Travel


My Instagram feed probably gave it away but I was in Belgium last week for work. Sadly, the excitement of the novelty of Belgian food has now worn off for me – it was probably the endless chips, dairy and mayo that did it. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with chips, dairy and mayo but when encountering some combo of the three at almost every meal….well, yeah, I needed a break.

On our last night in Leuven, we were, to our relief, brought to an Italian restaurant. I think I’d been expecting an average Italian restaurant, perhaps catering for the cheap-and-cheerful student population, but what I was not expecting was a brilliant Slow Food restaurant. And that’s exactly what Ristorante Rossi is.

We had all been booked in for their €35 3-course menu; there’s also a 5-course menu, an a la carte option, and occasional themed menus that reflect one particular region in Italy. The restaurant itself is quite small and quaintly decorated with vintage Italian signs and red and white checked tablecloths. On that Thursday night, the place was packed (Leuven, being a university town, has a busier Thursday night than Friday night. On Fridays, the majority of the students go home.) and buzzing, and the food on the surrounding tables looked excellent.

Anyway, first was an amuse of vitello tonnato on crostini. I love that classic combination of creamy tuna sauce with mild and tender veal.

Vittello Tonnato Crostini

Next was a giant pea and cheese arancino sat on a bed of pea puree, drizzled with pesto. This generously-sized ball of fried risotto (about the size of my fist) went down easily and I may have also helped myself to my friend’s unfinished portion. I clearly had no idea of the size of the next few dishes to come.

Pea Arancino with Pea Puree and Pesto

The pasta course was spinach and ricotta ravioli in a fresh tomato sauce with mint. This was fabulous (such an unexpected combination) and I could have gorged on this for my entire meal. But good thing I didn’t. I was again offered my friend’s extra ravioli but I just couldn’t manage anymore, especially when I saw the fish that was to come!

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Tomato Sauce and Mint

Our main course was that fish I saw – I’m not entirely sure of the species but it was a white fish that flaked easily and had been cooked with a delicious crispy skin. This was served with a celeriac puree, a creamy gravy, green beans and to my utter surprise, seared foie gras! And that little blob of dark green in front? A pesto of parsley and pistachio, from what I could gather – gorgeous stuff.

Fish with Foie Gras and Celeriac Puree

Dessert wasn’t included in the menu and I opted to share a massive serving of tiramisu (€6,50). This was gorgeous, with lots of coffee and quite light, just as I like it. Look at those distinct layers!

Tiramisu

I forgot to get a photo of the little squares of chocolate cake that came with coffees and the bill – the two layers had been sandwiched together with cream and Nutella! Dreamy!

It’s not the cheapest restaurant in Leuven (not sure if the students from the main university go there!) – our meal (with drinks and desserts) worked out to €50 per head. I definitely recommend it and definitely also recommend making a booking before you go.

Ristorante Rossi
Standonckstraat,2
3000 Leuven
Belgium

I ate at Chef Hung’s both on the day I arrived in Vancouver and the day I left. They’re a Taiwanese chain that specialises in beef noodle soup and on the very cold day that I arrived, the idea of a soothing, comforting bowl sounded great.

That evening, I slurped down a bowl of their Champion Beef Shank with Noodle in Spicy Soup (with extra fire chilli soup) and felt all the better for it. I like that you get a choice of noodle – our favourite are their thin noodles though wide noodles, rice vermicelli and others are also available. The spicy fire chilli soup is indeed spicy and numbing too with lots of chilli oil and Sichuan pepper. The beef came in two variants – cubes of stewed shank that were falling apart and slices of another cut (not sure which) that were gorgeously tender. The noodles were just al dente and softened slowly in the broth as I slurped my way through them. This was an excellent bowl of Taiwanese beef noodle soup.

Champion beef with noodle in spicy soup

The next day, this happened:

Along the Seawalk

Unfortunately, that was the only snow I got in Vancouver! Two weeks later, when I was due to fly out, it looked like this:

One week ago, I was here

Sure, all very pretty but dammit, where’s the snow?!

