Sunday, January 26, 2014

Double Happiness - Authentic Chinese Food in London, Ontario

Double Happiness — Authentic Chinese Food in London, Ontario

Please send me a list of your contenders for the best Chinese take-out in London.

Double Happiness Redux

A distinction should be made between regionally-inspired Chinese restaurants and the ubiquitous Canadian-Chinese immigrant-owned diners that are still the norm across Canada. Canadian-Chinese cooking grounded in Chinese 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, have been dismissed as “not Chinese” by experts of the culture.

In relatively recent times, 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.

I have colleagues who seek out restaurants that don’t cater to wai guo ren, “foreigners”. By foreigners, my colleagues are certainly not talking about themselves. Over the years, I have benefited from their guidance. I am told that 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.

London has a myriad of Chinese-inspired restaurants. Due to the popularity of Canadian-Chinese food, even the most authentic Chinese restaurants pay homage to the genre. When you go to authentic Chinese restaurants, ask for the finest “traditional Chinese” dishes on (or off) the menu. Encourage chefs to share their authentic cuisines with us. Canadian palates, unlike those of preceding generations, are ready for the genuine, unadulterated thing.

The Chinese Barbecue

The Chinese Barbeque (aka “Gee Gai Yun” – meaning “Our Family People”) is acknowledged as the number one Chinese Barbeque restaurant in the city. The cooking is informed by the Cantonese cuisine of Hong Kong, by way of Vietnam. This family-run business is the progeny of Quan Quyet Chow Ly and her sons Quan and John Ly.

The concept of eating nose to tail has seen pork tongues and spleens, beef hearts and cheeks grace the plates of high-end restaurants around the region. John and Quan Ly’s father, To Ha Ly, was known for his “Chinese chitterlings” or Lui- Mei in Vietnamese (pork intestines – yummy, unctuous, with a unique taste) and other traditional offal like pigs’ ears, tongue and stomach. The family served these delicacies at their original restaurant, Ly Hoa Tran Barbeque and Seafood Restaurant in Windsor in the 1980s, before a stint in Toronto, back to Windsor, and finally settling in London.

Keeping with “the nose-to-tail eating” philosophy and trend, this is the perfect restaurant for the true culinary adventurer to sample Chinese barbecue (char-siu) specialties. Hanging in the window near the entrance to the restaurant you will see whole pigs (sourced locally in Mt. Brydges) that have been coated with a signature honey and molasses marinade and roasted until the skin is crisp, glistening and golden brown.

The food at The Chinese Barbecue has a fresh homemade quality with locally-sourced ingredients. No stale taro cake or premade, frozen Dim Sum here. The menu is expansive.

The meal started with a delicious delicacy of marinated and barbecued duck livers that tasted like they had been caramelized with honey (not on the menu) and followed by a bowl of clear broth (made traditionally with both chicken and pork to impart sweetness), with big slices of fresh Leamington-grown Winter melon and sweet carrots. This was followed by perfectly cooked squid, shrimps and scallops that had been lightly coated in batter, deep-fried and then stir-fried to crispy precision. Each individual bite was an unparalleled taste sensation and elevated the experience.

Fried rice is not a dish you can rush, and here it is cooked expertly. We ordered Yeung Chow, long-grain jasmine rice, with minced barbecued pork imparting sweetness, baby shrimp, scallions and egg yolk. On a few occasions here, I have been enthralled with a platter of melt-in-your-mouth barbecued pork and duck so delectably fresh that the meat practically falls off your chopsticks. My trustworthy Chinese cuisine connoisseur companions agree that the food here is top-notch. Also the service is intelligent and hospitable.

994 Huron Street, London

Hours: Sunday–Thursday – 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM
Friday & Saturday – 11:00 AM – 10:30 PM
Closed Tuesdays

The Spring (You Yi Cun)

Don’t confuse Spring, half a block west of the Palace Theatre in the Old East Village, with the newly opened Springs on Springbank Drive. If you judge authenticity by the stereotypical appraisal of Chinese restaurants, the number of Asians dining there, your expectations will be satisfied. The menu, inspired by Tianjin and Szechwan cookery, will seem transcendent to appetites familiar with typical Canadian-Chinese cuisine.

