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!

Taiwanese food! I love it and I loved what we tried at Ho-ja on Goldhawk Road in Shepherd’s Bush. I was first introduced to the restaurant by a friend who organised a karaoke night in one of their two private rooms downstairs. While the karaoke was ok (language variety good, song variety in English meh), the food was memorable. I returned last week with Blai.

The location was one I remembered as being an old-fashioned British diner in times past – I recall having Spam fritters for the first time there! The business has turned over a couple times since then and is now Ho-ja. The space is large and is peppered with wooden benches and tables – we’re shown to the end of a large communal one as the smaller tables are all taken. We have menus but one needs to order and pay at the counter and the food is brought out to you when it’s ready.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

Our spread looks good, no? First up was a pork katsu bento – it’s not really in a bento box but is akin to the set meals that are typically Taiwanese. For something like £6, we got a slightly greasy fried breaded pork cutlet, some stewed cabbage, beansprouts, and rice. Portions are certainly hearty.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

A side order of their chicken popcorn is surprisingly greaseless by comparison. It’s extremely addictive and it would be worth ordering this as a bento main.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

The Ho-ja beef roll also comes with vegetables (steamed broccoli here) and are flaky scallion pancakes rolled around lots of salad leaves and some stewed beef. Fabulous stuff! We loved the freshness of the greens with the richer bread and beef. Just watch out for the skewers holding the rolls together… it’s easy to accidentally give yourself an unwanted piercing.

Dinner at Ho-ja in Shepherd's Bush last weekend.

With a bubble tea and a regular jasmine tea, the bill came to about £22, a pretty good deal. It’s definitely a place to look out for if you’re in search of a bite in the area.

Ho Ja
39 Goldhawk Road
Shepherd’s Bush
London W12 8QQ

There was one particularly memorable lunch in Barcelona in Gràcia (closest metro station: Fontana). I’d heard good things about a Japanese-Mediterranean restaurant called Somodó and as we were planning on taking my mother-in-law for a nice lunch, it seemed like a good opportunity to try it. Reservations recommended as there’s only seating for about 20 people though we managed to book that morning for lunch for three.

You wouldn’t be blamed for walking straight past the restaurant – the windows are blocked up and there’s a very minimalist entrance, not unlike those I remember seeing in Tokyo. They have set menus for lunch and dinner but while both are very well priced for you get, lunch is the real bargain. Inside, the lighting is a bit dim but I guess that could be considered intimate. We were seated immediately at a round table laden with a small dish of olive oil and an apple. (We would later see apple threaded through the menu.)

Apple and Olive Oil

No printed menus were proffered but instead chef Shojiro Ochi himself came to our table and sullenly recited the choices for that day’s menú del dia to us in Spanish. No choice for the amuse and the first course. Fish or lamb for second; brownie or mousse for dessert. Between the three of us, we tried everything available – I love creating our own little tasting menu. Anyway, I believe the menu changes daily so you do need to listen carefully!

Excellent warm bread was brought to our table and turned out to be necessary to mop up all the sauces that were to come. Of course, it went well with the olive oil too.

Bread

I only thought to take a photo of the bread midway through the meal – don’t mind the crumbs!

Our first amuse/tapas was braised pigeon wings served with an apple sauce. We grabbed the little things with our fingers and gnawed away every last bit of flesh before mopping up the sauce with that excellent bread.

Pigeon Wings

The first course was an incredibly tender seared salmon fillet in a smoked tomato sauce. We suspected it had been first cooked sous vide but forget about any analysis – just eat. Eat and wonder if they’d give you a second plate of the same thing.

Salmon in a Smoked Tomato Sauce

It was at this point that more bread was brought to our table without our even asking. Those sauces! Not a drop was left on our plates.

For the second courses, the fish was monkfish with artichokes. You may want to note that portion sizes here run a little smaller than at your typical lunch joints but gosh, are the dishes fantastic here. The monkfish was perfectly cooked and served in a creamy sauce with a surprise slab of thick melting bacon underneath and fried artichoke slices on top.

Monkfish with Artichokes

The lamb was equally excellent, with mangetout, Japanese mushrooms, and kimchi! Yes, kimchi! I definitely didn’t expect to find it here; its strong flavour worked so well with the lamb.

Lamb with Kimchi

An unexpected cheese course came along at this point. A very strong local goat’s cheese (if my memory is correct) was served on little toasts with a homemade apple compote alongside.

Cheese

Desserts! The mousse of mató was topped with an apple sorbet and lots of little bits and pieces of various textures. Candied fruit, chewy jellies, blueberries and meringue. This was incredibly refreshing.

Mató Mousse

The brownie was made with chestnut (maybe it was more of a blondie?) and served with ice cream, caramelised banana and toffee and scattered with crushed popcorn. Oh, and yes, under a sheet of glass sugar!

Chestnut Brownie

Coffees were then proffered (a Japanese green tea in Blai’s case) and alongside we were offered onion financiers. We thought we didn’t hear properly but nope, that’s right! Savoury onion financiers! A bit of a surprise but still delightful.