My last meal in Vancouver was also at Chef Hung’s. I love that place. Again we had their spicy beef noodle soup only this time we shared one bowl.

Spicy Beef Noodle Soup

I’ve got to mention the pickles. These are provided with every bowl of beef noodle soup and they are the perfect accompaniment, all tangy against the rich meat and broth.

Pickles

We also split an order of a crispy-on-the-outside-juicy-on-the-inside fried pork chop…

Pork Chop

…and a marinated beef wrap made with a freshly griddled flaky flatbread, slices of stewed beef, hoisin sauce and cucumber and spring onion. Brilliant stuff.

Marinated Beef Roll

The flaky bread was delicious and the whole thing was made less heavy with the inclusion of the vegetables.

Marinated Beef Roll

Portions were so big that I was able to bring most of the beef rolls and pork along with me to the airport to supplement the terrible offerings by Air Canada. Yes, they packed up our leftovers very nicely indeed.

What a great place – it’s yet another chain that I wish would open up in London!

Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle
1560 Marine Drive
West Vancouver, B.C.
V7V 1H8
Canada

Other branches are listed on their site.

Chef Hung Taiwanese Beef Noodle 洪師父牛肉麵 on Urbanspoon

And that ends my Vancouver posts this time! As usual, all my Vancouver photos from this Christmas trip can be seen in this Flickr photoset.

Heading to one of these Asian malls in Vancouver is the quickest way to immerse oneself into a totally different culture. Aberdeen Centre in Richmond feels very much like Hong Kong. My family have been visiting this place for years – the food court is excellent and there’s a great Asian supermarket and, best of all, there’s the largest Daiso in North America within. (Daiso’s a 100 yen shop chain in Japan; in Canada, everything’s $2. They sell amazing things and are as far removed from pound shops as is possible.)

Anyway, we first needed lunch. The restaurants all looked fantastic there and some even had ginormous queues that lunchtime but we headed to the popular food court on the top floor. Among the teppanyaki, noodles and juice stalls was this gem – Saboten, a cutlet chain from Japan.

Saboten Express

I immediately ordered a Saboten set, which included a bit of pork tenderloin (melted in the mouth), pork loin, and a prawn. Each had been crusted in the flakiest, crispiest panko crumbs and were fried beautifully. The only downside was the pre-ground sesame seeds (to be mixed into the tonkatsu sauce) – these had lost some of their flavour. But considering that it was from a food court, this was all excellent!

Saboten Set

From another stall, I ordered shengjianbao – the juicy pan fried pork buns that are a specialty of Shanghai. Many tables seemed to have an order of either these or the steamed xiaolongbao from the same stall.

Shengjianbao

Over to another Asian mall. If Aberdeen Centre was Hong Kong, The Crystal Mall in Burnaby (next to Metrotown) felt like mainland China. We headed there on New Year’s Day in search of a bit of adventure – neither of us had ever been but we’d heard good things about it.

Market

Again there were some restaurants (all packed and with queues outside) but we again headed straight for the food court. It may look empty below but be rest assured that you’ll be fighting for a seat close to midday.

Food Court

There were so many options that we ended up running around buying bits and pieces from various stalls. From a northern Chinese food stall, we had hand pulled noodles in soup with stewed pork ribs. The lady manning the stall pulled those noodles right there and then! They were wonderfully smooth and chewy – it’s a shame the broth was a little dull though.

Hand Pulled Noodles with Pork Ribs

From a Sichuan stall, dry wontons with chilli oil and fried peanuts. This was insanely good and burning hot and crunchy and tasty and yes, just excellent. They’re addictive – you can’t stop at one!

Dry Wontons with Chilli Oil and Peanuts

From a Xinjiang stall, we got a few skewers coated in chilli and cumin. There’s aubergine and the usual lamb/mutton and, quite interestingly and totally inauthentic, pork skewers too!

