Monday, September 29, 2014

Café Bourgeois at Farmers' and Artisans' Market at Western Fair

Café Bourgeois

Farmers' and Artisans' Market at Western Fair

Please see my updated Post on May 8, 2015

Farmers' and Artisans' Market at Western Fair
Saturdays 8 -3pm.,
519 775 9917

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Look at London Ontario's Culinary History

A Look at London Ontario's Culinary History


Much of London's distinctive culinary culture can be attributed to the mosaic of ethnic cultures, and no stay in our city would be complete without a visit to some of our diverse and exciting restaurants and culinary and food retailers. We have a diverse multi-cultural food community with more than our fair share of solid talent who promote our local terroir, and other rising stars who explore the latest trends and tastes of the ever evolving world of food.

London has an exciting network of farmers, food producers, food retailers, artisans, chefs, culinary patriots and restaurants who are interdependent, passionate and community-minded, who value the opportunities to work together and to partner in making London a vibrant community and culinary destination.

Here in London the diversity of cuisine is truly a manifestation of the culture and our collective culinary sensibility. Cookery and gastronomy, lodging and hospitality have historically enriched the local cultural experience. Interestingly, London has a European culinary heritage with a palate nurtured in Europe and later informed by the first nations that we can date back as far as 1826.

The term terroir has more recently become part of the wider culinary lexicon to describe the vital connection between a given locality and the food grown , raised, made and cooked there. Terroir as a concept allows us to examine "the taste of origin" as a set of cultural values about place, community and agricultural practices.

Of course, the terroir itself - the consequence of some of the most gently rolling rich agricultural land in the world, boasts of superior crops in fertile soils that range from light sand to heavy clay. The diverse terroir in Middlesex and surrounding counties of Perth, Elgin and Huron allow for a variety of habitats uniquely indigenous to southwestern Ontario. Located between the Great Lakes, Erie and Huron the area has a a moderate micro-climate and a relatively frost free growing season.

London, (fondly referred to as the 'Forest City') is actually a separated municipality, though it still remains the official seat of Middlesex County. The city was founded around the Forks of the Thames River more than 200 years ago. Prior to European contact in the 18th century, the current site of London was occupied by Iroquoian and Odawa/Ojibwa villages. Archaeological research in the region indicate that first nation people have inhabited this area for at least 10,000 years.

Thought to be London's first settler, first inn keeper and first businessman, Peter McGregor, arrived at the Fork of the Thames in 1825 and built a tavern where the corner of King Street and Ridout Street meet today. McGregor was a tailor by profession, and records show that he was engaged in many aspects related to the construction of the new village of London. Married to Lavina Pool, from Westminster it is she whom should be credited with being the actual inn keeper in the family.

In January 1827, a frame building was erected to house the first school, jail and courthouse. It has been reported that McGregor frequently escorted prisoners across the street to his tavern for mealtimes.

In 1835, the first marketplace, a frame shed on the courthouse grounds was situated opposite the McGregors tavern at the Forks of the Thames. Covent Garden Market formerly established in 1845, is the longest established link to London's culinary history.

Today, the Covent Garden continues to be focal point for the the rural and urban exchange where local, artisanal farm-fresh and quality gourmet and international foodstuffs can be procured every day of the week - it is among the city's finest selection of gourmet, ethnic and organic foods.

Twice a week (Thursdays and Saturdays) during the season an outdoor farmers' market features fresh local produce, meats (bison), and a variety of artisanal baked goods. The arts are also a focus of the Market's mezzanine where a several local cultural organizations and artists are resident – there’s even a cooking studio/kitchen.

Virtually unchanged since the last century, Eldon House is London's oldest residence. Built in 1834 for the Harris family, this historic home remained in the family until 1960 when it was donated to the City of London. Today, surrounded by the city, the house and its heritage gardens are a place of gratifying beauty and serenity and maintain its strong links to London's earliest history.

Still on record today, the Harris family journals offer us a unique glimpse into the past and provide us with an intimate perspective of life at Eldon House and to some degree London's early culinary history. Among other tidbits, important details emerge regarding what the family purchased and ate during certain eras as well as what the gardeners planted.

Amelia Harris (1798-1882) writes: Of regular trips to the Covent Garden Market with her cook (weekly, sometimes daily), of sending some of her domestic staff on the equivalent of “professional development” courses, to learn different “cultural” styles of cooking – French being a favourite.

Harris mentions city locations as in her diary entry of Feb. 16, 1859: “Distress in the country is very great. Farmers are buying wheat in place of selling it. The first soup kitchen that has been in London has been established here within the past week and it gives relief to 70 poor families...” Amelia also mentions that cooks tended to bring their own recipes and cookbooks with them when hired, and guarded them closely!"

Today Eldon House is open to visitors year round. A welcome sign of warm weather and lazy afternoons, the tradition of outdoor summer tea at Eldon House  teas on the elegant lawn of London’s oldest residence. Reservations are recommended by calling 519.661.5169.

In this part of Ontario, there is a sound agricultural heritage and tradition of the production of wheat, barley, oats, corn, soyabeans, fieldbeans, sugar beets, turniups, potatoes, pears, plums, grapes a full range of small fruits and berries.

