Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Wolfe of Wortley Makes the Longlist for Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2017

Air Canada just announced the longlist for Canada’s Best New Restaurants 2017 and Wolfe of Wortley makes the list.

Front: Jennifer Wolfe (Service Manager), Justin Wolfe (Owner/Executive Chef), Gregg Wolfe (Owner/Mixologist/Bartender)
Back: Josh Ward (Sous Chef), Kyle Rose (Chef de Cuisine)

The Big, Bad Wolfes: The Wolfe of Wortley in London

Justin and Gregg Wolfe upped the ante when they opened Wolfe of Wortley in Wortley Village last this summer. The brothers, who initially found sustenance in music careers, are also the proprietors of downtown London’s red-hot retro diner The Early Bird, and the former the piñata-themed Rock Au Taco. The Wolfe brothers plan to open their new Modern Mexican-inspired Los Lobos in the former Talbot St. Whisky House space in the next few weeks. The menu will show their love for tacos and other Mexican classics, with the focus at the bar being on tequila, mezcal and bourbon.

“The Bird,” as it is warmly referred to, has an idiosyncratic charisma. It features a menu of updated diner classics and new generation comfort foods. These are soulful dishes that include a king-sized “turducken club” made with smoked turkey breast, panko-fried chicken and duck bacon. Try the melt-in-your-mouth potato and cheddar perogies, or the Montreal smoked brisket which is brined on site and which helped cement the entrepreneurial brothers’ savvy culinary reputation.

The Wolfes brought authentic, affordable street-food-style tacos and tequila to downtown London. Rock Au Taco’s menu features cachette (beef cheek), lengua (beef tongue), carnita (pork shoulder), pescado (fish), and papas (potato) and frijoles (re-fried beans) fillings. They’re topped with freshly made salsas, pickled onions and other garnishes. There is a tequila list and a selection of ice-cold cervezas.

Many progressive chefs use research and staging as an inherent part of their culinary development. (Staging is an unremunerated internship; a cook or a chef works temporarily in another chef’s kitchen to be exposed to new methods, techniques and cuisines.) Chef Justin Wolfe staged in Chicago at Graham Elliot, where he spent nearly seven months apprenticing and studying at the Michelin-starred restaurant. Then he was off to master butchery at Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats.

Justin has worked as an event chef alongside Executive Chef Liaison Jamie Simpson at The Culinary Vegetable Institute/Chef’s Garden in Milan, Ohio. He has participated in events with chef de cuisine Eli Kaimeth of Thomas Keller’s renowned Per Se in New York, and worked with Cortney Burns of the celebrated Bar Tartine (featuring some of San Francisco’s most experimental cuisine), and with Gunnar Gislason, the chef/restaurateur behind New Nordic cuisine at DILL in Reykjavík. And then there was a stint with chef and culinary scientist Kyle Connaughton formerly of the Fat Duck and now the groundbreaking Single Thread Farms Restaurant in Healdsburg, California.

Every year Justin pitches in with other chefs, including Michael Smith, for Village Feast, a non-profit children’s charity based in Souris, Prince Edward Island, that supports initiatives to improve the lives of children.

The brothers have been the talk of the city with their compact 24-seat restaurant in Wortley Village, which is complemented by a 14-seat patio. This is casual but sophisticated noshing focusing on curing, pickling, fermenting and preserving, and featuring craft cocktails.

The menu includes oysters: raw, cold-smoked, and grilled with Creole butter and parmesan. We ordered a half dozen shucked, cold-smoked, plump, meaty Malpeques bathed in 12-year old scotch and served under a dome with juicy orange segments and house-marinated cherries. When the lid was lifted the oysters appeared under a cloud of billowing smoke for dramatic effect.

