LONDON ONTARIO`S RESTAURANT ROUNDUP
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London is acknowledged as a great culinary destination with chefs, restaurants and farmers’ markets dedicated to a developing a regional culinary identity. An increasing number of the city’s gastro- culture are part of the new wave of collaborative chefs and cooks who source ingredients locally and embrace the tenets of sustainability, seasonality and accountability.
BEST CHEF – Danijel ``Dacha`` Markovic, Kantina Restaurant:
Markovic is an uncompromising artist and culinary innovator. Chef was an early adopter of the modern farm-to-table culinary repertoire. He is not just advancing “eating and sourcing local” and “eating seasonal,” he is vigorously and ingeniously enhancing and developing a new region-specific cuisine in the tiny kitchen at Kantina on Talbot Street. By the age of seven, Markovic’s precocious skills were already developing, from cooking and working with his mother in the family kitchen in former Yugoslavia. His father was a professional cook. Markovic`s menus are hyper-local and artisanal, with thoughtful and exciting riffs on an iconic indigenous cuisine. Markovic continues to be London’s reining culinary rock star.
BEST PASTRY CHEF – Michelle Lenhardt, River Room:
The desserts at the River Room are prepared by über-pastry chef Michele Lenhardt (former co-owner of Black Walnut Café and pastry chef at the AGO). Lenhardt’s Goat Cheese Cheesecake, Cherry Tart and Lemon Tart are all classics. Chocolate Pâté is rave-worthy, as is Semifreddo. Lenhardt brings River Room’s signature Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee dessert to a whole new level. The made-to-order apple fritters are served hot, with caramel dipping sauce. Beignets (deep-fried choux paste) are served hot, with bacon fudge and vanilla cream. If you are a connoisseur of classic pastry and dessert, you have come to the right place – Lenhardt`s talent is unparalleled in the city and consistently brings dessert offerings to a whole new level.
BEST DINING EXPERIENCE – River Room Private Dining:
Jess Jazey-Spoelstra’s River Room, inside Museum London, has banks of tinted windows with panoramic views overlooking the Forks of the Thames. This superb lunch spot has the clubby ambience of a Manhattan restaurant, with its casual, tailored décor and New York attitude and some of the best service in the city.
It is not just because Spolestra has had me to the restaurant for impromptu tastings of Russ & Daughters’ caviar, smoked fish, herring, cream cheese and bagels. Or, “that a taste of Russ & Daughters caviar is like receiving a kiss from the sea.” Quality, craft, and a discerning palette; these are three obsessions that have made Russ & Daughters’ world-famous. Think cream cheese is just cream cheese? The freshness, quality and double-whipped goodness of their cream cheese cannot be duplicated. And, nobody in this city does bone marrow the way the River Room does – oh, the pleasure of eating pure rich hot bone marrow. www.northmoore.ca/theriverroom/
BEST FINE DINING EXPERIENCE – Best Restaurant Wine List (Overall) 2013 – David’s Bistro
Chefs David Chapman and Elvis Drennan have a strong and rustic culinary signature. They are long-time proponents of the philosophy that simplicity and purity are the hallmarks of good cooking. The eponymous David’s Bistro with its tiny bar, vibrant red walls and black-checked tablecloths is a venerated downtown culinary destination. David, his wife Cindy Kinsella, and David’s daughter Natalie are your hosts and are on hand to dispense knowledgeable, amiable and skilled service. 432 Richmond Street (at Carling) 519 667 0535
BEST FARM-TO-TABLE RESTAURANT AND BEST ONTARIO WINE SELECTION – The Only on King
In its seventh year, The Only on King, with its fully realized farm-to-table philosophy, devoted acknowledgement of the local terroir and support of local farmers and producers, remains the personification and archetype of the virtuous up-to-the-minute Ontario restaurant. The restaurant’s kitchen, led by Paul Harding is a self-proclaimed “labour of love.” When Harding is not chained to the stove, he continues to find new ways to integrate the locavore ethic into all aspects of “The Only”. www.theonlyonking.ca
