Sunday, October 15, 2017

Thaifoon - London’s Premiere Upscale Go-To Thai Restaurant

Manisay Visouvath and Fouzan (Rafael) Beg are the proprietors of Thaifoon, downtown London’s upmarket Thai restaurant. The restaurant remains a family affair. Visouvath is the youngest sister of Eddy and Alex Phimprhrachanh’s mother, Arounvaty, who is the head chef at Thaifoon and the matriarch of a Thai food dynasty in the city. Several of Arounvaty’s sisters have opened successful Thai restaurants in the city after being mentored in the kitchen by her. 
 Visouvath was born in the Southeast Asian country and came to Canada with her parents in 1980. Rafael is from Hyderabad India. (Hyderabadi cuisine comprises a broad repertoire of rice, grains and meat dishes and the skilled use of various spices – Indian cuisine has a longer, slower burn, rather than the sharper, built-up spiciness of Thai cuisine.) 

Thaifoon’s with-it and tasteful take on the ancient Thai culture, with a décor that honours the past while embracing modernity, has earned both raves and admiration. The restaurant continues to set itself apart with bang-on exuberant flavours and an eye for detail and presentation.

The 38-seat restaurant is a tasteful and refined take on the ancient Siamese culture, with a soothing décor and a rich palette of browns and blacks with golden accents and pleasing Thai iconography. The minimalist room is sleek, with a sexy, Buddha Lounge style soundtrack, rich dark woods and ultra-soft leather banquettes with cushions. The kitchen’s oeuvre is a consistent showcase of Thailand’s regional flavours of hot, sweet, sour and salty, honouring tradition while embracing modernity. Thaifoon is careful to give you just the level of spicing you want. The restaurant is popular with vegetarian and gluten-free clients. 

Won-ton bundles are flawless — well-executed crispy and crunchy parcels of chili-infused minced chicken accompanied by a ginger and plum sauce. The Avo Moon Shine dumplings with fragrant minced chicken, tamarind and cashews are served with fresh sour cream and avocado dipping sauces. Savoury curries surpass expectations with richness and variations on spiciness that are tempered with velvety coconut milk and fragrant aromatics The pad Thai continues to be properly prepared with perfectly cooked noodles, firm tofu with a silky interior, egg, crisp bean sprouts, scallions, fragrant cilantro, minced peanuts, lime juice and the crucial sweet and sour tanginess.

The secret to their success is sticking to the basics of authentic Thai cooking and offering a mixture of spicy, sweet and salty but also rich coconut flavours mixed with fresh herbs like kaffir, lime leaves and lemongrass. Coconut milk is the foundation of the Thai curry. Rafael tells me that they use pure coconut milk and do not dilute their coconut milk like many other restaurants in the city. 

Arounvaty has kept her recipe grounded in how she was used to making and eating pad Thai back home — rice noodles cooked with fish sauce, sugar, tamarind, a few other spices and a touch of soy for the caramel colour. This summer they subtly tweaked signature dishes like their pad Thai and pad gra paw to offer more of a street style version of these dishes.
Thaifoon continues to receive raves and praise for their consistently well-prepared cuisine and responsive, knowledgeable service. Coconut and green tea ice creams are made in-house. 

This is London's premiere upscale go-to Thai restaurant. There is a top-shelf cocktail list, mangotinis, lycheetinis and Mai Thais, and an above average selection of imported beers and complementary wines. Singha beer, a pale lager, pairs nicely with the spicy flavours of Thai cuisine. There are plans for an exotic, secluded patio that will front on Carling Street. Thaifoon offers an extensive menu for dine-in, take-away and delivery. 

120 Dundas Street (East of Talbot)

Lunch:  Mon to Fri 11:30am – 2:00pm
Dinner: Sun to Thu 4:30pm – 9:00pm
Dinner: Fri to Sat 4:30pm – 10:00pm

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Where to Eat Chinese in London, Ontario: Dim Sum, Noodles, Dumplings, Duck and Congee

Yue Minjun (born 1962) is a contemporary Chinese artist based in Beijing, China. He is best known for oil paintings depicting himself in various settings, frozen in laughter. A couple of prints of his work hang in the dining room at Wing's Kitchen.


A distinction should be made between regionally-inspired Chinese restaurants and ubiquitous Canadian-Chinese immigrant-owned diners that still until recently were the norm across Canada. Canadian-Chinese cooking grounded in Cantonese tradition, quickly adapted to the food and taste preferences of whatever locale Chinese immigrants established for themselves. The improvised dishes they created, like chop suey, are dismissed as “not Chinese” by experts of the culture.