Chef du cuisine Kyle Rose excels at the craft of salting, smoking and curing primarily pork products to make salumi, which we know as charcuterie. The downstairs kitchen has a small temperature- and humidity-controlled meat chamber for the house-made salumi. There it develops the rounded savoury taste that comes from slow curing and ripening. The chamber features a “meat window” to showcase a diversity of hanging salumi. Justin gives Rose and sous chef Jason Ward lots of credit for embracing and delivering the restaurant concept that the Wolfes developed.

We ordered ordered the charcuterie board which was underpinned by technique and skill and the salumi had lots of deep flavours and good fat content. There is also culotello (the king of salumi — dry-cured ham) and very tasty coppa (salt-cured from the pig’s neck) on offer.
Snacks might include a creamy chicken liver brûlée, “pickled things”, bone marrow, clams and chicken fried oysters. We loved the “tongue in cheek” which was comprised of beef tongue wrapped in guanciale (cured pork jowl) served with “Nappakraut,” pumpernickel and shmaltznaise. (The origin of shmaltznaise is unclear. The term “schmaltz” is derived is from Yiddish, meaning «rendered animal fat», and the “naise” must stem from mayonnaise.) Nevertheless it was the perfect aioli-like accompaniment.

House-made pastas have included bucatini, served with smoked oyster, bacon, egg yolk and parmesan, and cheese gnocchi with beer mushrooms and mustard. The chicken fried oysters are served with dill, cucumber and hot sauce. Proteins have included steelhead trout, bison ribs and octopus. A colleague of mine talks up the octopus like it is the second coming. There is also whole chicken for two and sometimes a 17oz. rib eye. Menus change weekly.

“Cocktail-wise Gregg likes to riff on the classics, taking something familiar, tried and tested and elevating it,” says, Justin. The cocktail menu was masterminded by Gregg, who started making his homemade infusions of bitters and syrups months in advance of the restaurant’s opening. The cocktail list features craft cocktails that are prepared with fresh ingredients, homemade mixers and premium liquors. Gregg is a bourbon devotee. His signature drink is a potent smoked Manhattan made with Bulleit Bourbon, Antica Formula (red vermouth), Angostura bitters and cherry vanilla bitters served in a cinnamon smoke-filled glass. Besides six signature cocktails there are interesting seasonal features, quality spirits, and flights of bourbon.

There is a respectable bubbly on offer from winemaker Moray Tawse`s Redstone Winery in Beamsville, Ontario, and a great off-dry riesling from Redstone with lots of citrus notes. There is also a cabernet franc and pinot noir blend from Tawse. These are the Ontario offerings on a compact list.
We were so enamoured by the food we finished the evening with pork belly for dessert.
The takeaway? You won’t find more up-to-the-minute culinary savviness than at the upscale Wolfe of Wortley.

Wolfe of Wortley
147 Wortley Road, London
Tuesday–Sunday from 5:00 pm

Bryan Lavery is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Writer at Large.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Rise of Plant-based Cuisine in London, Ontario: Glassroots & Plant Matter Kitchen


Pre-conceived perceptions of vegetarianism, veganism and plant-based dining are changing very quickly. Again this year we will be celebrating the popular VegFest London in November. The ground-breaking festival presents plant-based and vegan food and products, health and wellness vendors, special guest speakers, cooking demos, and a children’s activity at the Progress Building at the Western Fair. 

Vegetarians do not eat meat, fish or poultry. Vegans, in addition to being vegetarian, do not use other animal products and by-products such as eggs, dairy products, honey, leather, fur, silk, wool, or cosmetics and soaps derived from animal products.

In the quest for a more healthful lifestyle more people are adopting vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, non-GMO, organic and other plant-based products. Good examples of the rise in plant-based food culture are specialty food artisans and vendors like Margaret Coon’s Nuts for Cheese on the second floor of the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market Western Fair. Coon produces a line of of artisanal, handcrafted, and vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews. These healthy and delicious cheeses are billed as being “shreddable, spreadable and meltable” plant-based products that are both dairy- and gluten-free.