In fact, a must-see culinary heritage destination is located on the city's edge just north of Masonville. The Arva Flour Mills have been operating since 1819. Mike Mathews is the fourth generation of his family to be involved with the business. Purveyors of high quality whole wheat, unbleached, pastry and organic flours, the historic mill still uses water power from Medway Creek. eatdrink writer and contributor, Sue Moore tells us, "The location of the Mill itself on the banks of the Medway River is as tranquil and idyllic as a Constable painting. Geese and ducks glide silently along the millpond in rows, many of them advanced in years." The mill offers a variety of other related products such as cream of wheat, cracked wheat, grains, cereals and spelt.

Historically, pasture and hay comprised the largest areas of Middlesex which was mainly used for livestock pasturing and production. Pigs found on area farms in the 1850's and 1860's included two large breeds, Berkshires and Yorkshires (whose weights were recorded in excess of 600 pounds a piece.) heritage breeds that can be found on diners plates in any number of our restaurants that offer a  truly farm- to- table philosophy and an exceptional dining experience.

By 1877, there were six cheese factories located in the area, and dairying began to play an important role in local local farming practices. By the 1880's there was a poultry boom which led to more turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl, as well as chickens being raised on the local farms.

Canadian beer has become a growing part of the national culture especially in recent years with the addition of a number of microbreweries and craft brewers. Today, the Canadian beer industry plays an interesting role in the Canadian National Identity. London has a storied history of early brewmasters that became Canadian staples. It was Thomas Carling who first established the brewing company that bears his name in 1840. His home-brewed ale, was of such quality and popularity that he renounced farming for full-time brewing. That brewery was a humble proposition - a few kettles, a horse to turn the grinding mill and six sturdy men to work on the mash tubs. It is said that Carling started by trundling his wares through the streets of London, on a wheelbarrow.

Established in 1847, you can still experience a guided tour of the other famous hometown brewery, Labatt's. Immigrating to Canada in the 1830s, John Kinder Labatt initially established himself as a farmer near London. Eventually investing in a brewery with a partner, Samuel Eccles, they launched "Labatt and Eccles". After Eccles retired in 1854, Labatt acquired his interest, and renamed the business the "London Brewery". Labatt was aided by his sons Ephraim, Robert, and John. After his death his son John Labatt purchased the brewery, which like Carling, eventually grew to be one of the largest in Canada. Today, the tour takes place at the Simcoe Street brewery - the very location where founder John Kinder Labatt started brewing his beer here in the city more than 160 years ago.

The processing of sap from maple trees into maple sugar or syrup was another important cash crop. And in the winter and early spring that tradition continues today at the Kinsmen Fanshawe sugar bush. This annual sugar bush runs each weekend every March and during the March break. There are hayrides, guided tours, demonstrations and a sugar shack and pancake pavilion for delicious pancakes, sausages and pure maple syrup.

If you really want to get a close-up look of London's culinary history there is often something cooking at the family home of local London artist, Paul Peel's family house at London's Fanshawe Pioneer Village. In and around the Village, interpreters and volunteers can often be found bringing the taste of turn of the 19th century life, baking breads, biscuits and seasonal pies with produce and fruit from the Village's orchards and organic gardens. The heritage gardens showcase the fruits and vegetables grown in Middlesex County communities from 1820 to 1920.

The historic past of early London comes to life through daily reenactments of 19th century trades and farming methods, domestic chores and social interaction by costumed interpreters. On special event days, ride around the Village on a wagon pulled by horses or a vintage tractor. Stop by the Pioneer Village Café for a heart-warming lunch featuring homemade soups, salads and breads all made on the premises with heirloom fruits and vegetables and other seasonal and local ingredients.

Arva Flour Mill 
2042 Elgin (off Richmond), Arva 519 660 0199

Fanshawe Pioneer Village
2609 Fanshawe Park Rd.E., 519-457-1296


The Huffington Post's "25 Places to Eat in London" was gleaned from the original list.



The food media are necessary members of the culinary community. Like any thoughtful patron, I hope that I bring appreciation and sensibility to the table. But the food media’s mission goes beyond that. We must pass our unbiased impressions on to the readers, while alerting the dining public to the diversity of choice on the culinary scene.

Are rating restaurants purely a question of taste? And within that there lies the matter of ingredients, innovation, style, consistency, service and much more. We place importance on other criterion such as, the wine list, the atmosphere, the setting, the service, philosophy and obviously, the price.
Good writing furnishes you with enough information and insight to enable you to make informed decisions, while helping to arbitrate the standards of dining out. If you don’t have a good, strong food media — whether you love them or despise them — you don’t have the same degree of interest, enthusiasm and accountability.
One of the greatest joys about writing about culinary matters is “unearthing the diamond in the rough”. In my opinion, among the disappointments are discovering restaurants that don’t live up to their reputations, or the complaining owner who has lost interest in the business and the writing is on the wall. Almost as bad is the culinary equivalent of grey: dull at worst, inoffensive at best. Or the one-trick pony — the great restaurant whose menu never changes, and quickly the food becomes stagnant.
Even more disappointing are those hosts/servers who ride on the chef’s laurels and the restaurant’s former accolades, thinking the chef’s/restaurant’s reputation gives them carte blanche to dispense surly, indifferent or poor service to their customers.
Despite the changing definition of restaurant professionalism, poor customer service and unfriendly reservation policies disappoint us, and good service fosters loyalty, which in turn inspires repeat business and great word-of-mouth. Every time I return to certain restaurants, it hits me just how much uninterested service irks me and how profoundly irritated its patrons must feel, even when the food is the cream of the crop. Once you have been trained to view things from both a chefs and a restaurateurs perspective it never leaves you. I have devoted most of my working life to both ends of this spectrum.