BEST MODERNIST DINING – Kantina Restaurant
Proprietor Miljan Karac and Chef- molecular gastronomist Danijel Markovic reinterpret classic Balkan –inspired cuisine with plenty of skill, expertise and locally-sourced ingredients in their chic downtown London restaurant. This is a scratch kitchen with a modernist flair and all items are made in-house and by hand. The menus are thoughtful, cutting-eddge and exciting riffs on an iconic indigenous cuisine imbued with modern farm to table ideals. 511 Talbot Street 672 5862 www.kantina.ca
BEST OVERALL DINING EXPERINCE – Garlic’s of London
Proponents of stellar farm-to-table cuisine, Owner Edo Pehji, Manager Emma Pratt, chef Chad Stewart offers intelligent and ethically informed menu choices. This is affordable, top-of-the-line, rustic cooking using seasonal quality ingredients. Garlic’s embodies the warm relationship between authentic culinary pleasure and regional ingredients. A place to relax and savour superbly crafted dishes that are imaginative modern twists on tradition. www.garlicsoflondon.com
BEST RESTAURANT SERVICE – Blu Duby
Joe and Cheryl Duby`s restaurant sports modern sophistication with its chic décor, combined with an innovative approach to family-friendly comfort food and artful cuisine. Casual bistro-style selections and tantalizing vegetarian choices are on offer, as well as many classic food favourites that have been updated and reimagined by Stratford Chef School alumnus, Chef Dani Gruden-Murphy (former chef co/owner of the original incarnation of the Braywick Bistro). The restaurant’s cooking repertoire keeps evolving, and the presentation is both stylish and simple. What you won’t find here is pretension or attitude. Together the Dubys, hand-picked a team of dynamic hospitality professionals: known for their exemplary customer service skills, clever repartee, and wit. Daytime manager Mathew Mckenzie, Kim Miller, William McKillop, Ray Nernberg, Hannah Kenwell, Scott MacDonald and Toni Mansilla make up the winning team. 125 Dundas Street / 32 Covent Market Place 519-433-1414
BEST CHINESE – The Chinese Barbeque:
The Chinese Barbeque (aka “Gee Gai Yun” – meaning “Our Family People”) is acknowledged as currently the number one Chinese Barbeque restaurant in the city. The cooking is informed by the Cantonese cuisine of Hong Kong, by way of Vietnam. This family-run business is the progeny of Quan Quyet Chow Ly and her sons Quan and John Ly. Keeping with “the nose-to-tail eating” philosophy and trend, this is the perfect restaurant for the true culinary adventurer to sample Chinese barbecue (char-siu) specialties. Hanging in the window near the entrance to the restaurant you will see whole pigs (sourced locally in Mt. Brydges) that have been coated with a signature honey and molasses marinade and roasted until the skin is crisp, glistening and golden brown. The food at The Chinese Barbecue has a fresh homemade quality with locally-sourced ingredients. No stale taro cake or premade, frozen Dim Sum here. The menu is expansive. 994 Huron Street, London 519-963-0375
BEST ETHIOPIAN –T.G`s Addis Ababa:
Dining at chef T.G. Haile`s Addis Ababa is characterized by the ritual of breaking injera (the traditional yeast-risen flatbread which is spongy in texture, crèpe-like in appearance with sourdough tanginess) and sharing food from a communal platter signifying the bonds of loyalty and friendship. For more than a decade, T.G.’s Addis Ababa has offered a tour de force from the Ethiopian culinary repertoire. The modest restaurant is tucked away off-the-beaten-track in an unassuming brick building the south side of Dundas Street near the corner of Burwell and Maitland. www.tgsaddisababarestaurant.com
BEST GREEK – Mykonos:
Heidi and Bill Vamvalis have been serving authentic Greek food and traditional English fish and chips for over thirty years. In that time, we expect the gracious and irrepressible Heidi has hugged the entire city. Mykonos has an extensive menu selection of casual Greek fare. There is a nicely revamped wine list featuring several good Greek selections. 572 Adelaide Street, 519-434-6736
