Canada


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 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

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