Reading someone else’s assessment of a restaurant is not necessarily enough for every reader to evaluate a restaurant. The real way to do a restaurant justice is to eat there. These are my opinions and reflect my professional expertise. This is the shortlist.


Wolfe of Wortley
Restaurant Ninety-One at Windemere Manor
Glassroots (Vegetarian)
Plant Matter Kitchen (Vegetarian)

119 King Street 519- 675-9995
Chef Dave Lamers and co-owner Rob D’Amico work with local farmers and growers to source products that boast both integrity and flavour and then incorporate these seasonal offerings into Abruzzi’s Italian-provenance-oriented menus. A superior wine list features plenty of exciting consignments. Windows that open to the street make the indoor to outdoor dining experience feel unified.

Aroma Mediterranean Restaurant 
123 Richmond Street (at Piccadilly) 519-435-0616
Felipe Gomes’s Aroma evokes a strong Old World ambiance. The open courtyard dining room features a three-storey vaulted ceiling, creating a spacious yet cozy space. Menus feature signature specialties from all over the Mediterranean. There is always a selection of fresh fish.

Black Trumpet
523 Richmond Street (South of Kent Street) 519- 850- 1500
Chef Scott Wesseling has a modern-day take on international classics, drawing from local and seasonal ingredients to create his new menu offerings. The expanded lunch menu includes a couple of different burgers, one using bison and the other venison. The restaurant's elegant courtyard patio is on of London's gems.

Blackfriar's Bistro
46 Blackfriars Street 519 667 4930
Blackfriars Bistro is a deliciously arty bistro with a cheerful persona, knowledgeable servers and a top-notch kitchen. The health conscious, creative and eclectic seasonal menus are handwritten by restaurateur Betty Heydon. This casual bistro located just west of the Blackfriar's Bridge also features innovative, seasonal blackboard specials daily and a good Sunday brunch.

Blu Duby
32 Covent Market Place 519- 433- 1414
Chef combines comfort food classics with modern European, Asian and Mediterranean twists. This is comfort cuisine in upmarket surroundings with a nod to hip, but not a speck of pretension. Owners Joe and Cheryl Duby feature a well thought out wine list offering a variety of price points.

 Budapest Dining Room & Tavern
348 Dundas Street 519- 439- 3431
The Budapest is a local treasure with red velvet, unintended kitsch and old world charisma. Doyenne Marika Hayek has been delighting patrons with her risqué repartee and dependably great Hungarian specialities in this traditional old- world tavern setting for 56 years. Comfy street side patio. "Of course, you must try the schnitzel or the stuffed veal — the spätzle is also delicious —save room for the palacsinta."

Che Restobar
225 Dundas Street (at Clarence) 519-601-7999
Marvin Rivas has designed an atmosphere that sends exactly the right message about Che: it is sexy and urbane, and casual and spontaneous, but it's personable, too, and the core commitment to authentic cuisine isn't blasé in the least. The menu blends tradition and ingenuity in true Latin American style.

Chinese Barbeque
994 Huron St; London 519 963-0375
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.

The Church Key Bistro Pub
476 Richmond Street (across from The Grand Theatre) 519- 936- 0960
This is a top-notch cooking and Chef Michael Anglestad has a repertoire of flavours that are big, brash and rustic but thoroughly cosmopolitan. Pastry Chef Cliff Briden is also at the top of his game. Best of all owners Vanessa and Pete Willis’s haven’t overlooked its roots as a place for locals to meet and imbibe. An intimate outdoor courtyard borders the south side of the building.

 David's Bistro
432 Richmond Street (at Carling) 519- 667- 0535
David Chapman and Chef Elvis Drennan present a solid array of classic French favourites. The dishes are so virtuous, in such a French way it's almost impossible to believe you're not in France. The bistro with its tiny bar, vivacious red walls and black-checked tablecloths is a venerated downtown dining destination. There is a sensibly priced, extensive and ever-changing consignment wine selection and interesting VQA’s.

Dragonfly Bistro
715 Richmond Street   519-432-2191
Donald and Nora Yuriann have an irresistible kitchen, a moderately priced menu, and service that is welcoming. If you are planning to visit for Indonesian Rijsttafel on Monday nights, be sure to make a reservation. This is a hidden gem in plain sight, on Richmond Row.

The Early Bird
355 Talbot Street 519-439-6483
Gregg and Justin Wolfe’s Early Bird is King and Talbot’s red-hot, retro diner with casual farm-to-table cooking. The Early Bird has a quirky charm and a hotchpotch menu of updated retro diner classics and new generation comfort foods. Signature dishes include: the king-sized “turducken club” sandwich made with turkey, chicken and duck, perogies, and Montreal smoked meat that is made on site. Save room for the bacon-fried pickles. These are dishes with real soul. You can’t get much more hip-but-earthy than the Early Bird Diner. Check out the seasonal patio.

Garlic's of London
481 Richmond Street (beside The Grand Theatre) 519- 432- 4092
Proponents of farm-to-table cuisine, Owner Edo Pehji, Manager Emma Pratt, Chef Carla Cooper and their culinary team offer intelligent and ethically informed menu choices. Garlic’s combines all the elements of a perennial favourite - as delicious, affordable, top-of-the-line, rustic cooking using seasonal and high quality ingredients.