Spring is a Mom-and-Pop business operated by Oi and Baoju Wang and their daughter Ting. Oi was classically trained in traditional Chinese cookery, as was his father and his father before him. The family operated a restaurant in Tianjin near Beijing for thirteen years before immigrating and opening a successful restaurant in downtown Toronto for five years, then relocating to London.

The dining room at Spring is unremarkable; it approximates the ambience of eating out in a modest home in a remote rural province in China. The surroundings are down-market, but we are not interested in the décor, and even the uncomfortable chairs will not deter us. Don’t be surprised if the Wang’s youngest daughter is watching T.V. in the dining room or rides by your table on her tricycle. It is all part of the unique experience.

This unassuming culinary gem in the heart of Old East London offers amazingly delicious food served with pride and attention to detail. The family is gracious. This is traditional Chinese regional cooking combined with Canadian-Chinese cuisine. The signature wonton “purses” –house-made pork dumplings – are browned to pan-fried perfection. We return time and time again for the sautéed Asian eggplant with chili and sauce, a comingling of spicy, sour, and sweet flavours. The al-dente long green beans are another favourite, bathed in a fiery sauce. We love the spring rolls and crispy deep-fried wontons. My constant Spring dining companion favours the battered, sweet and spicy General Tao’s chicken with chili peppers. I am partial to the black bean dishes. The Tianjin rice is revelatory.

768 Dundas Street East
London, ON

Hours: 12:00 noon to 10:30 PM daily

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Rosemount Inn and Spa and Kingston’s Culinary Culture




Artisanal food is locally-sourced, hand-crafted and produced in small batches and, more than likely, in a traditional manner. It’s anything from cheeses, preserves, honey, olive oil, maple syrup, cider, charcuterie and more. There continues to been a lot of talk about the artisanal food renaissance — think small-batch baking, home-made condiments or bean-to-bar chocolate. In the same manner, now hand-crafted bread is getting its well-deserved renaissance.

London and Stratford are no stranger to top-notch baking and great pastry-specialty establishments like Covent Garden Market’s Petit Paris Creperie owned by Nicole Arroyas and partner Nathan Russell. The city is home to a number of exceptionally talented pastry chefs, bakers and artisanal bread makers, such as Michelle Lenhardt of the River Room, Rhino Lounge and North Moore Catering, and Sharon Hachey-Landry of Village Harvest Bakery in Wortley Village, and of course, renowned international pastry chef Roland Hofner, an advanced level culinary coordinator who teaches “pastry” at Fanshawe College for the Hospitality program.

At the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at Western Fair there are four exceptional bakers: Theo Korthoff of Artisan Bakery, Alan Mallioux of Downie Street Bakehouse, Sophie Burdan of  Red Cat Bakery and Lindsay Reid from Sebringville.

Theo and Gerda Korthofs  Artisan Bakery on Dundas Street at Ontario across from their location at the  Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at Western Fair and at the Covent Garden Market  feature a full complement of European-style pastries and artisanal breads like: caramelized sour-walnut and raisin and roasted grain sourdough, Klondyke sour potato bread and San Francisco black olive and herb. The bakery also offers a selection of homemade pates and duck and pork tourtieres. Korthof teaches a series of baking and cooking classes held in their workshop. 864 Dundas St; 519-204-9144;


The sale of artisanal premium breads — high quality, hand-crafted and free of artificial additives and preservatives —continues to be on the rise. Alan Mailloux, a trained chef from Stratford Culinary School with nearly 30 years’ experience baking bread, has the skilled hands of a practiced baker who knows how to perfect the ideal crust and crumb. Kneading, long rises, multiple rises and sourdough starters produce complex artisanal, specialty breads of great diversity. The latest incarnation of Alan and Barb Mailloux’s baking career, Downie Street Bake House, has allowed them the opportunity to experiment with long and cold fermentation times for their breads (giving better flavour and keeping qualities) and expanding the selection. On offer is a variety of bread baking that includes: Whole Wheat Rye, 12 Grain Sourdough, Plain (not boring) White, French Country, Stratford Sourdough, Walnut Sourdough, Mini Me Miche, Potato Currant, Rye Sourdough, Cinnamon Walnut Raisin, Sour Chocolate Cherry Sourdough and Olive & Oregano.

