Restaurants


It’s been a while since I blogged and that’s just due to real life getting in the way! I’ve already been to Vancouver twice this year and haven’t blogged a bit about those trips. I’ll start with a highlight of my first trip back in May. My father and I went to visit Mak N Ming, a tiny fixed menu restaurant in Kitsilano – it’s relatively new and just recently was awarded as one of Canada’s best new restaurants in 2017 by Air Canada’s enRoute magazine (Légende in Quebec made that list a few years ago). The Mak and Ming in the name are the chef couple of impressive pedigrees who’ve launched the tiny restaurant.

The restaurant is indeed tiny – perhaps only seating about 20 or so and hence booking is absolutely essential. There are only two menus – a four-course demi menu and a longer seven-course chef’s menu. As this was my last dinner before flying out of Vancouver on that first trip, we went all out for the chef’s menu ($78 per head). What’s nice is that the entire table isn’t forced into one or the other; they allow for mixing of menus.

A first bite of caviar on rye was a very promising start.

first bite

Next up was raw lamb, salsify, parmesan, shirasu and was essentially lamb tartare and much milder in flavour than I expected. The parmesan featured in a huge crunchy cracker on top.

raw lamb, salsify, parmesan, shirasu

I enjoyed the buckwheat, fried egg, greens which turned out to be similar to a crepe – though perhaps this was the least creative of the dishes that night. Still very good though.

buckwheat, fried egg, greens

The very minimalistic lobster, potato was butter poached lobster with a gorgeous potato puree and also shavings of potato with a seaweed coating, I think.

lobster, potato

One of my favourites was the split pea, lobster ‘gravy’, seeds which turned out to be layers of split pea soup and a very thick lobster bisque.

split pea, lobster 'gravy', seeds

The first dessert – rhubarb tartlet, brunost – was a truly inspired combination. A very short and crumbly buttery pastry with a sweet-tart rhubarb filling was offset nicely by its toupee of rich and creamy Norwegian brown cheese.

rhubarb tartlet, brunost

The second dessert was a sake kasu parfait, rose jelly, pistachio, meringue, sweet pea – and I never knew you could eat sweet peas in small quantities (I do believe they’re toxic in larger amounts). Not too sweet and lovely and light yet creamy, this was very accomplished.

sake kasu parfait, rose jelly, pistachio, meringue, sweet pea

I ordered tea for afters and it came with a plate of excellent house-made sweets for the table.

Sweets

And my tea? Well, it came with a timer which gave us a bit of interactive fun.

Tea with Timer

Perhaps my only quibble with the restaurant is that the menus only seem to change once every season – if I still lived in Vancouver and had the funds, I’d want more of an excuse to visit more often! Oh, and that I missed their Sunday brunches offered only in the summer – boo. It’s definitely worth the visit!

Mak N Ming
1629 Yew Street
Vancouver, BC
V6K 3E6
Canada

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I knew I had a solo dinner in Québec and after reaching out on Twitter, Renée got in touch again (hello!) and recommended Légende, a highly acclaimed restaurant specialising in Boreal cuisine, i.e cuisine using ingredients only found in the Boreal (Northern) forests of Canada. No lemons or passion fruit or aubergines here! While not unique in Québec for serving boreal cuisine, it is unique in being one of the few restaurants in Canada to be on the Air Canada enRoute magazine’s annual list of Canada’s best new restaurants.

I’d booked a place for one and ended up at their counter, watching plates whizz by and drinks being made in front of me. There were a couple other solo diners there and it was a nice spot to chat and find out what brought all of us to Québec (work, it turns out). I was tempted to try the restaurant’s tasting menu (10 courses) but I was still feeling a little full from lunch and so decided on sticking to the a la carte menu of half-sized plates.

An amuse of clam and cucumber was brought out. It was refreshing and opened up my appetite a little (perhaps that massive sugar shack inspired lunch was a mistake….nah).

Clam and Cucumber

A tiny loaf of warm, fir scented bread with butter made my way at the counter. It took a lot of discipline not to inhale it in one go.

Fir Scented Bread

Now, I thought that perhaps with half plates, I could perhaps put away two or three and I started by ordering two. This was a wise move as they were half sizes of Canadian portions – read: larger than I’m used to! My first dish of pan seared scallops with egg yolk, smoked duck, fennel, Nordic shrimp was delicious, with lots of textures (like those crackers on top) and even a few fiddlehead ferns. This was probably my favourite dish of the evening.

Pan Seared Scallops

This guinea fowl dish wasn’t on the menu but replaced another poultry dish that I originally wanted. Yikes, I didn’t take any notes but I remember enjoying it and I remember being extremely full afterwards and definitely not being able to deal with a third dish!