Glassroots (NEW)

646 Richmond St, London 519-850-8688

Culinary stalwarts Yoda Olinyk and Mike Fish recently opened Glassroots and have quickly taken the concept of “local” to a new level, sourcing everything from as close to home as possible. They are savvy and know how to build an expanded clientele by casting veganism as healthful lifestyle rather than a moral crusade. Olinyk and Fish also know how to build community and have done so very effectively, partially through their crowdfunding initiative and social media channels.
With a newly renovated and intimate dining room (tables are quite close), Glassroots is already becoming a high-energy hub for a dedicated healthful food culture. The dining room has lots of natural light with stained glass and heritage accents..
Olinyk and her culinary team mix local and seasonal made-from-scratch food, with a warm and inviting ambiance and a friendly and authentic dining experience. Olinyk redefines the diverse repertoire of modern plant-based cuisine with a wholly inventive and idiosyncratic approach. Innovation and seasonality are paramount and some menu items change weekly. Rotating dishes that have been on offer include falafels, hearts of palm calamari, tofu scallops with spicy soba noodle salad, mac and cheese, corn dogs, wild mushroom risotto, Buffalo cauliflower (not the city, the sauce) and waffles. The vegetable charcuterie board features red pepper pepperoni, “Field Roast” sausage, eggplant and tomato pâté, mustard, pickled vegetables and toasts. Another excellent choice is the “Nuts for Cheese” plate, featuring cashew cheese, homemade jams and pickles.
Olinyk is a certified Red Seal chef and is also skilled in plant-based nutrition. She was the brains behind the very successful vegetarian catering company called Yoda’s Kitchen of St. Thomas. She brings to Glassroots her reputation, expertise and repertoire as “the healthy chef” and creates innovative, sometimes surprising, flavoursome creations.
Fish, her partner in life and work, is a certified sommelier, Canadian wine scholar and cocktail guru who bring years of professional experience and training in the wine industry to the table, with a goal of offering one of London’s best wine, craft beer and cocktail lists. The cocktails are fresh, seasonal and a spin on the classics. Try the refreshing Horse’s Neck. This is the only restaurant in town whereyou can get Muscedere Vineyards pinot grigio from Lake Erie’s North Shore.
Glassroots is open for full service dinners Wednesday to Sunday, and features a Sunday brunch and a healthy, vegan, take-away lunch throughout the week. The restaurant is available for wine workshops, tasting events, fundraisers and more. There is a charming 14-seat elevated patio facing Richmond Street.
Glassroots Restaurant

Idlewyld Inn
36 Grand Avenue 519-433-2891
A local landmark since 1878, the Inn combines the elegance of a bygone era with all the modern amenities sophisticated travelers have come to expect. Chef creates a culinary experience that is both sophisticated and classic. The restaurant is a reflection of the casual elegance that the Idlewyld has built its reputation around.  Plaudits for the cozy ambience, innovative cuisine and artistry on each plate.  Jazz Nights.

La Casa Ristorante
117 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market) 519- 434-2272
Chef's menus are rooted in the authentic Italian tradition. All the classics of Italian culinary canon are on the virtuous menu —prepared from scratch with skill. Consistency and familiarity are the hallmarks of the La Casa culinary experience. Signature dishes like: risotto al salto, house-made angel hair pasta with sautéed shrimp and lobster tagliolini are masterworks.

London Ale House
288 Dundas Street (across from Delta Armouries Hotel) 519-204-2426
The Ale House has a huge selection of beers - local, from around the world, draught, bottled and ciders. Menu items include delicious BBQ smoked items, smoked outdoors in their beer garden. Everything from duck to brisket to pulled pork. Experience their charming beer garden for lunch, dinner or late night. Menu items are prepared in-house, from scratch - even the condiments, using beers and ciders with each of their menu items.

Marienbad Restaurant

122 Carling Street (at Talbot) 519- 679- 9940
For forty years the Marienbad has brought the European dining culture to downtown in a casual atmosphere. The kitchen evokes eastern and central Europe with its skill for that perfect marriage of sweet and sour time-honoured specialties. There is an exceptional steak tartare and a variety of signature schnitzels.  A black iron fence, flower boxes, and comfortable tables with festive umbrellas add charm to the inviting side walk patio.

 Massey's Fine Indian Cuisine
174 King Street (near Richmond) 519-672-2989
Chef/owner of Patison Massey and his partner and spouse Anisha, seem to be always on hand. Chef shows his expertise with his dazzling way with spices bestowing and building flavors to great effect. A variety of vegetarian offerings and classic favourites like: smoky-spiced baingan patiala, everything tandoori, butter chicken, nann, and various exotic accompaniments.

Michael’s on-the-Thames
1 York Street (at the bridge) 519- 672- 0111  
For thirty years and counting, Michael’s on-the-Thames has been regarded as London’s ‘celebration destination’ and for good reason. Owner-operator Joelle Lees, executive Chef Denis Clavette and their polished staff gives its patrons what they want, consistently. The restaurant has been smartly refurbished to create a renewed sense of comfort and well-being.

Milos' Craft Beer Emporium
This is London’s premier craft beer destination, owned and operated by renowned publican Milos Kral. Chef Matt Reijnen prepares menus that reflect their farm-to-table commitment and passion for everything local. Kral offers 23 micros on tap with excellent style variation. Craft beer enthusiasts have made this local landmark part of Ontario’s rich craft beer culture. Seasonal patio.