When Canada’s explicitly discriminatory race-based barriers on Chinese immigration grew less stringent, restaurants serving more authentic Chinese cuisine started to replace the hybrid Canadian-Chinese restaurants, especially in larger cities. These restaurants crossed regional borders, fusing Cantonese, Szechuan, Shanghainese and Hunan cuisines, and more often than not, tossing a few recognizable Canadian-Chinese staples on the menu for good measure.
Colleagues of mine like to seek out restaurants that don’t blatantly cater to wai guo ren, “foreigners”. Over the years, I have benefited from their guidance. I grew up squeezing packets of China Lily soya sauce over deep-fried egg rolls and chicken chow mein. The most authentic expression of Chinese cuisine is often withheld from the inexperienced non-Chinese palate. To these colleagues, Canadian-Chinese is a bastardized cuisine with a brief vocabulary of standard sauces, altered cooking times, and interloper ingredients — in general, techniques and ingredients designed to make dishes blander, thicker, sweeter, and less offensive to the Caucasian palate.

There are a myriad of restaurants in London that offer genuine Chinese food, with only a few that we patronize regularly offering consistency in authenticity, quality, service and price. Interestingly, the area around Wonderland and Oxford Streets has become a hub for Asian food. Due to the popularity of Canadian-Chinese food, often the most authentic Chinese restaurants pay homage to the genre. When you go out for authentic Chinese food, ask about the “traditional Chinese” dishes on (or off) the menu.

Chinese restaurant menus almost everywhere in London, ON, are wide-ranging in scope and minimalist in detail. Menus are not overwhelmingly helpful to the uninitiated and generally toned down for Caucasian palates. Stock photographs adorn menus and sometimes hang on the walls. These photos generally guide you to the Canadian-Chinese chop-suey cuisine of chicken balls, sweet-and-sour pork and sweet-and-spicy General Tao’s chicken instead of the authentic fare. Not surprisingly many Chinese restaurateurs frown on the deep-fried chop suey cuisine and if pressed will make interesting and disparaging remarks about the cuisine. Nevertheless, the take-out and delivery business is quite lucrative and does not stop them from giving the public these easily and quickly prepared versions of Chinese food.

Brief Overview
The recently opened Nov8  located in the Costco plaza at Wonderland north of Oxford is serving some of the city's best authentic/modern Chinese food. Perhaps the best and most consistent dim sum is at London Chinese Restaurant, located in the strip mall at Oxford and Wonderland, where the former Sears Outlet was located. They have dim sum carts and serve all day. (I will write more about the London Chinese Restaurant) in a later post. Wings Kitchen at Highbury near Cheapside serves some of the best dim sum in the city. I recommend you go there from Thursday to Sunday for the best experience. The Golden Dragon in Byron is known for the best crisp, dark-golden skin Peking duck. Pre-ordering the barbeque duck or Peking duck in advance is recommended to ensure that you have freshly barbequed duck. Congee House is a favourite and known for its Cantonese dishes and congee. Jasmine House is a modest restaurant with its own local quirks and ambitions. It is an interesting offering, with a window on Sichuan cuisine and showing Londoners the nuance and variety that lies beyond garlic and the blast of heat from and flavour from chilies.Located in a small plaza at 1030 Adelaide St N.and Cheapside it serves some very good Sichuan dishes. The Five Fortune Culture House is known for its Yunnan-style home cooking with Sichuan and Guizhou influences not formulaic Chinese restaurants serving Anglo-genres conceived by old-style Taishanese and rural Cantonese immigrants who adapted traditional Chinese recipes to suit local tastes and available ingredients.

The Spring (You Yi Cun)

Spring is a Mom-and-Pop business operated by Jiang Quam Liu and Yue Hao Yang. Yue has been cooking professionally for over 30 years. Don’t confuse Spring, half a block west of the Palace Theatre in the Old East Village, with The Springs on Springbank Drive. The menu, inspired by Mandarin and Cantonese cookery with a selection of Canadian-Chinese cuisine. (Mandarin cuisine is often used to refer to cuisine from Beijing) Cantonese cuisine (廣東菜) also known as Yue cuisine or Guangdong cuisine, refers to the cookery of China's Guangdong Province, particularly the provincial capital, Guangzhou (Canton). It is one of the Eight Culinary Traditions of Chinese cuisines. This unassuming culinary gem in the heart of Old East London offers amazingly food served with pride and attention to detail.The dining room at Spring is unremarkable; it approximates the ambience of eating out in a modest home with serviceable chairs and black Arborite tables which are separated from a living area room with a hutch. The kitchen is behind the living area. Liu is gracious and quick to laugh. Signature dumplings–house-made pork & chicken – are bathed in broth with celery and bok choy. We like the sautéed Asian eggplant. The Stirred Duck in Five Flavours with boiled potatoes are a commingling of sour and sweet flavours. There is a selection of dim sum offerings. 