Mailloux started baking at the age of 24, “when my wife (the lovely Shop Girl) politely suggested that I might want to get a hobby. I was newly married; I thought that I already had a hobby.” They opened their first B&B in Windsor, in Mailloux’s grandparent’s old house on the main street. They did some baking for a local coffee shop in the evenings after Alan finished work at his ‘day job’.

They relocated to Stratford in 1990, so that Mailloux could enroll in the Stratford Chefs School. “Cooking was going to be my thing, but something kept pulling me back to bread making. We had an opportunity to take over the Orbit Bakery in Stratford when it came available in 1993, but thought I needed to practice my cooking instead (so I trained the eventual owner how to make bread) and moved on.”

After cooking around for a couple of years, we ended up back in Stratford in 1996 to open a B&B. Baking bread on Friday nights to sell at the Stratford Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings was going to be a temporary thing to do until the B&B became a success. Instead, the bread making became a success, something we could do year round and that people enjoyed.”

“Our first bakery was located in Sebringville and it suffered from four problems – location, location, location and our impatience. No one wanted to drive five minutes out of Stratford to buy a loaf of bread and we just couldn’t wait for the number of new and good farmers’ markets to sprout up and provide us with an alternative platform for selling our bread from such an obscure location. So we sold up and moved back to Stratford and hunted around for two years to find the ‘right’ next location.”

In 2011, “the right location” became available and the Maillouxes helped the landlord fix it up. Alan was still working with Max Hollbrook at The Parlour at the time. They began to research the area farmers‘markets that have become an integral part of their success.

“The Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market had an opening for a bakery. We applied and were accepted. Our business there has grown by over 50% since we started there two years ago. The Sunday Slow Food Market was also now located in Market Square in downtown Stratford, just behind City Hall. Lindsay Reid, of Lindsay’s Bakery, was kind enough to offer us some of his space at his stall to help us get established. The Garlic Festival and Savour Stratford came soon after we opened and offered us the opportunity to let a whole lot of people know that we were back baking again.”

The Maillouxes have built a stellar reputation as one of the best bakeries in the region. It is no wonder that they share super-hero personas. Alan is Baker Boy and Barb is Shop Girl.

 Downie Street Bake House
388a Downie Street, Stratford

The Bake shop is open:
THURSDAYS: 10:00 AM-4:00 PM
FRIDAYS: 9:00 AM-8:00 PM
SATURDAYS: 8:00 AM-2:00 PM

THURSDAYS: 3:00 PM-7:00 PM (June to October) Uptown Market Square near King and Erb Streets, Waterloo.
SATURDAYS: 8:00 AM-3:00 PM (year ‘round) Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market (900 King Street, London)
SUNDAYS: 10:00 AM-2:00 PM (May to October) Stratford Slow Food Market (downtown, behind City Hall)


From Lindsay Todd Reid’s bake kitchen in the cellar of his Sebringville home, Lindsay handcrafts small-batch scrumptiousness. Lindsay’s Bakery sets up shop on Saturdays at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market and in season on Sundays at the Slow Food Market in Stratford.

Lindsay Reid’s motto is to “share really good baking” that is made from scratch in small batches, using high quality ingredients. This requires patience and precision – something he appears to have in quantity in the bake kitchen in the cellar of his Sebringville home. Reid incorporates only pure natural ingredients, unbleached organic flour, local eggs, honey and butter in his baking. On offer are hand-made croissants, squares, tarts, muffins and seasonal specialties. Reid has asked me not to call his baking iconic – he and my former London Free Press editor, Linda Barnard, have recently declared a moratorium on “the ridiculously overused pet adjective of lazy writers.” So let’s call his delicious baking emblematic.

Reid has been employed in just about every job in the “food biz”, beginning with an initial stint at age fifteen, as a busboy at the Church Restaurant in Stratford.

“A traumatizing experience to say the least. At the time I vowed never to work in the food biz again.”