Morrissey House
359 Dundas Street 519-204-9220
Publican Marc Serré’s Morrissey House with its unique selection of beers and innovative pub food is a welcoming, warm and cozy local. Chef Andrew Harris offers a menu that is comfortable and accessible but with a twist. Almost everything is mad in house from scratch. There is al fresco dining on their popular 60-seat patio.

Restaurant Ninety-One at Windermere Manor (NEW)
200 Collip Drive Western Discovery Park (off Windermere, West of Western Road)

The menus at Restaurant Ninety One pay homage to Modern Canadian cuisine. Picture perfectly seared duck breast with potato soufflé, chamomile and fennel and black mushroom jus, or braised and roasted lamb with toasted oat purée, honeyed turnip, olive crème fraîche, pickled strawberry and wheat grass jus. There is also local rainbow trout with gin cure, puffed wild rice, sorrel, sea buckthorn berries, dill and crème fraîche. The honey lavender panna cotta with black fruits, grapefruit pearls, violets and selgris is out of this world.
Murphy says, “A dedicated focus on creating all things in-house has translated to house baked sourdough bread before every meal, a completely in-house dessert menu featuring a variety of ice creams and pastries, and house cured meats and charcuterie. Creative vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options are also available.” There is a stunning custom-made chefs’ table for dining.
Reservations are recommended and private dining rooms can be arranged upon request. There is a delicious Sunday brunch, live jazz on Friday nights and plenty of free parking.

Rock au Taco
355 Talbot Street 519-439-6483
The latest brain wave of the Wolfe brothers, Rock au Taco located next door to the Early Bird Diner is serving up delicious and authentic tacos and Mexican cuisine, ice cold cervezas, and smooth tequila. This is gourmet inspired street food and classic comfort-club grub.

The Root Cellar Organic Café
623 Dundas Street 519-719-7675
Community-focused, local, sustainable and responsible are the words used to describe the Root Cellar’s philosophy. The culinary brigade procures their ingredients from food grown and produced within a 45-minute radius of London. Breads and baking are crafted from Arva Flour Mill wheat. The Root Cellar features London’s first co-operatively owned nanobrewery  and offersthe beer on tap in the café.

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi
118 Dundas Street 519- 601-8276
Chef’s Quyhn and Nhi’s modern Vietnamese menus are cleverly balanced, with a gentle rhythm between strong and subtle flavours uniting both colour and texture. The stylish dining room is so warm and embracing, it's hard not to think you're in a cocoon.

T.G`s Addis Ababa
265 Dundas Street 519-4334222
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.

 Thaifoon Restaurant
120 Dundas Street (East of Talbot) 519- 850- 1222
Thaifoon sets itself apart with bang-on aromatic specialties from the Thai culinary canon and with their keen eye for detail and presentation. The minimalist room is sleek, with a sexy, upbeat soundtrack, rich dark woods and ultra-soft leather banquettes.

TOOK (The Only on King)
172 King Street, 519 936 2064
Possessing a good grasp on the tenets of terroir and sustainability, chef/owner Paul Harding’s cooking is faultless. The Only on King, with its casual farm-to-table philosophy and culinary repertoire is a master class in modern comfort cooking. The daily changing menu is unique by London standards and something that few chefs/restaurateurs would be in a position to execute.

The River Room Café and Private Dining
Museum London, Ridout Street N. 519 850 2287
Panoramic views and the tailored simplicity and elegance of the River Room make it breathtaking.  Jess Jazey-Spoelstra’s kitchen has a deserved reputation for the quality of the ingredients and the knowledgeable and expressive exuberance of the preparations. Open Tues.–Fri., from 11 am. to 4 pm. and Sunday for Brunch.

The Tasting Room
383 Richmond Street 519- 438- 6262
Menus are a veritable hit parade of current trends and updated classics. Lively tapas bars were the inspiration for this restaurant for this popular hotspot. Menus are a mixture of up-to-the-minute trends and updated classics. Small plates are the main focus and the list is extensive. Wine tasting flights are divided into four, 2-ounce glasses of red or white.

True Taco Authentic Comedor Latino
789 Dundas Street 519 433 0909
Luis Rivas and Elsa Garcia and family continue to wow guests by providing flavour and ambiance at their new and much larger restaurant. The kitchen offers up a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros: sunny-side up eggs with homemade sauce and locally sourced beans and tortillas. Handmade pupusas are a specialty and are mad with rice or corn flour tortillas. Central American offerings include, burritos, tacquitos, quesadillas, enchiladas and corn-husk wrapped pork and corn meal tamales.

Unique Food Attitudes
697 Dundas Street 519 649 2225
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. 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.