Guinea Fowl

Dessert had to be their signature Candy cap mushroom frozen parfait with fir balm infused mousse, crystallized lichen. Lichen! Fir! Mushrooms?! These are not words I normally associate with dessert! The mushrooms turned out to be formed of the frozen parfait but the lichen…the lichen was lichen! I never knew it was edible! The dish overall was more of a fun novelty rather than your typical sweet ending to a meal but I still loved it.

Candy Cap Mushroom Frozen Parfait

Overall, it was a fabulous meal. Definitely recommended and if you’re a solo diner like I was, the counter is a great place to sit and be taken care of.

Légende
255 Rue Saint-Paul
Ville de Québec, QC
G1K 3W5, Canada

Earlier this year (in May), I had my first visit to Quebec City, probably the last major city in Canada I’ve been very keen to see due to its history. And its old walled city (the only walled city in North America north of Mexico) is indeed a UNESCO world heritage site. It was a short visit as I was there for work but I think I managed to see most of the highlights in my free day and whatever free time I could muster.

My hotel was located about a 10 minute walk from the walled old town (top tip: best not to choose a hotel on Grande Allée Est if you’re not keen on nightlife running into the wee hours of the morning right in front of your window). For my first walk through the city, I looped around the old fortress and headed straight for the river.

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That would be the mighty St Lawrence river! It’s particularly wide here as Québec is located near its mouth. Notice the gloomy day – this was late spring and there were still large lumps of snow that had failed to melt. It was cold!

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My first view of the Château Frontenac was breathtaking (as was the wind that day) – it’s quite a majestic landmark and understandably is one of the main symbols of the city. If it had been winter, it would have been a treat to go down the toboggan slide (located on the left in the photo below) dating back to 1884!

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From the Terrasse Dufferin and its multitude of benches facing the river, it was down the stairs to the lower town below.

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The Quartier Petit Champlain is a particularly charming tourist area with many shops with local products.

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At the end of the main street is a shop specialising in all things maple (Québec is famous for its maple syrup and, I learned, wild blueberries). It’s where I chose to go for my maple taffy later in the visit. Here, maple syrup is cooked to the soft ball stage and then poured over snow (shaved ice here). A stick is used to pick up the taffy and it tasted even better than I expected! This was just one step in my dream to experience a Québécois sugar shack but, y’know, outside the actual season (typically March and April).

Maple taffy! (Recall Little House in the Big Woods?)

There’s a funicular to help you get back up that hill too… And I certainly made use of that when I came back one evening from a work dinner in the lower town. Handy!

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I continued walking around the port area until I reached the Marché du Vieux-Port de Québec. This market was made up of many local farm stands selling local products – I picked up some amazing fresh maple sugar as a gift for friends here.

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Fiddlehead ferns (têtes de violon in French – violin heads) were in season and were all over the market. I had a chance to have some at a dinner later on.

Fiddlehead Ferns!

My sugar shack style lunch was had at La Buche, a restaurant specialising in Quebecois cuisine. I went full on with their massive brunch platter that evoked a sugar shack kind of feeling. There were eggs, potatoes, sausage, bacon, ham, cretons, fèves au lard (the Québec version of baked beans), a crepe with maple syrup, toast with blueberry jam, and fruit salad. Hearty it was and I was very full the rest of the day – I did try my best but no, I didn’t finish the entire thing!

Sugar Shack Plate

There was a very nice dinner that night as well (oof!) and I’ll save that for a post of its own.

The oldest building in Quebec was across the street and it also holds another Quebecois restaurant – it’s not cheap but I’ve heard good things about it.

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Other places I particularly enjoyed visiting? Well, there was the side of the parking lot of the Anglican cathedral, where Aldo the donkey lives. He’s out and about most mornings, I believe.

We met an adorable donkey at the Anglican cathedral this morning! His name is Aldo.

I managed to wander into Le Monastère des Augustines – still a working Augustine convent but now also refurbished to be a hotel, restaurant, café, spa, and all round community space. It’s beautiful and very peaceful.

Le Monastère des Augustines

A visit to the Morrin Centre is a must for lovers of libraries. This historic English language library is tiny but gorgeous.

The Morrin Centre

Nearby is the Maison de la Littérature, a modern library created in a converted church. Again, absolutely beautiful but in its own different way.

Maison de la Littérature

A must-stop shop is the Épicerie J.A. Moisan, the oldest grocery store in North America. It has many of its original fixings and you can spend an hour here poring over all the goods. It’s also the perfect place to pick up an edible souvenir – I went home with some incredible wild blueberry compote.