Skewers

We saw a woman walk by with bowls of hot tofufa (or dou hua) – extremely silky soft dessert tofu served hot and with syrup. That was it! We packed up the rest of the food that we couldn’t finish and my father ran over to the stall to order some. It was perfect – warm, silky, smooth, soft, and with just the right amount of sweetness.

Tofufa

The malls are certainly good fun and both are close to Skytrain stations, making them easy to access for the tourist who’s looking to see something a bit different in Vancouver and who’s depending on public transport. And you’ll eat very well!

There’s a story with Pidgin, the restaurant in Vancouver that only opened a little under a year ago and that is now known as one of the most innovative restaurants in the country, if not North America. It’s location is infamous in Vancouver – it’s in the centre of the downtown eastside, an area notorious for drug use. It never used to be like this; the decline of this area only started in the 1980s but recently there’s been a lot of development in the area. I don’t know all the details about this development but it’s clear there’s a certain amount of gentrification going on too, which might push out the current residents of the area.

It’s this possible moving and changing that got a few locals upset and they chose Pidgin as the representative business in all this gentrification and they protested against it. A lot of news was generated about the protest (and the counterprotest by other businesses) and as they say, any publicity is good, and soon, everyone in Vancouver knew about Pidgin. I don’t know all the facts so cannot tell you how I feel about this all but I’ll let one thing be known – it can be very scary in that area at night and during the day. I don’t think I’d walk down there alone. And I’m not sure exactly what I was thinking dragging my father there to try this place to celebrate his (very belated) birthday.

It turns out the area’s not so bad on a Sunday night. And the restaurant itself is gorgeous inside, as the photo below shows. Still, you can’t help but feel slightly uneasy eating in a restaurant when Vancouver’s poorest are right outside their glazed windows. The business has every right to be here but then again, so do the people living in the area. There are a lot of arguments flying about so if you’re interested, I encourage you to just google ‘Pidgin protests’ and you can see them all!

Pidgin

But onto the food and drink that night. The drinks list at Pidgin was very impressive and I was pleased to see a small selection of ‘zero proof’ cocktails. My Cordova – cucumber, jasmine, orange ($6) was a lovely and surprisingly dry blend that went down easily. Most nonalcoholic cocktails tend to just be very sweet fruit juices so this made for a great change.

Cordova - cucumber, jasmine, orange

We started the meal with an oyster shot, apple, horseradish ($3) each. That shot glass held the shucked oyster, a mustard horseradish sauce, and apple granita – yes, it was a bit cold but the flavours altogether were great! Very zingy.

Oyster shot, apple, horseradish

The dishes started arriving at a steady pace – all were placed in the centre for sharing. The Raw scallops, pomegranate red curry oil, daikon, green apple ($15) were utterly fantastic. The curry oil was tasty but not too strong and didn’t overwhelm the delicate molluscs. It’s also not perhaps clear in the photo below but there were a generous number of scallops under the crunchy strips of apple and daikon.

Raw scallops, pomegranate red curry oil, daikon, green apple

Our waiter recommend the  Mushrooms, sugar snap peas, egg, soy yuzu brown butter ($12) and he really got this one spot on. A whole variety of mushrooms (I definitely spotted king oyster and shimeji) were stir fried with the snap peas and the butter sauce was outstanding on it all. A ramen egg provided wonderful yolky creaminess and body. There was also a pea puree and pea shoots on top.

Mushrooms, sugar snap peas, egg, soy yuzu brown butter

The meaty dishes then arrived almost simultaneously. Beef brisket, miso gorgonzola crust, beets ($18) was a meltingly soft piece of brisket topped with a soft crust of gorgonzola and miso – though I’m not a fan of blue cheese, I thought this was alright. Actually, it was quite nicely balanced with the sweet beetroot, yet another thing I normally detest! The grated stuff on top that looks like Parmesan was actually lovely horseradish.