Wolfe of Wortley (NEW)
After delays with the city, engineers and trades people Justin and Gregg Wolfe of The Early Bird diner and Rock au Taco have opened the highly anticipated Wolfe of Wortley in Wortley Village. They are bringing a fresh and innovative experience to the village with their 20 + seat restaurant which is complemented by a 14 seat patio. Expect casual but sophisticated dining focusing on pickling, fermenting and preserving. The restaurant has a meat window showcasing their house made salumi. The menu features raw, smoked and grilled oysters. Snacks include chicken liver brûlée, bone marrow, clams and chicken fried oysters.  There are charcuterie and cheeseboards.  House-made pastas include bucatini with smoked oyster, bacon, egg yolk and parmesan; cheese gnocchi with beer mushrooms and mustard. Proteins include pork belly, rainbow trout, bison ribs and octopus. There is a 17 oz. ribeye for two. Open Tuesday – Sunday at 5 pm, 147 Wortley Road,

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Springs Restaurant on Springbank Drive - One of London, Ontario's Top Restaurants

The Springs on Springbank Drive - One of London Ontario's Top Restaurants


The smartly appointed Springs Restaurant, housed in a beautifully refurbished church consistently receives rave reviews. Chef Andrew Wolwowicz’s innovative menus, list dishes crafted from local, regional and quality seasonal ingredients. The gastronomic scope of Wolwowic's repertoire is influenced by a commitment to a steadfast philosophy that advances the economic, ecological and social values of our local culinary and agricultural communities

Local entrepreneurs and Wolwowicz's collaborators, Tim and Laura Owen wanted to integrate as much of the original church as they could into the new restaurant. Unfortunately, they learnt the church’s foundation was disintegrating. Instead they levelled the church except for the original front vestibule, and rebuilt the structure from the ground up using 6,000 of the existing yellow bricks and a slew of additional identical bricks from 2 houses that were being demolished on Riverside Drive.

During reconstruction a worker unearthed a time capsule in the northeast corner of the church almost 100 years to the day it had been buried. The windows are proportionally large, letting in light that floods the restaurant exquisitely. The dining room seats 70, the beautifully appointed patio 32 and the downstairs banquet room 40. The patio is an oasis unto itself.

A proponent of the open kitchen, Wolwowicz wanted to put a public face on the people behind the food. “You know it's a good party when you end up in the kitchen” says, Wolwowicz. In collaboration with the Owens, Wolwowicz was instrumental in helping to design every detail of the restaurant and kitchen to create a welcoming and accessible environment. There is an additional kitchen in the basement.

Wolwowicz has established himself as a prominent figure in London’s culinary community. Wolwowicz cooks at the full degree of his capability, with finely tuned instincts, skill, dedication, precision, creativity and passion. The Springs procure the finest locally grown products from farms specializing in sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices and ethically raised livestock.

At lunch, The Carnivore (one of the best sandwiches ever) consists of sous-vide pork cheeks combined with perfectly braised duck leg confit, creamy soft Riviere rouge cheese, skillet baked between rye bread, then, finished with a wild boar bacon & date demi and then, garnished with a sunny side up egg.

Wolwowicz’s culinary repertoire has included: luscious panko-crusted Crab Cakes made with flaky back fin and delicate lump crab meat, and accompanied with a spicy sweet chili sauce. The Wild Mushroom Tart with chorizo and caramelized shallots is otherworldly.

Delectable Duck Pierogies & Kung Fu Cabbage with shredded duck leg confit, sheep’s milk cheese, Yukon gold potatoes served with Kung Fu Riesling braised Wakefield cabbage and a pancetta cream reduction are the talk of the city.

Other memorable menu winners include: Pan-Spanked Chicken served in a cast-iron skillet then baked with a fruity extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, pancetta and fresh aromatics and served with a saffron scented cauliflower puree; Cider-glazed Willowgrove Hills Farm’s Pork Tenderloin with an apple-mustard-maple velouté, green apple marmalade and parmesan potato dumplings; and Dijon Braised Rabbit with roasted pear arancini (panko crusted risotto balls).

The signature Teriyaki Prawn Penne is a menu staple, with jumbo prawns and forest mushrooms sautéed with a julienne of peppers and sweet onions tossed with a spicy sweet teriyaki cream sauce. Served mild, medium or yeow.

Wolwowicz regards Monforte Dairy’s artisanal sheep’s milk cheeses as “exceptional.” One of Chef’s preferences is Nica. Comparable to chèvre, it is amplified with lavender and fermented organic garlic flower tops. This delicious cheese show ups on both his Bruschetta Fajioli (white bean puree with seasoned tomatoes), and his Wildwood Greens Duck Salad (medium-rare, pan-roasted, melt- in- your mouth Magret of Duck with a medley of crisp seasonal greens, roasted beets, hemp seeds and a citrus-wolfberry vinaigrette). The Harrar Espresso and carved loin of  Crusted Venison served with a Jerusalem artichoke mash, chili & wild arugula greens finished with a dark chocolate pomegranate gastrique is to die for.

The restaurant has one of the best wine lists in the city

310 Springbank Drive; 519-657-1100

Monday, September 22, 2014

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi's Modern Vietnamese Cuisine

Chef’s Quyhn and Nhi’s modern Vietnamese menus are cleverly balanced, with a gentle rhythm between strong and subtle flavours uniting both colour and texture. The stylish dining room is so warm and embracing, it's hard not to think you're in a cocoon.

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi


This sleek and urban-chic downtown hot-spot has a sophisticated palette and an upscale mix of contemporary Asian-inspired motifs, art, cuisine and ambiance. Chefs Quynh and Nhi combine the freshest ingredients with traditional flavours to create a unique menus designed to promote communal dining. Long Phan is your charming and knowledgeable host.

From a design perspective, the attention to detail is carried through in many small but striking ways such as the design of the cutlery and dishes, seasonal exotic floral arrangements and the various choices of seating arrangements. The mosaic tiles around the bar have a chameleon-like ability to change into a myriad of palettes, creating a swanky, sexy cocktail lounge vibe with a colour changing remote control. Lighting can also be adjusted to set the mood particularly in the far end of the dining room, where private booth seating provides an intimate and comfortable dining experience.