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I couldn’t not have poutine in Quebec! That quintessentially Québécois dish of fries, cheese curds, and gravy is said to have originated in the fast food chain Chez Ashton. That’s where I went and I wasn’t disappointed. The cheese curds, in particular, were exceptionally fresh, squeaking in between my teeth.

Poutine!!!

My first time in Quebec was certainly good fun if a bit cold. My next post is on Légende, the restaurant, but if you want to see more Quebec photos in the meantime, I’ll direct you to my Flickr album.

If you’re flying to Canada, there’s a chance you’ll be changing in Toronto Pearson International Airport, the busiest airport in the country. If you’re flying through Terminal 1, there appear to be a wide variety of restaurants; there are lots of new ones since I last went through there. In Terminal 3, there are fewer choices (always a Tim Horton’s though!) but I managed to find a good place to dine on my recent stopovers there. Caplansky’s Deli – a branch of a popular Toronto diner.

My first stopover coincided with dinnertime and with many hours to kill, I got comfy at a large table by the window and ordered myself a feast. One smoked meat sandwich, with latkes substituting the usual fries, and a side house salad. While the salad was a little too heavily dressed, the croutons did add texture and crunch. The smoked meat was fantastic, as were the latkes. A selection of their own deli mustards also kept me entertained.

A long layover means a proper fill up! Excellent smoked meat and latkes at Caplansky's Deli.

My second stopover was at breakfast time and I was ravenous. I ordered a smoked meat hash (with potato and onion) and over-easy eggs instead of the usual sunny side up. This wasn’t too bad and I was tickled by the addition of a few bites of fresh fruit. With ketchup and mustard, it was some incredibly comforting eating. 

This was breakfast at Caplansky's Deli at Toronto Pearson when I flew from Québec to Vancouver. Smoked meat hash!

I wish all airports had diners! And I already know what I want to try the next time I’m in Toronto – their fried chicken and their smoked meat knish or their fried salami for breakfast!

I want to break up all these holiday eating posts with something a little more local. Croydon! In particular, Brasserie Vacherin in Croydon, one of our locals; it’s run by Malcolm John who also runs our beloved Le Vacherin in Chiswick. We’re often there for dinner and occasionally for breakfast but recently we stopped in for their relatively new weekend brunch menu. And it’s a cracker! Two courses for £12.95 or three for £17.50 and it includes bottomless Virgin Marys!

Last weekend we started with a red wine poached pear, blue cheese, walnut, and endive salad for Blai (his favourite and we never have blue cheese at home as I’m not a fan and I do most of the food shopping!) and crispy fried squid with roast garlic aioli for me.

Three excellent courses for brunch at Brasserie Vacherin. Here are our starters: a poached pear and blue cheese salad and crispy fried squid. And bottomless Virgin Marys!

We shared our main courses: a roast beef lunch (Sundays only) and fried eggs with chorizo and avocado and bacon. The roast was alright, just needing a little more seasoning – best not to take my word for it though, as I’m not the biggest fan of Sunday roasts. I’m not sure what compelled me to order it; I always feel like one about once a year. The eggs definitely felt more brunchy and the bacon was a standout.

A roast dinner on my side and baked eggs on Blai's, though we shared everything!

By this point, we were very full! But I wanted dessert (greedy!) and so we split a single crepe Suzette. Only it turned out to be crepes plural and the whole lot turned up on a dinner plate. It was huge! It was delicious.

Crepes Suzette! This was a dinner plate! 😜

It’s a brilliant deal and the food is all excellent. There are more traditional brunch options on the menu like eggs benedict or baked eggs or other more lunch items like a burger and fish and chips; we’ve tried almost all of these and so can vouch for them all. There’s something for everyone and I love it. Thank goodness it’s a local of ours!

Glasgow! I still need to write about our days in Glasgow (this was back in Easter!). Blogging has not come easy as of late though I am still prolific on Instagram. I think after a whole day of looking at a computer, I’m just not feeling as inclined to open up my laptop yet again at night. But there’s Glasgow to write about! And also a recent trip to Canada! And a day in St Albans too! Onwards!

On our arrival in Glasgow, it was first waiting out the rain in a bookshop and then our hotel before heading out for dinner – Paesano! This purveyor of authentic Neapolitan pizzas is rightly popular with the locals; there was a wait for our table but it was worth it. Our fresh Tuscan fennel sausage …

Fresh Tuscan Fennel Sausage Pizza

… and prosciutto cotto and mushroom pizzas were excellent.

Prosciutto Cotto and Mushroom Pizza

A side of artichokes and sun blushed tomatoes were lovely – the tomatoes were particularly good.