BEST ITALIAN – Abruzzi Ristorante
Abruzzi is London’s premiere Italian-inspired restaurant, an up-to-date epicurean hotspot serving both modern and emblematic regional specialties. That Abruzzi is on the extremely short list of good Italian restaurants serving great food makes it one of the most exciting restaurants in London. That it is in walking distance of the Budweiser Gardens and the dining room looks out onto the Covent Garden Market square are additional bonuses. 119 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market) 519-675 9995
BEST LATIN AMERICAN – Tru Taco:
This restaurant quickly made its name and built a reputation for quality, authentic Mexican and El Salvadorian food. It all started with just a modest offering of 4 really delicious tacos and a limited menu of other specialities. “The big favourite being the taco al pastor made with juicy pork loin, pineapple, onion and cilantro that just melt into the meat." says Rivas. The other taco signature specialties are prepared with a choice of chorizo, beef barbacoa, or beef tongue, and a selection of homemade sauces. At the restaurant there are 16 fresh salsas to choose from. The nacho chips are house made, artisan corn tortillas are produced and sourced nearby in Alymer. True Taco offers a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros, sunny side up eggs with homemade sauce served with beans (locally sourced) and tortillas ($6.95) at both locations. 789 Dundas St; 519 433- 0909 (unlicensed) Western Fair Farmers and Artisans’ Market (Saturdays 8 to 3pm).
BEST POLISH – Unique Food Attitudes
Barbara Czyz`s chic storefront bistro in the Old East Village has been an instant success due to its modern European sensibility, changing chalkboard menu offerings, fabulous food, and warm and attentive vibe. The bistro with its black slate counters, chrome accents, comfortable seating and sidewalk tables with umbrellas continues to draw clients from all over the city. House specialties include Goulash and potato pancakes, krokiety (crepes) and red borsch made from beets, bigos (sauerkraut-mushroom-meat stew), slow cooked cabbage rolls and tender peirogi with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings. One day our charming and hospitable server Beata recommended the szavlotka (delicious apple cake) and we have been converts to Czyz’s baking since. 697 Dundas Street 519 649 2225
BEST THAI – Thaifoon:
The kitchen’s oeuvre is a consistent showcase of Thailand’s regional flavours of hot, sweet, sour and salty, honouring tradition well embracing modernity. Thaifoon is careful to give you just the right level of spicing you want. Brothers Eddy and Alex Phimprhrachanh are the proprietors of Thaifoon, downtown London’s upmarket Southeast Asian restaurant. Their hip and stylish take on the ancient Thai culture, with a décor that honours the past while embracing modernity, has earned both raves and admiration for their vision and ambitions.
BEST VEGETARIAN – Zen Gardens Vegetarian Restaurant:
Zen Garden’s creative kitchen serves the best healthy vegetarian meals that you can imagine, in an upscale, tranquil atmosphere. Even meat substitutes are made from natural ingredients and spices; absolutely no chemicals or preservatives. 344 Dundas Street 519-433-6688
BEST VIETNAMESE – BEST INTERIOR DESIGN – Tamarine by Quynh Nhi:Tamarine is sleek and urban chic, with a sophisticated palette and upscale mix of contemporary Asian –inspired motifs, art cuisine and ambience. This is superb contemporary South Vietnamese cuisine. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour. 118 Dundas Street 519-601-8276
BEST ALFRESCO DINING – Black Trumpet RestaurantIn the warm-weather months, a prestige spot for alfresco dining is the beautifully appointed and private Indonesian style garden at the Black Trumpet Restaurant. It is a secluded oasis, seating 60, and is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. At lunch, the cuisine is an amalgam of Asian- and Italian-inspired signature dishes, with influences and ingredients from various Mediterranean cultures.