The food at Tamarine is more sophisticated and pushes culinary boundaries without breaking the tenets of traditional South Vietnamese cuisine. The flavours are multi-faceted and subtle and the dishes have plenty of visual appeal. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour.

The cooking is delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of India. 

The signature Crispy Spring Roll at Tamarine is made with chicken, pork, or a vegetarian version served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The restaurant is also known for its crispy Torpedo Rolls, made with shrimp and crispy Imperial Rolls with shrimp, pork, wood ear (a type of fungi) and glass noodles, which are also served with fresh mint, lettuce and a chili-lime fish sauce. The Vietnamese use fish sauce to enhance the flavour of their foods, much the same way we use table salt, and it pretty much goes with everything.

Compared with its cousin, the egg roll, the spring roll is smaller, with much less filling. (Phan tells me that the “spring roll” is all about quality, not quantity). However, the terms “spring roll” and “egg roll,” like “spring roll” and “fresh roll,” are often used somewhat interchangeably and incorrectly. It can be quite confusing.

Fresh rolls are referred to by several different names, including “salad roll,” “fresh spring roll,” and “summer roll.” Sometimes the word “Vietnamese” is added at the beginning of these words; for example, “Vietnamese roll” or “Vietnamese spring rolls.” It has been my experience that on the North American west coast, many restaurants refer to fresh rolls as “crystal rolls,” “soft rolls,” or “salad rolls.” Fresh rolls are easily distinguished from similar rolls in that they are not fried and that the ingredients used are different from (deep-fried) Vietnamese egg rolls.

“Spring rolls” take their name from the freshness of the spring season with all the seasonal ingredients, and frying would, of course take away that element. At Tamarine, they offer fresh Spring Rolls with a choice of barbecued chicken or shrimp, vermicelli, crispy pastry heart, fresh mint, lettuce, and sprouts, all rolled in soft rice paper and served with peanut sauce.

Tamarine also has its own version of Pad Thai. Although it is the national dish of Thailand and has been known in various incarnations for centuries, the dish is thought to have been introduced to Thailand by Vietnamese traders. Tamarine’s version is a choice of wok-tossed chicken or beef with rice noodles and bean sprouts, finished with a spicy tamarind sauce and cilantro lime, and garnished with crushed peanuts.

“Tamarine is a second-generation restaurant. It is our interpretation of how Vietnamese food has evolved,” says Long Phan. “Our food is as symbolic as it is traditional. You can be anywhere in the world and authentically showcase our heritage with our cuisine.” The cooking remains delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of both China and India.

No words can describe the atrocities that Vietnamese “boat people” suffered when they decided to flee their homeland in crudely built boats, sparking an international humanitarian crisis. When Quynh and Nhi’s father Tan Pham wanted a better future for his family the authorities caught wind of it his first attempt to escape the country landed him 20 months of hard labour in jail. Subsequent attempts yielded him no promises to get him where he wanted to go. In 1990, he escaped Vietnam literally with the shirt on his back and that was the price he was willing to pay for a better future for his family. At that time there was no possible future for his family it was either poverty or death. The survivors sometimes languished for years in refugee camps. More fortunate ones were taken in by countries like Canada. 
It has been a long journey for the family to get where it is now but adversity instilled a solid work ethic and team spirit that is evident in how they operate their restaurants. After making a name for herself at the Trail’s End Market with her hand-rolled, high quality spring rolls and stir fry’s, Du Bui (Quynh and Nhi’s mother who has always been in charge of quality) parlayed her signature spring roll eventually into what her son-in-law, Long Phan refers to as “the birth of two restaurants.”
Wrapping spring rolls in lettuce leaves and including fresh herbs in the bundles is a vestige of the original civilizations that existed before the centuries of Chinese influence in Vietnam, and is practised with delicacy at both Quynh Nhi and Tamarine.
For well over a decade the family-run, Quynh Nhi Restaurant, has developed a loyal following and prospered off the beaten path in a 40- seat premises that it shares with an auto repair garage at the corner of Wharncliffe and Riverside. Named after siblings Quynh and Nhi, the restaurant is a family run business operated by their extended family. 

118 Dundas Street,
519 601 8276
Quynh Nhi 
55 Wharncliffe Road North

Championing Local, Feast ON, and the Farm to Table Movement in Ontario

Championing Local, Feast ON, and the Farm to Table Movement in Ontario


I am a dedicated reader of Sarah Elton, who tracks the culinary zeitgeist for CBC Radio’s Here and Now, and has written for The Globe and MailThe New York TimesMaclean’s and Her book, Locavore: From Farmers’ Fields to Rooftop Gardens, How Canadians are Changing the Way We Eat, was an award-winning treatise on the local food movement in Canada.

In Ontario, many cooks continue to develop imaginative takes on farm-to-table eating while examining the roots of local cuisine and developing new region-specific specialties and products. They characterize the frontline of the contemporary culinary scene by rethinking the food chain, stewarding the environment and adding their voices to the collective Canadian culinary identity.

Elton’s latest book, Consumed: Food for a Finite Planet, champions the movement away from global food production and presents an intelligent and engaging argument for the sustainable food movement and alternatives to the factory farming model. She travels to rural farming villages in India and China, to France, and to Detroit’s inner-city to document the transformative nature of food. This is an up-to-the-minute account of the politics and issues surrounding sustainable food production, food security and locavorism that offers some solutions.