Beef brisket, miso gorgonzola crust, beets

I was excited to see their foie gras rice bowl, chestnuts, daikon, unagi glaze ($20) on the menu as I hadn’t seen it online – this is one of their most famous dishes and after my experience with a foie gras rice bowl in Tokyo, I wanted to try another one! When this arrived, I stirred it all up together (including the freshly grated wasabi) and turned every spoonful into a well balanced mouthful. Delicious.

Foie gras rice bowl, chestnuts, daikon, unagi glaze

Dessert time! I chose the Milk chocolate ovaltine mousse, orange blossom yogurt, honey comb ($8) and it was the perfect finish to the meal. The combination of flowery yogurt, crunchy sweet honey comb and creamy, not too sweet, not too rich mousse was fantastic.

Milk chocolate ovaltine mousse, orange blossom yogurt, honey comb

My father, not being a big fan of desserts, chose to finish his meal with another oyster shot!

Pidgin is certainly worthy of the number of recent accolades it’s received. We had a fabulous meal and if I had time, I’d had loved to go back to try more. Reservations recommended.

Pidgin
350 Carrall St
Vancouver, BC
Canada

Pidgin on Urbanspoon

Vancouver is known for its plethora of cheap sushi restaurants. I’ll be honest, some of them put me off due to their grungy look or their suspiciously low prices but I’m now a convert!

My father brought me one quiet day to Kin Sushi in West Vancouver to pick up some takeaway for our dinner. The tiny shop does have eat-in facilities though they’re very very basic. Most people come and get their order to go. While you can get lots of special rolls, we ordered their more basic combos – each of these was about $6 (with miso soup!). Here was a California roll, tempura yam (sweet potato) roll and tuna maki.

Combo B

This was a spicy combo – spicy salmon roll, spicy tuna roll and spicy dynamite (tempura prawn) roll. Of course, it’s not actually very spicy – there’s just a reddish sauce with a tingly heat mixed into the rolls.

Spicy Combo

I was surprised by how tasty they are – they’re already about 20 times better than the sushi one gets at the major chains in the UK (I’m looking at you, Itsu and Wasabi).

Kin Sushi
1760 Marine Drive
West Vancouver, BC V7V 1J1
Canada

Kin Sushi on Urbanspoon

The next week, I met up with one of my best friends, her husband and her daughter for dinner and they brought me to Sushi Town on Marine in North Vancouver. This restaurant was absolutely packed on a Saturday night and there was a 30 minute wait for a table for four.

And yes, the prices were amazing for what you get. This was a Double Dragon roll (about $8) – unagi on the inside and unagi on top too. Lots of eel!

Double Dragon Roll

We had the spicy tuna and salmon sashimi (about $9) with the spicy sauce on the side (rather than have it all mixed in – it can overwhelm the fish) and the portion size that arrived was extremely generous.

Spicy Tuna and Salmon Sashimi

My friends’ normal order always included the Awesome roll (approx $7) – it’s like a California roll but it’s topped with seared salmon, masago (flying fish roe), spring onions and bonito flakes and then the whole thing is drizzled with teriyaki sauce and spicy mayonnaise. It’s totally and awesomely over the top.

Awesome Roll

When the tonkatsu (about $8) arrived, I asked my friends whether they asked for one order or two. Yes, this is just one order. Two moist thin tonkatsu cutlets served with rice and salad – it’s big!

Tonkatsu

A single order of agedashi tofu (approx $4) was a large bowl of tofu cubes! The tofu wasn’t as silky as I like it but it’s still a solid dish.

Agedashi Tofu

Sushi Town
1227 Marine Dr.
North Vancouver, BC V7P 1T3
Canada

Sushi Town on Urbanspoon

Of course it’s not the finest sushi you can find in the city but for bang for your buck, you can’t go wrong at these restaurants. In general, I’m not a fan of the tuna served here (not sure what type it is) and I prefer the salmon. The fish is fresh, their sushi is tasty and creative (North American rolls are crazy and crazy good) and it’s all certainly a bargain. It definitely scratched my sushi itch.

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