Artichokes and Sun Blushed Tomatoes

Dessert was one of the cakes of the day – a chocolate fudge cake with a side of soft serve ice cream. The portion was massive for £4!

Chocolate Cake and Soft Serve Ice Cream

The next morning, we trekked out to Glasgow Cathedral – it’s magnificent! I’d never visited the cathedral despite spending a little time in the city 17 years ago and I was surprised by its size.

Glasgow Cathedral

Across the street was the most interesting Provand’s Lordship, which I also highly recommend visiting! It’s a medieval building kitted out to be exactly like how it would have been around the 16th-18th centuries and it’s free to visit. Highly recommended if you’re visiting.

Provand's Lordship

We then took the subway to the West End where we lunched at Kimchi Cult!, a kind of fusion Korean joint that’s quite popular. A bibimbap with pulled pork…

Bibimbap with Pulled Pork

… and bulgogi brisket bao were both alright. The vegetables in the bibimbap were just raw and not blanched or seasoned which made it not taste entirely right to me.

Bulgogi Brisket Bao

Of particular note were the fries with kimchi mayo – they’ve hit on a winning formula here. I hear their fries topped with everything are very good.

Fries with Kimchi Mayo

The entire afternoon was spent in the brilliant Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, where we learned about the Glasgow Boys and their influence on UK art.

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And then I was back at Crabshakk – or should I say, I introduced Blai to the brilliant Crabshakk. We noshed on a few things by the bar. Let’s see… first were salt and pepper tentacles and gurnard (what a combo!).

Salt and Pepper Tentacles and Gurnard

Octopus with onion puree, chorizo, garlic pesto (!!!).

Octopus with Onion Puree, Chorizo, Garlic Pesto

Crab cakes (these are a must).

Crab Cakes

And finally seared scallops with anchovy (always go with the anchovy butter). Brilliant as always.

Seared Scallops with Anchovy

We walked all the butter off on our way to Crollas Gelateria, where we shared freshly baked chocolate chip cookies with two scoops of gelato. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Dinner was followed by ice cream on freshly baked cookies! 🍦🍪

As you can imagine, we rolled back to our hotel that night.

On the morning of our last full day in Glasgow (and Scotland), it rained cats and dogs and we could only sprint to the nearby Gallery of Modern Art where we spent a curious morning before we continued through the damp to Cup Tea Lounge where we shared a pear and orange salad and eggs royale.

Pear and Orange Salad

Eggs Royale

While the food was average, the setting was absolutely gorgeous with its ceramic tiled walls and its impressive gin bar!

Tea Lounge

We continued up towards Sauchiehall Street, making a detour towards the Glasgow School of Art. Alas, the original Mackintosh building was under scaffolding for a refurbishment but there was an excellent exhibition about it all in one of the new buildings.

We dropped into Singl-end for coffee and cake – well, hot chocolate and coffee and a vegan (!) cake. It was the most delicious vegan baked good I’d had – a raspberry, chocolate and pistachio cake. All their baked goods looked excellent as did their savoury brunch options.

Raspberry, Chocolate and Pistachio Cake, Hot Chocolate, and a Flat White

Our final dinner in Glasgow, in Scotland!, was at Bread Meats Bread, a popular and highly rated burger joint. My Wolf of St Vincent Street was a juicy patty topped with cheese, bacon, pulled pork, crispy onions and ‘nduja was almost too big to get my jaws around. But it was good!

Wolf of St Vincent Street

As was Blai’s Full House burger which was topped with beef brisket and pickles. Our accompanying sweet potato fries and poutine were also excellent. I like the creativity they exhibit through their fries – our neighbour’s maple and bacon sweet potato fries looked brilliant!

Sweet Potato Fries and Poutine

The next day, it was back to Edinburgh and then back to London from there. We had a fantastic time in Scotland – everyone was very friendly, there’s plenty to see and do, and, gosh, the food was good. As is usual, all photos from our Easter trip to Edinburgh and Glasgow can be found in this Flickr album.

It was yet another Easter weekend and we weren’t going to let these free days off go to waste. On Blai’s request, we headed up north to Scotland, a country I’d visited briefly but where he had never set foot. Off we went by train from London to Edinburgh, a pleasant few hours journey which saw us deposited right in the centre of the Scottish capital. We dumped our bags at our B&B and then immediately set off up the hill to the castle.

While we didn’t visit Edinburgh Castle on this trip, we could still marvel at its impressive location.