When I go out to eat, I am drawn to restaurants that support local farmers and food artisans by procuring and featuring local ingredients, products and VQA wines. Patronizing farm-to-table restaurants makes sense because it supports and sustains economic activity on a local level.

Ontario has developed the Local Food Strategy to help increase the profile, access to, and demand for local food. The foundations of this strategy are the newly approved Local Food Act, and the recently launched Local Food Fund. 

The Local Food Act is part of a strategy to build Ontarios economy and agri-food sector by making more local food available in educational institutions, cafeterias, grocery stores, markets and restaurants. Its objective is to improve local food literacy, and encourage the demand for homegrown food, by requiring the Ministry to establish aspirational local food goals and targets in consultation with stakeholders that have an interest. The Act creates a non-refundable tax credit of 25 per cent for farmers who donate their surplus harvest to eligible community food programs such as food banks. The policy also proclaims a Local Food Week that will take place annually, beginning the first Monday in June.A reference point for defining local was created with the passing of the 

Local Food Act and when the Ministry of Agriculture and Food committed funding to support the development of Ontario’s new Foodservice Designation Program (OFD) in partnership with the Ontario Culinary Alliance (OCTA). 

The program entitled Feast ON has similarities to the former Savour Ontario Dining program, which brought together diners and restaurants who share an interest in choosing and serving locally grown and produced foods in Ontario.

The new OFD Program is a criteria-based designation system, designed to increase the profile and demand for local food by identifying restaurateurs and foodservice operators dedicated to procuring and serving Ontario foods and beverages and whose particular attributes qualify their commitment to local food. Feast ON has engaged Community Connecters to support the objectives of the program by working with OCTA to gather data required to implement, manage and safeguard the OFD program criteria.

Feast ON recognizes foodservice businesses committed to showcasing Ontario grown and produced food and drink. Restaurant operations in all their incarnations — from food trucks to fine dining — sourcing a minimum of 25% Ontario food products and 25% beverage products will be certified with the Feast ON seal, assuring consumers an “authentic” taste of Ontario.

In addition to the Feast ON strategy, the ministry is determining how they can differentiate, classify and market Ontario’s terroir and authentic regional products. It seems a new provincial designation system will likely include a geographic indicator certification.

This type of certification is an assurance that products possess certain qualities, are made according to traditional methods, or possess particular characteristics, due to terroir or geographical origin. Ideally, certification would be similar to the European Union-adopted systems of geographical indications and traditional specialties, and our existing VQA structure of classification for wine.

The purpose of certification is to safeguard the character and reputation of authentic foods, promote rural and agricultural activity, help producers obtain the best price for their regional products, and eliminate the misrepresentation to consumers by imitators and counterfeit products.

Asiago, Feta, Fontina, Gorgonzola and Munster are the five new cheese names that that Canada has recently approved to identify for its geographic indications as part of a trade agreement between Canada and the European Union. Existing producers won’t be affected but any new cheese names introduced will need to be qualified with descriptors such as “style,” “kind” or “type.”

It seems to me that several of Ontario’s premier artisanal cheese makers have successfully differentiated their distinctive products with names based on each cheese’s unique characteristics, geographic, and cultural attributes by thinking in terms of terroir.  

In Italy, certification laws require that Parmigiano-Reggiano be made according to a specific recipe and production methods, and only within specific geographical regions. The Parmigiano-Reggiano Safeguarding Consorzio pursued a company in Mexico that blatantly named its product Parmigiano- Reggiano and affixed on it identical symbols and indications to those registered as collective marks by the Consorzio.

I have witnessed first-hand the perfect example of the certification process from start to finish. I arrived early to tour one of the cheese dairy co-operatives in the countryside of the strictly designated “zona tipica” of Parmigiano-Reggiano in Italy, to watch the cheese being crafted.

The milk from the previous evening had been left overnight to separate and a portion of the cream had been skimmed off. The remaining milk was mixed with the morning’s whole milk, and then poured into large, temperature-regulated copper cauldrons. Fermenting whey from the previous day was added and the mixture heated and slowly stirred.

When the desired temperature was achieved, calves rennet (a natural coagulating extract) was added. The coagulated milk became cheese curd, the leftover liquid whey. (The remaining whey not used in the next production will be used to imbue local pigs with the unique flavour that has distinguished this region for its exceptional variety of protected Italian air-cured meats, most notably Prosciutto di Parma).

Next a large, ball-shaped thorn brush was employed to fracture the curd. Again the curd was heated and stirred. With the heat shut off, the curd set. This mass was maneuvered with paddles and cut into two identical pieces, each with enough curd to make a wheel of cheese.

The curd was then wrapped in hemp cloth and suspended above the cauldrons to dry. Later the curd was lowered into a circular wooden form, where it was pressed into a wheel.  With the cloth removed, a stamp with teeth was inserted between the cheese and the mould. The teeth form a series of impressions, denoting authenticity with date and the designation Parmigiano-Reggiano.

After resting, the cheese is immersed in vats of brine and left to float. It is rotated daily for 25 days and briefly exposed to the sun before being stored. The cheese is warehoused on vast wooden shelves in climate-sensitive aging rooms, and turned over mechanically while it matures for a minimum of 18 months.

Watching this process convinced me that there is a need for geographic indicators and certification to help protect, differentiate and authenticate our distinctly unique and traditional products now and in the future.

Read more about Feast ON