768 Dundas Street East 
519 266 4421
Hours: 11:30 to 10:30 PM daily
Closed Wednesdays

Nov8 is a brand new, contemporary Chinese restaurant in the premises formerly occupied by Nov8 Sushi, located in the Costco plaza at Wonderland north of Oxford.  The owners of Nove8 are expanding the definition of Chinese food by skillfully combining traditional and contemporary sensibilities – in the décor, cooking and presentation. Try the stewed pork belly over onions with roasted garlic. Ask for the hot, salty and crispy chicken sparked with ginger, sesame oil and dried hot chilies. The combination works beautifully especially if you like heat. Crisp-tender baby bok choy with meaty, earthy shitake mushrooms glazed in oyster and soya is a great juxtaposition of flavours and textures. Caramelized Chinese yams (also called cinnamon-vine) are caramelized so well that it looks like a thread is coming out from the sugar syrup. Look for unexpected spins on region-specific dishes with an ever-changing paper menu printed in both Chinese and English.
701 Wonderland Rd. N.

Alex and Wing Ip

Wing`s Kitchen/ Đồng Khánh (Seafood Restaurant)
Located near Highbury and Cheapside, Wing’s Kitchen (aka Đồng Khánh Seafood Restaurant) is located in the same plaza as the 24 hr drive-thru Globally Local. The 15 month old Wing`s Kitchen offers a large selection of dim sum options as well as standard Cantonese dishes and a few Thai selections. Dim sum is a late morning and lunchtime food. This is one of a few restaurants with a fresh lobster tank offering fresh lobster at reasonable prices. The owners Alex and Wing Ip are long time London restaurateurs who previously owned Green Tea Japanese, Asia Gourmet and Green Tea Asian Cuisine. Wing was a seafood buyer in Hong Kong for over 30 years. There is a hybrid Canadian-Chinese menu available all day. Pecking duck is served in two courses. A whole duckling fried to crispy and carved tableside is served with finely shredded scallion and cucumber on steamed rice crepes. This is followed by crystal fold wok-fried minced duckling, vegetables, and fried noodles wrapped in lettuce leaves for $36. On our initial visits we stuck to the dim sum menu. This is dim sum without the carts. Our expectations were initially surpassed with the attention to detail, portion sizes and juxtaposition of flavours and textures. This is not the "factory" dim sum you'd find at the huge dim sum restaurants in urban centres. We are told that everything is prepared fresh from scratch. When ordering, the key is to ensure a mix of cold, hot, spicy, salty, sour and soothing dishes. The highly-regarded, elderly dim sum chef only works 4 days a week. I suggest visiting on the weekend when he is on hand and everything is super fresh and meticulously prepared and presented. Plump steamed har gow (shrimp) dumplings, seafood and taro dumplings and the braised eggplant stuffed with shrimp are sensational. I strongly suggest you save room for both the taro spring rolls and fragrant curry baby squid (cuttlefish). Also, don’t miss the steamed soft and fluffy barbecue pork buns that melt-in-your-mouth. Made in-house lotus mooncakes with salted duck egg yolk were out of this world. We also like the coconut mousse red bean cake. We received a 10% discount for paying cash
1141 Highbury Avenue. N.
519 659 8888

Daily Dim Sum 11 am to 3:30 pm
Monday 11am to 11 pm
Closed Tuesdays
Wednesday – Saturday 11am to 11 pm
Sunday – 11am to 9pm