High school jobs included night and weekend baking at Buns Master Bakery and working in the kitchen at the local A&W drive-in. Reid attended the Stratford Chefs School after a two-year stint studying journalism at university. Reid says, “I felt the desire to follow a career path that involved creativity and working with my hands. A strong appreciation for food and entertaining was nurtured at home, so a career in food seemed a natural choice.”

“My imagination and creativity didn’t seem to be adequately fired, being in my early twenties where everything in life seems to be either black or white. I was much less experienced than the majority of the apprentices when I began the school. I remember Jim Morris (co-founder of Stratford Chefs School) telling me to not move around from job to job, best to stay in one place for a while and learn absolutely everything you can from the situation. ”

Reid apprenticed with Chris Woolf at Woolfy’s (first incarnation) in Stratford. “Thanks to divorce and my ‘All About Eve’ phase, (a reference to the overly ambitious ingénue that insinuated herself in to the life of an established stage star and circle of theater friends in a ruthless climb to the top, in the film All About Eve) I ended up running the kitchen for Woolf’s ex, who became sole proprietor.”

In 1992, Reid’s sister Mari-Jane (M.J.), and her family returned to Stratford and they decided to go into business together. “We purchased Tastes on Wellington Street and turned it into Lindsay’s Food Shop, offering deli, bakery, and catering in 1997 and 1998. I also ran Lindsay’s Restaurant where Pazzo Taverna is now located.”

Since leaving chefs school, Reid has been employed as a breakfast cook at the Westin Harbour Castle, server at Canoe, and catering and event manager at Senses Catering in Toronto. There was a stage at Grano with Ellen Greaves when she was briefly the chef at Winston’s.  “In Montreal, I was a sandwich maker at Café Titanic in Old Montreal until I took over the kitchen at Olive et Gourmando.”

Reid enjoys the interaction with his regulars and clients. “Relationships that are built through weekly visits give meaning and feedback to a baker; it helps me with my product consistency and refinement.” It is essential to Reid to produce consistently tasty baking that he would want to eat himself. “My boss Dyan Solomon of Olive et Gourmando in Montreal and I would test items for inclusion in our selection of fresh baked goods. We would go over and over a particular item, i.e. brownies, until we got the exact result we wanted. And when it went on the menu we would not vary the item. The customer expects and should receive the exact same quality of a particular item every time they purchase it. ”

“Small business depends on many variables lining up. Sometimes your concept gets adapted to fit the variables. My initial concept was to supply other businesses. I soon realized that I could better control the quality of my product by selling directly and that I could sell directly for a much better price than wholesale. So, I began doing farmers’ markets.”

Lindsay`s Bakery


Great Bread at Soho’s Alternative Ethical Bakery and Organic Café: 

Organic Works Bakery is a stylish bakery and cafe located in the heart of SoHo at 222 Wellington Street, south of Horton. Owner Peter Cuddy looked far and wide and discovered he couldn’t find bakers who created this way, so an idea was born. Specializing in recipes made with organic, gluten-free, nut-free and vegan ingredients that tantalize the palate.

Peter Cuddy is a maverick, innovator and passionate entrepreneur with deep-seated ethical convictions. Cuddy has built the reputation of Organic Works Bakery on integrity in several areas relating to ecology and health. Whether engaging customers in conversation in the Organic Bread Works café, doing demos at trade shows as a means of promoting his brand, undertaking the leg work required for having the bakery certified organic and allergen-free, or learning from his team of bakers on Saturday mornings, Cuddy remains focused on the business at hand. He strives to “keep Organic Works compliant with every possible standard,” which is both time-consuming and expensive, but ultimately gratifying.

Baking was never Cuddy’s vocation and he still does not self-identify as a baker despite his vast knowledge on the subject and his hands-on approach to the business. He leaves the baking operations up to head baker Lori Juric, who leads a team of four full-time commercial bakers and two retail bakers. Juric was trained by master baker/pâtissier Roland Hofner, of the Tourism and Hospitality program at FanshaweCollege. Cuddy is quick to point out Hofner’s success as an educator and says, “I would gladly hire any graduate of Hofner’s baking program.” The busy organic café and retail operation is headed up by Chef Kat Charlebois.

