mouth. Charlie ordered the dish that the restaurant is known for, which is the roasted halibut. It is joined with langoustine dumplings (which are stuffed with lobster), coco beans and sauce bisque. It certainly lived up to the reputation.
The Cost: Quite expensive. We had 30% off food and still paid over £150 ($240) for two of us. We also did not have dessert. So for two cocktails, two starters, two mains and a bottle of wine, it was £140 ($224) +tip.
THE RATING: 3.75/5 – The food was great, not sold on the ambience, and the service was fitting.
by DAISY MIERS
120 Upper Street, London N1 1QP
The Place: Affordable and Cheerful. This is a great place to go with a good group of friends for a delicious, energetic and fun meal. I have often taken people visiting London here and have yet to have a bad experience.
The Mood: The atmosphere is created with lots of coloured lamps hanging from the ceiling and many tables packed in makes the place buzz. You always feel welcomed and comfortable. I think that a really great authentic vibe has been achieved at each of the three locations that dot Upper Street with no more than 100 yards between each.
The Service: Incredibly friendly and attentive. They are great at suggesting dishes that you may like, as well as being honest as to whether you have ordered a huge amount, or not enough – which is a problem I find myself having when I want to try everything. I now also have a few Turkish words under my belt, specifically Teşekkür ederim, which means “thank you.” More often than not, if you’ve been having a great night they will offer a free after dinner drink on the house or some baklava, which is a thoughtful gesture.
The Drinks: While this place does not claim to be renowned for any specialty drink, you can always find a delicious wine or beer; whether you want an authentic bottle or something you are familiar with. The staff are always willing to offer advice.
The Food: I can’t really complain about anything on this menu, and I have eaten a lot on it. The appetizers and sharing plates are very good portions and have a great variety of foods that compliment each other. The lamb is always cooked beautifully, which is what I usually go for as the main. The Imam Bayildi and Sasuka, which happen to both be Aubergine dishes, are exceptional.
The Cost: You won’t find a better deal for the quality you get here. You will usually spend about £20 ($32) a head, which will include a few beers and a tasting of some fine Turkish/Lebanese dishes.
THE RATING: 4.5/5
by JUSTINE FROSTAD
Taste of the Derby is a food event held in Louisville just before the Kentucky Derby. Chefs from across the U.S. gather, along with racing fans, to celebrate horse racing through innovative, delicious food and cocktails. I had the pleasure of covering this event while in Louisville producing The Derby Experience in the spring of 2011 for WEBN.