 Wenbei Liang

Five Fortune Culture House
In downtown London Five Fortune Culture Restaurant proprietors Wenbei and Jie Liang Yin are part of the groundswell of restaurateurs offering an authentic dining experience. The cuisine, as prepared by Jie Liang and interpreted by Wenbei is, “Pure Chinese,” Yunnan with Sichuan and Guizhou influences. Aromatic steamed pineapple rice is popular among Dai people and the perfect side dish to soothe the heat of spicy offerings. In Jie Liang’s hands the fragrant rice has a stunningly delicate balance of sour and sweetness. A ripe pineapple is scooped out and the flesh is cut in small cubes and mixed with the scented rice and other aromatics. It is served in the hollowed pineapple shell with the leaf crown acting as a lid to keep the rice hot. Yunnan is the home to a vast range of fresh rice noodle soups and stir fries. Mixian or fresh rice noodles are gluten-free with a silky texture which absorbs flavours efficiently. Yunnan's best known dish, Crossing Bridge Noodles is a bowl of extremely hot broth served with a range of ingredients supplied raw to the table, including rice noodles, thinly sliced pork, poultry and fish, leafy vegetables, bean curd, aromatics and cilantro to balance out strong flavours, much like a hot pot. If you’re not familiar with these flavours, it’s an assertive dish. If you are, it’s simply enjoyably comforting. Spicy Tom Yum seafood pot has a sharp freshness and briny meatiness, deriving its pungency from lemongrass and pepper. Other specialities include thick, soft and chewy Udon noodles made from wheat. The green onion pie is flavoursome and reminds me of the Japanese savoury pancake, okonomiyaki. Try the jiggly iced congee and glutinous dia bao (steamed buns). The restaurant caters to the International students and gets extremely busy. When the restaurant is full the wait time for food can be exceedingly long.

368 Richmond Street
226 667 9873
Menu Changes Friday to Sunday
Hours can vary. Phone ahead.

Congee Chan

Congee Chan
 One of my favourite spots is Congee Chan on Wonderland Road. In ancient times, people named the thick congee, chan, the watery one chi or mi. The restaurant offers a large menu of Cantonese specialties prepared with fresh high-quality ingredients. A favorite, traditional congee is the thick, preserved egg congee with minced duck. The shrimp dishes are a notch above most Asian-inspired restaurants in London. This is traditional Chinese regional cooking combined with Canadian-Chinese cuisine with Americanized versions of modern Asian specialties like the deep-fried, sweet and piquant General Tao chicken. Congee Chan offers more than just congee and noodles, order the lobster with ginger and green onion chow mein, and the clams with black bean sauce. Congee Chan is comparable to the good congee/noodle/rice restaurants you'd find in Toronto. They serve set Chinese dinners for a reasonable price. The interior is contemporary, colourful, warmly lit and offers both booth seating and larger round tables. Congee Chan has servers who are knowledgeable, hospitable and efficient.
735 Wonderland Rd., North (Located in a strip mall behind Costco North across from Angelo’s).

Youjin Wang

SO INVITING Chinese Bakery

SO INVITING, the Chinese bakery across from the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market lives up to its name, especially with its hospitable owners. Yamei Min and Youjin Wang offer a variety of savoury hand-made dumplings (pot stickers) that include beef, chicken, pork, and vegetable. There are three types of sauces on offer depending on your palate. Recently, they`ve added chicken fried rice to the repertoire. There is a selection of not too sweet baking. The mooncakes with savoury bean paste cookies are a big hit.  Choose what you want, it's self-serve. The minimalist bakery is take away only, not dine in, the interior is exceedingly tiny and the prices more than reasonable.
876 Dundas
226 781 0788

"Annie" Yu Wang.

Vegan Dim "Sumday" at The Tea Lounge

The Tea Lounge will celebrate their 1st anniversary on November 16-18th. They will have a Tea & Wine Paring Event and a Tea & Cocktail event. During their 3 day celebration they will also be serving tea cocktails and tea-infused win. On November 19th The Tea Lounge will launch their Vegan Dim “SumDay”. Several varieties of teas will be served with various vegan plant-based dim sum. They will start with a seasonal (pumpkin congee), followed by a cold dish. Then continue with a steamed tray (buns, wraps, dumplings etc.) and finish with several tea-based desserts. Everything will be handmade by "Annie" Yu Wang.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Transvaal Farm & C'est Bon Goat Cheese : As Goat as it Gets

Kitchen Smidgen is a small bakery — a smidgen of a spot along the beautiful Thames in St. Marys operated by Cindy Taylor. Stop by for sweet and savoury treats; perhaps pick up some C’est bon cheese or Transvaal Farm preserves. Taylor’s cinnamon buns and scones have a bit of a cult following. 


To bond with the rural charm that defines Perth County, consider day-tripping by car and staying in farmhouses or farm guest houses. Agritourism, as it is defined most commonly, constitutes any agriculturally-based operation that brings visitors to a farm. Many agro-tourists have a strong interest in all things culinary. They want to meet the local farmers, artisans and processors and talk with them about what is involved in food production while getting an authentic taste of rural life.  