One of the most time consuming and challenging aspects of the business is the necessity to deal with the volume of paperwork required for allergen-free certification. The bakery has organic certification from Pro-Cert Canada Inc., which is the overseer group accredited by Canadian Food Inspection. The bakery has recently been audited by the Canadian Celiac Association’s Gluten-Free Program (GFCP) to verify that the bakery meets all requirements allowing it to use the GFCP mark on product packaging and in marketing and advertising materials.

“The bakery started out with very basic breads and five years ago converted to exclusively gluten-free products,” says Cuddy. ‘‘A large part of what we have done right is that we have designed a product that has all the needs and requirements of allergen-free status that tastes good.”

Clients who want organic, lactose-free, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and allergen-free products are often more knowledgeable and demanding than their mainstream bakery purchasing counterparts. They generally also want stringent reassurances about the origins of the ingredients and the products employed in the bakery. Peter is on hand to talk to his customers to educate, to assuage their concerns, and to talk about how the ingredients are sourced and how the products are made.

“Customers want to see ‘a clean ingredient deck,’ meaning keeping ingredients to as bare a minimum as possible.”  Organic Bread Works is a nut-free facility and does not retail any wheat products.

Gluten-free products have become increasingly popular because more people are learning that celiac disease can be managed effectively if wheat products are eliminated from their diet. Wheat-free or gluten-free are not just for those with a wheat or gluten intolerance. They are also delicious alternatives catering to a demand for more global, authentically produced artisanal varieties of bread.

The building was originally purchased as a new location for Gielen Design but those plans changed. Cuddy’s partner  Kate Gielen, conceptualized the retail area and café. The café has an earthy, natural vibe with a touch of industrial aesthetic. A wall of reclaimed doors separates the public area from the main floor production facilities. The seating options include an eclectic selection of chairs, leather couches and elevated seating by the large windows that face the street. There is additional seating outside on the patio, and the café has wi-fi.

"Originally I was going to put the bakery on the main floor, but Kate convinced me otherwise. Putting the bakery underground was more good fortune than scientific research. The bakery is practically hermetically sealed and when combined with seven tons of air forced through the room it makes an excellent environment for leavening breads.‘’

Besides the breads, Organic Works’ gluten-free offerings include banana bread, brown rice buns, raisin cinnamon loaf, scones and cookies.

“I have been blessed with good staff, good fortune and certainly a good partner in life. You can strive to make all the money in the world but this type of work gives me a deep satisfaction and I find it is as much fun as it is work. We continue to walk the talk; we do the certification to make sure that we are safe from any allergens,” explains Cuddy, “Buying and sourcing local is critical and it separates our products from [those of] other people.”

Organic Works Bakery
222 Wellington St, London

Monday-Wednesday: 7:30AM-7:00PM
Thursday and Friday: 7:30AM-8:00PM
Saturday: 8:30AM-8:00PM
Sunday: 10:00AM-4:00PM


Red Cat Bakery

Baking is a calling for Christain Burdan, who is a seventh-generation baker, tracing his family’s craftsmanship back to 1762. Burdan has tantalized tastebuds in both his native Germany and in France before immigrating to Canada. Burdan’s breads, rolls and speciality baked items such as pretzels from the Red Cat Farm are available from their mobile stall at the Masonville Farmers’ Market in season and outdoors at the Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market for the rest of the year.

They currently don’t have a website, but look for their unique mobile bakery store at other farmer’s markets in Goderich and Kincardine in season.

Break Out The Blinis and Caviar. Bacon-Flavoured Chocolate is Out. Roasted Cauliflower is in and Kale is Out. What’s Trending.

Break Out The Blinis and Caviar. Bacon-Flavoured Chocolate is Out. Roasted Cauliflower is in and Kale is Out. What’s Trending in 2014.


Bacon-flavoured chocolate is out. Roasted cauliflower is in and kale is out. And, if that is not enough, those who sold their souls for a bit of transitory fame by using foams, liquid nitrogen, carbon dioxide and emulsifiers are also on their way out. Unless of course, you are a serious molecular gastronomist, Nordic, culinary modernist, or have a death wish.
There has been no spotlight shone on the diversity of Russian cuisine in the mainstream press. The iconic caviar topped pancakes called blinis should be having resurgence in popularity. It is a perfect a union as eggs and bacon. (Sustainable caviar that is.)