Edinburgh Castle

We criss-crossed the city, walking all the way down to the Scottish Parliament and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Of course, such an appetite that has been worked up must be addressed! Dinner! And it would be at The Dogs, a well priced British bistro that was packed with locals and tourists alike. Home smoked trout, fennel and mint slaw, capers was a lovely little starter of lots of textures and flavours – that toasted trout skin was wonderful against the soft trout flesh.

home smoked trout, fennel + mint slaw, capers

Pork cheeks in cider, celeriac + pear mash, buttered Savoy cabbage were served in a very thick sauce that seemed to consist of apple puree. While the mashed was a bit too texturally similar to the tender pork cheeks and its sauce, the cabbage added a nice little crunch.

pork cheeks in cider, celeriac + pear mash, buttered Savoy cabbage

Ling, prawn + spinach pie, herby potato crust was a very comforting fish pie.

ling, prawn + spinach pie, herby potato crust

A side of mangetout, honey and pumpkin seeds was great! I think I’d been expecting the usual boiled veg but here the mangetout was sauteed. Much better!

mangetout, honey + pumpkin seeds

Desserts were outstanding. A fruit crumble was the furthest away from the usual institutional crumbles I’ve encountered. As well, their pear cheesecake was incredibly light and flavourful.

fruit crumble and pear cheesecake, lime + mint syrup

The next morning, we woke up to a full Scottish breakfast at our B&B – the B+B Edinburgh. Turns out I do love me a potato scone and a square sausage. Love ’em.

Boom - a full Scottish breakfast! Potato scone, square sausage and haggis included.

A couple hours were spent first at the wonderful National Museum of Scotland. I think it was more crowded that usual that weekday as the was a science festival taking place within. Either way, loved it. Definitely recommended.

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We looked for a light lunch and found it at Ting Thai Caravan. We got spaces at a shared table and tucked into fried rice noodles and this lovely light beef noodle soup. Yes, those are pork rinds on top… They were very good but didn’t really add anything to the dish.

It's cold up north and this beef noodle soup from Ting Thai Caravan hit the spot yesterday.

After wandering around Victoria Street and Grassmarket, the rest of the afternoon was spent at the excellent Scottish National Gallery.

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We were chased out of the museum at closing time and came out to see this over the city!

Rainbow over Edinburgh Waverley

We ended up at First Coast for dinner (our second choice restaurant) when we couldn’t get into our first choice Sushiya (we made it there the next day though).

A Middle-Eastern inspired aubergine and flatbread was a nice little cold starter. Perhaps it wasn’t the most inspiring but it was tasty.

aubergine and flatbread

We loved the Octopus, saffron aioli, black rice. The rice was gorgeous, as was the ridiculously spoon tender octopus.

octopus, saffron aioli, black rice

A Brazilian seafood stew, coconut milk saw off more of the cold in our bones.

brazilian seafood stew, coconut milk

A Middle Eastern vegetable stew, apricots, olives, bulgar, pomegranate felt very healthy after the morning’s full Scottish breakfast! Of course, there was another one the next morning…

middle eastern vegetable stew, apricots, olives, bulgar, pomegranate

The next morning after breakfast (oof), we headed around behind our hotel to see the very picturesque Dean Village, a former industrial part of the city. We could have followed the path along the path all the way to the north of the city but turned around as our remaining time in Edinburgh was limited.

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Lunch was in nearby Haymarket at Sushiya (yeah, we made a reservation this time), which turned out to be one of the best Japanese restaurants I’ve tried in the UK. Everything we had was brilliantly prepared and exceptionally fresh. Here was our perfectly crisp and greaseless squid tempura.

Squid Tempura

Grilled nigiri and a dragon roll were both superb, both perfectly put together and melt-in-the-mouth delicious.

Sushi

There was a scoop of white sesame ice cream as well – excellent, and strangely quite unusual as I felt more used to seeing black sesame used in ice creams and desserts. Delicious! We highly recommend Sushiya and reservations are necessary for lunch or dinner.

White Sesame Ice Cream

And then it was on to Glasgow! (And that’s the next post.)

But there was one more Edinburgh eatery to report on – on our way back to London from Glasgow, we stopped in Edinburgh to change trains. The stopover gave us enough time to have a relaxing lunch at Edinburgh Larder, a cafe specialising in locally sourced produce.

A veggie plate contained hummus and roasted vegetables, plenty of salads and little locally baked oatcakes.

Veggie Plate

A fish plate was filled with variants of Scottish salmon (that now luxury good): cold smoked, hot smoked, paté. And again, there were countless little oatcakes. Delicious little oatcakes! You should see their sandwiches too – proper doorstopper constructions one can barely get your jaws around it.

Fish Plate

Finally, an unusual honey and camomile cake was the perfect send off for our trip back to London. It was sticky and chewy and very very good.

Honey and Camomile Cake

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