Another interesting vegan business is The Boombox Bakeshop at the corner of Adelaide and Princess Avenue. Alexandra Connon creates delicious (and beautiful) pies, cupcakes, popovers, mini pies and other mouth-watering seasonal treats. The bakeshop is a popular veg-friendly bakery and café specializing in vegan and gluten-free vegan goods.

Speaking of plant-based bakeries, be sure to stop in at the new Boho Bake Shop next door to Nuts for Cheese at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market. The bakery is entirely gluten-, dairy- and egg-free. The baking is naturally sweetened with pure local honey or maple syrup. Each product is prepared from scratch in small batches using high quality, whole organic ingredients. On offer are brownies, squares, cookies, doughnuts and granola bars.
Two new restaurants in London, Glassroots and Plant Matter Kitchen, are featuring upscale vegetable-centred cuisine and breaking new ground for innovative, healthful and quality offerings.

Plant Matter Kitchen

Home to artisans and artists, unique independently owned shops, services and restaurants, Wortley Village in London’s Old South has evolved organically to its present charming revitalized streetscape. The Village boasts a diverse group of interesting buildings with unique boutiques, restaurants, cafés and small-scale from-scratch bakeries, and two of London’s newest and most innovative restaurants, Wolfe of Wortley and Plant Matter Kitchen.

Located in the heart of Wortley Village Plant Matter Kitchen (PMK) is owned by Glenn Whitehead and partner Melanie Wendt. (Wendt is the daughter of restaurateur extraordinaire, Dagmar Wendt who operated the landmark Mexican-inspired Under the Volcano since 1988, until last year.) This wholly vegan, plant-based, organic restaurant has a distinctly back-to-the-earth vibe with an open kitchen and a modern urban sensibility. PMK has adopted a whole food, plant-based focus, crafting vegan fusion meals by mixing global flavours with an ethical ethos.

The restaurant kitchen serves organic plant-based meals, smoothies and a delicious proprietary coffee roast from Patrick’s Beans. There are also beverage pairings that include craft beers by the new Old East Village artisanal brewer, Anderson Ales, and handcrafted effervescent kombucha from Booch Organic Kombucha. The farm-to-table approach is expanded to all menu offerings. Try a power smoothie made with banana, cacao, cashews, chia and hemp seeds and coconut milk. The kitchen incorporates many whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, tofu and seed for a healthy plant-based diet. The kitchen also uses gluten-free vegan cheeses made from cultured organic cashews and other natural ingredients crafted by the artisans at Nuts for Cheese. Try the delectable baked mac and cheese prepared with gluten-free noodles. Both the signature Caesar and Cobb salads are enjoyable and innovative iterations of classics.

“PMK is as committed to the foundation of local organic and plant-based as possible,” Whitehead says. “We are working with a number of local, smaller and independent farmers to secure that sort of farm-to-table, as close to fresh and as close to its natural state food experience as we can for the restaurant goer.” There is an appealing street side patio for relaxing and people watching. Look for a new expanded patio this year. A second iteration of PMK is expected to open in the former Braywick Bistro premises in the summer of 2017.

Plant Matter Kitchen
162 Wortley Road, London
Monday to Wednesday 8:00 AM–8:00 PM
Thursday to Saturday 8:00 AM–10:00 PM
Sunday 10:30 AM–2PM

Glassroots – A Food and Wine Revolution

After seven years in London, Veg Out chef/owner Florine Morrison announced that she would be closing Veg Out in April. Culinary stalwarts Yoda Olinyk and Mike Fish — associates of Morrison — announced in January they would be opening their new restaurant, Glassroots, in the premises at 646 Richmond Street after Veg Out closed.

Olinyk and Fish  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 close), Glassroots has become 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 where you 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, and 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
646 Richmond St, London
Mon and Tuesday Closed
Wednesday–Sunday 4:30 PM–CLOSE
Kitchen closes nightly at 10 PM