In Perth County, culinary entrepreneurs continue to develop fresh takes on the farm-to-table ethos while examining the roots of local cuisine and developing new region-specific specialties and products. They characterize the entrepreneurial spirit of the modernist vanguard by re-imagining the food chain, safeguarding the terroir and adding their unique contributions to the collective Ontario culinary identity.

On a beautiful mid-September day, at the invitation of Stratford Tourism and the Ontario Culinary Alliance, I visited Transvaal Farm and the small on-farm family run C’estbon cheese business as part of the itinerary of a carefully planned FAM tour. The tour was geared to familiarize the press with many of the epic culinary attractions in and around Stratford and St. Marys, Ontario.

Down a bucolic backroad on the verge of the historic stone town of St. Marys lies Transvaal Farm at the end of a tree-lined driveway. The pastoral 50-acre farm has been home to Cindy Taylor’s family for over three decades. Cindy and her raconteur husband Scott McLauchlan are our formidable hosts on this informative and entertaining agritourism experience. The main elements of this adventure are a guided tour by Scott of the storybook property and farm gardens, a tour and a lavish farm-to-table breakfast prepared by Cindy at the guest house, and a tour of the small-scale artisan goat cheese plant operated by Cindy’s brother, owner and cheesemaker, George Taylor.

Shortly after our arrival we walk over to the chicken coop to meet “the girls” a bevy of Rhode Island Reds, and collect some freshly laid eggs for breakfast. Although they are excellent free range foragers, McLauchlan tells us, “the girls” need some protection from the late-night wildlife interlopers that prowl the farm.
Despite the intense hot weather we’ve had, part of the farm garden is overflowing with the bright greenery of nasturtium leaves and their vibrant edible flowers. There are plenty of hardy vegetables still in the field, especially colourful varieties of ubiquitous peppers and tomatoes ripe for the picking.

Back at the Transvaal Farm guesthouse the refrigerator is stocked with samplings of fresh, milky and satisfyingly tart C’estbon goat cheese, made on the property from a neighbouring herd of goats. There is farm fresh goat milk on offer and a delicious creamy goat yogurt that is like crème fraiche – “Not without similarities to Iceland’s super-trendy Skyr,” says Ontario Culinary Alliance, Community Manager, Agatha Podgorski  –  the yogurt we are told is still in the beta stage and we are the first to enjoy a sampling. Technically, the yogurt is a cheese with full-fat content.

Cindy a graduate of the Baking Arts program at George Brown College has outdone herself by crafting a selection of high-quality baked goods made in small batches using traditional methods from Transvaal  Farm’s fresh ingredients. These are the products that Cindy takes to the St. Marys Farmers’ Market on Saturdays in season. We are the recipients of much culinary largesse that includes her baking and Transvaal Farms preserves.

George is welcoming and willing to share his story. What began as a retirement project sixteen years ago – which George hoped would be able to sustain its own costs – became a successful artisan goat cheese operation that soon showed both sustainability and profitability. George famously swapped a flock of sheep for a herd of Toggenburg and La Mancha goats, and began crafting farmstead, small-batch, cheese- by-hand, using only the milk from his own herd to create his proprietary C’estbon chèvre. 

In time, George eventually relocated his goats to a neighbouring farm. Today, once a week about 5,000 litres of goat milk is delivered from a local producer, Hewitt’s Dairy, and the process begins. Not a single item goes off the property without George’s thumbprint on it. Authentic artisan cheese can’t be mass-produced: it is limited in quantity and has specific characteristics deemed to be specialty in nature.    

A sense of community and an entrepreneurial culture are important economic drivers in rural areas. Upwards of 80 percent of Stratford’s upscale chefs and restaurateurs purchase C’estbon chevre.

One of the experiences Cindy offers to farm guests is the opportunity to participate in an on-site hands-on culinary workshop. She offers workshops on preserving, home-made bread or pastry, chocolate truffles, and even making your own goat cheese. You choose which culinary experience you would like to partake in and Cindy will arrange a convenient day to make it happen.

The culinary tour of Transvaal Farm and the C’estbon cheese operations was both inspiring and informative. It reminded us of the strong links of like-minded entrepreneurs by talking about the things we all have in common — enjoying the benefits that we receive from a healthy entrepreneurial, artisan and agriculture culture. On another level it reminds us to embrace unique products that are locally conceived, locally controlled and as rich in local content as the distinctive terroir and time-honoured ways of preparing them of any given era.
4675 Line 3, St. Marys, Ontario