Chimichurri, poultry, variations on eggs benedict, regional Italian cuisine and anything remotely barbecue are still in; ramen noodles, pickles (can pickle juice really stop muscle cramps?) and the Southeast Asian cuisines are beginning to spike lots of interest among food enthusiasts.
One of the top food trends in 2014 will be the continuing obsession with chilies and heat. Food lovers and fire breathers everywhere are seeking out their next big chili high. Sriracha’s (think rooster bottle with hot, garlic aroma, vinegar kick and sweet finish) closest competition remains the Korean chili paste, gochujan, the savoury and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans and salt. Dab it on anything but be sure try it in your bibimbap, bulgogi and banh mi.

The Latin cuisines are big food trends that we have no quarrel with, thanks to a seductive blend of multicultural and native influences. Rio de Janeiro and the Copacabana School of Culinary Arts will bring Brazil’s seafood stews, grilling techniques, and both local and rare Amazonian ingredients into the culinary limelight when the country hosts the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics.

The cemita, whose distinguishing characteristic is the liberal use of the minty herb papalo, originates in the Mexican state of Puebla and joins the banh mi, cubano, and panino as part of the contemporary lunchtime sandwich canon. Peruvian, Cuban and regional Mexican flavours and ingredients are also being touted as the next big waves of interest.

Indian cuisine is having its day in the sun, emerging from its traditional confines with modernist interpretations.  Think fresh sea bass cooked with Amritsari spices and served with chole (chick peas) inside perfectly fried aloo bhaturas.

The spreadable salumi Nduja (en-DOO-yah), the fiery pork paste from Calabria, Italy, is becoming ubiquitous. Typically made with parts of the pig such as the shoulder, belly and jowl, as well as tripe, roasted peppers and a mixture of spices, it is giving pork rillettes a run for their money.

The culinary world is rapidly embracing smartphones, mobile apps and a host of convenient tools for the epicure in you. Multicultural gourmet street food and food trucks continue to trend and grow in popularity despite opposition from out-of-touch politicians. Food trucks stimulate culinary innovation, improve tourism, create employment and are an important part of the social and cultural fabric of a city.

Tattoos in the restaurant biz are hardly original, but the fact that chefs choose to ink themselves with symbols of their craft, specifically images of their ingredients or their ethos, is most assuredly worth paying attention to. Please don’t ask them to roll up their sleeves for a peek or ask them to dab a little sriracha behind their ears. And lastly, chefs: despite what you see on the Food Network, the head band is not back.

On a more Serious Note...

Members of the restaurant community will tell you that restaurant critics wield considerable influence with the dining public. Like any thoughtful patron, they will, we hope, bring appreciation, intelligence and sensibility to the table. But their mission goes beyond that. They must pass their impressions on to their readers. The media are important members of the culinary community. They alert the dining public to the diversity of choice on the dining scene and inform them while helping to arbitrate the changing standards for dining. 

No critic or diner is going to like or appreciate every style of cuisine or restaurant. It seems to me restaurant criticism is less cloak and dagger and more objective in their approach to reviewing a restaurant than ever before.

A review should characterize a restaurant, not compare it to another place with a totally different mission or philosophy. It should furnish you with enough fact and insight to make an informed decision. You can decide whether or not to go.

Trend spotters use a variety of ways to determine what`s hot and what`s not. The fact is, most trends have a shelf life of about a decade. Food magazines have heralded the return of comfort food at least once a year since the mid-1980`s. I have often marvelled at the way the culinary media, food magazines, trend predictors and industry influencers seize a collective thought with such a synchronicity of timing.

Food enthusiasts are particularly attuned to the concept of authenticity and experiential tastes when it comes to culinary matters.  With the simultaneous escalation of the food media, food apps and camera phones consumers accumulate tastes (and dishes) and those food preferences are archived and relayed immediately, often before the first bite. The new gastro-culture is particularly adept at sharing experiences through digital means, and the bragging rights associated with ``foodism`` are an evolving consequence.

As we become even more exposed to cultural diversity and the fact that the whole world of food is opening up to us there are a lot more culinary options open to us.