Onion Financiers

By the end of the meal, chef seemed to have warmed up to us and waved us off with a big smile! In hindsight, I’d call it a Mediterranean restaurant with Japanese influences – but whatever it is, it’s excellent. And I haven’t told you the best part yet: it’s €20 for the menú del dia, including bread, water, wine, and coffee (the evening menus don’t include bread and drinks). If you’re visiting this beautiful city, go!

Somodó
Ros de Olano, 11
Gràcia
Barcelona 08012

First post of the year! Happy new year, everyone! I’ll start the year with a great restaurant that’s local to us, one that’s a short bus ride away from me (though likely more of a train journey for most people in London).

I know that there are a million and one burger restaurants and many of them are of a few particular chains. This restaurant, Dexter Burger, is an independent and has some seriously good burgers. Their prices may seem steeper than other burger joints (£9 for a hamburger) but a side of their excellent rosemary and sea salt fries are included. Bearnaise and rocket leaves are default, tomato and onion and jalapenos are free, and other toppings (like cheese) are a small supplement. For a supplement, the fries can also be upgraded. On our first visit there, we both got cheeseburgers (+£1) but I upgraded my fries to sweet potato fries too (+£1).

I really like their burger – it’s incredibly juicy and meaty and they mix a tiny bit of minced onion into the patty as well. The bun is excellent, holding its structure in the face of all those meat juices. Sweet potato fries are, of course, amazing.

Back in London, having a burger. It's good to be home! Also, Dexter Burger is our latest discovery and we love it.

Do ask for their homemade sweet chilli sauce (photo above, top right) – it’s wonderful and very addictive.

On a more recent visit, we tried their courgette fries (£3.50) as well and they’re just as good as I expected them to be.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I pushed the boat out and upgraded my fries to chilli rub fries (+£1.20). I had no idea what to expect but was delighted when presented with my pile of fries topped with a chilli sprinkle (the rub, I gather), a chilli mayo, and lots of pickled jalapenos.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

The dessert list is short (two items) but the one dessert we have tried (their banoffee pie) was fantastic with lots of cream and toffee sauce.

Dinner at the excellent Dexter Burger in Purley last week.

I love them and am very happy to find a local independent burger place that’s excellent. Watch out for their opening times as they close earlier on Sunday evenings. They have a separate weekend brunch menu as well that’s enticing – baked eggs, pancakes, pork burger?! I’ll be seeing you again, Dexter Burger.

Dexter Burger
10 High Street
Purley CR8 2AA

It’s cold, isn’t it? It’s definitely colder than last year and it certainly feels like a proper winter so far. Winter always brings hotpot to mind and recently I tried a version new to me. I’d heard of dry hotpot but I only got my first taste of it a few weeks ago when a friend organised a dinner at Jinli, a restaurant in Chinatown just a little off the usual tourist path. This is a Sichuan restaurant that used to be China City and when I got there, I saw that every table had a large dish in the centre from which diners were picking out delectable little morsels. This was Sichuan dry hotpot.

Of course, we got our own dry hotpot too, with my friend arranging for the various ingredients from a long list provided to him. This is what appeared! You can see the cans of soft drink around its edges for scale.

Tonight's massive Sichuan dry hotpot! 🌶🌶🌶

It was a veritable mountain of a typically Sichuan spiced stir fried hodge podge! There were dried chilies and Sichuan peppercorns for the usual ma la flavour and various other spices that I couldn’t really put my finger on. My friend had ordered thin slices of pork belly, luncheon meat (Spam), fish balls, lotus root, Chinese cabbage, choy sum, tofu skin, and sweet potato noodles. We had a bucket of rice for our table too, necessary for all that concentrated spicy flavour!

My understanding is that this style of hotpot is a newer style of dish in China and is currently very popular. I’ve heard that Jin Li isn’t the only place that serves it in London so do keep your eyes peeled if you’d like to try it. For the five of us, this giant hotpot, two starters of and excellent mouth-watering chicken and fried green peppers, rice and soft drinks came to about £24 each.

Jinli
4 Leicester Street
London WC2H 7BL

You’ll already have heard loads about Padella, I’m sure, but here’s my two cents (pence)! The hype is indeed valid for Padella next to Borough Market – their pasta dishes are fantastic. On a not-so-recent day off a month or two ago, I met my brother there and between the two of us, we split three pastas (most everyone else seemed to be splitting a starter and then having a pasta each).

Their famous pici cacio & pepe (£6.50) lived up to expectations! The thick, chewy pici were coated with the unctuous mixture of cheese and pepper – fabulous.

Pici cacio & pepe

Likewise, there’s quite a following for their pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu (£8.50). I’m a sucker for a good ragu and this was excellent.

Pappardelle with 8-hour Dexter beef shin ragu

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon (£12) was wonderfully fresh and the only thing that could have improved it would have been to be having it al fresco by the sea. I loved the different pasta shapes and the way they’ve been thrust into the spotlights here – I definitely don’t recall seeing pici anywhere else, for example.

Taglierini with Dorset crab, chilli and lemon

Even for a weekday lunch, we had to queue but the restaurant is bigger than I expected so it was only a 10 minute wait for the two of us that day. I’m not sure what it’s like on a weekend. Oh, and the menu does change from time to time!

Padella
6 Southwark Street
London SE1 1TQ