As for trending cuisine, it’s made from scratch and it’s innovative. Chefs continue to implement time-honoured traditions and trusted techniques yet delivering ingredients in revolutionary ways. They are the new culinary vanguards. Many of these trailblazers of the cutting-edge and emerging culinary regionalism are profiled on this blog. Our true culinary stars are not only our farmers, but also those labouring in restaurant, hotel and market kitchens, offering up some of Ontario’s finest food and most innovative drink experiences.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vietnamese Restaurants - London, Ontario

From Noodles to Spring Rolls and Where the Pho is a Sure Thing in London, Ontario

Vietnamese Restaurants

 Tamarine by Quynh Nhi

The genius of Vietnamese cooking lies in the adaptation of foreign influences to develop a distinctly unique and subtle cuisine with contrasting flavours and textures. Sour flavours are balanced by salty ones, and sweet notes are tempered by heat from chilies and ground pepper. There is a dependence on rice; noodles figure prominently, a profusion of fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables with a minimal use of oil. As in China and East Asia, the Vietnamese serve their rice in bowls with chopsticks. Meat is an accompaniment rather than a central offering.

The Vietnamese custom of wrapping fresh rolls and spring rolls in lettuce leaves and fresh herbs are a remnant of the original cultures that occurred before centuries of Chinese influence. The wide-ranging tastes found in Vietnamese cuisine are credited to the influences of various foreigners that once occupied the country as well as inspiration from its neighbours. The Chinese contributed many culinary techniques including their art of stir-frying using the wok; the French left their traditions and penchant for aromatic filtered coffee with condensed milk and crème caramel, scented ingredients like lemongrass were embraced from the Thai culinary repertoire; and the spicing techniques and aromatic infusions of curry-inspired recipes are suggestive of India. That is the short-list.

Pho a popular street food in Vietnam whose origin is the subject of scholarly debate is a deeply-flavoured broth with long rice noodles, fresh herbs and thin slices of meat most often accompanied with a side of bean sprouts, peppers and lime wedges. Pho has become the mainstay of many local Vietnamese restaurants. In London, students have given Ben Thanh and Pho Haven cult-status popularity due to Pho’s meal-in-a-bowl popularity and its relative affordability.


The Old East Village has added another new contender to its burgeoning “foodscape” and the restaurant has added Vietnamese cuisine to the increasing culinary options in the area.  CHI HI (translation - eldest sister) is the most recent food business to open its doors, in the OEV, just west of Rectory and beside True Taco. We have eaten there several times and have enjoyed the food and friendly service. The traditional Vietnamese fare includes: black bean tofu subs, beef subs, pad Thai, vegetarian Singapore noodles, black bean tofu vermicelli and beef noodle brisket soup. The restaurant also serves banh mi. This sandwich is a creation of French colonialism in Indochina, combining ingredients from the French (baguettes, cold meats and mayonnaise) with Vietnamese ingredients , such as chilli peppers, hot sauce, cilantro and pickled carrots. 

Sarah Merritt, Manager of the Old East Village BIA believes the renaissance in the area can be credited to entrepreneurs like the Huynh family who have seen the opportunity in the OEV and invested.  “Good business people and in the case of CHI HI – good cooks too – are enticing customers to come and try the phenomenal meals.  The OEV has such an eclectic mix of food styles and menus that diners are very pleased with the options and the tasting outcomes.”  Merritt also says the spacing of the food businesses and restaurants on Dundas Street is creating a very walk- able food district.
 791 Dundas St, London. 519-601-8448

Speaking of the Old East Village, my introduction to pho and subsequent comparisons are based on the delicious concoctions that have a sweet undertone accompanied by thin slices of rare beef which they have been serving at The Vietnam since my first visit twenty years ago. Located across from Kellogg’s, Long Duc Ngo is the welcoming hands-on proprietor of this long established Vietnamese restaurant since 1994. The kitchen offers a selection of accessibly priced noodle, rice and soup dishes. The substantive menu includes: superb spring rolls, pho, sizzling hot pots, and many seafood and chicken dishes. Favourites include: Pho Dac Biet the signature combination beef, rice noodle broth with rare and brisket beef, beef balls and tripe with fresh herbs.  The cold rice paper roll known as goi cuon is a perennial favourite. It is comprised of noodles, shrimp, pork, lettuce, mint and Thai basil, making this savoury easy to dip in a thick sauce of peanuts and soya.

1074 Dundas St, London

519 - 457-0762






 Thuận Kiều 
Thuận Kiều 
Established in 1996, Thuận Kiều, family- owned and operated has developed a devoted fan base over the years for its hands-on approach.
In its updated location, you will experience a relaxed dining environment with an inviting and friendly atmosphere that is second to none. Our food is made with loving hands, using recipes that have been passed down from many generations. The ambitious menu offers a range of traditional/non-traditional Vietnamese dishes prepared using fresh ingredients and aromatic spices.  At Thuận Kiều we are devoted to creating high quality food using traditional cooking techniques to capture the true essence of Vietnamese cuisine.

1275 Highbury Ave N., London

 519- 455-7704


For well over a decade, the family-run, Quynh Nhi, has garnered a loyal patronage and prospered because of its responsive service, consistency and good Vietnamese food.   The restaurant is situated off the beaten path in a forty-seat premises that it shares with an auto repair garage at the corner of Wharncliffe and Riverside. Named after siblings Quynh and Nhi, the restaurant is a family-run business operated by their large extended family.

55 Wharncliffe Road N., London

Spring Rolls at Tamarine

Tamarine by Quynh Nhi is the sibling restaurant and the evolution of the venerated Quynh Nhi. The modernist cuisine is stylish, updated and pushes culinary confines without betraying the tenets of traditional Vietnamese cookery.  This is the new wave of Vietnamese cuisine that has undergone a coherent development, it has a technical almost architectural articulation and the chefs are concerned with creativity and innovation.  

This sleek and urban-chic downtown hot-spot has a sophisticated palette and an upscale mix of contemporary Asian-inspired motifs, art, cuisine and ambiance. Chefs Quynh and Nhi combine the freshest ingredients with traditional flavours to create a unique menus designed to promote communal dining. Long Phan is your charming and knowledgeable host. 

Menu offerings are intended to be mixed and paired in ways that harmonize and contrast flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour. The kitchen is known for its interpretation of the pervasive Pad Thai, which in this case has been elevated by the kitchen’s deft touch with seasonings.  Quynh and Nhi combine fresh ingredients with traditional seasonings to construct offerings designed to encourage communal dining.

From a design perspective, the attention to detail is carried through in many small but striking ways such as the design of the cutlery and dishes, seasonal exotic floral arrangements and the various choices of seating arrangements. The mosaic tiles around the bar have a chameleon-like ability to change into a myriad of palettes, creating a swanky, sexy cocktail lounge vibe with a colour changing remote control. Lighting can also be adjusted to set the mood particularly in the far end of the dining room, where private booth seating provides an intimate and comfortable dining experience. 

The food at Tamarine is more sophisticated and pushes culinary boundaries without breaking the tenets of traditional South Vietnamese cuisine. The flavours are multi-faceted and subtle and the dishes have plenty of visual appeal. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour.

"Tamarine is a second-generation restaurant. It is our interpretation of how Vietnamese food has evolved," says, Long Phan. “Our food is as symbolic as it is traditional. You can be anywhere in the world and authentically showcase our Vietnamese heritage with our cuisine.”

The cooking is delicate and refined and combines the techniques of Chinese cooking with indigenous ingredients, the light accents of French gentility, and flavours and aromas reminiscent of India. Long Phan (Quynh’s husband) is your charismatic host and downtown champion.

118 Dundas St, London.





Monday, January 6, 2014


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London is acknowledged as a great culinary destination with chefs, restaurants and farmers’ markets dedicated to a developing a regional culinary identity. An increasing number of the city’s gastro- culture are part of the new wave of collaborative chefs and cooks who source ingredients locally and embrace the tenets of sustainability, seasonality and accountability.

BEST CHEF – Danijel ``Dacha`` Markovic, Kantina Restaurant:

Markovic is an uncompromising artist and culinary innovator. Chef was an early adopter of the modern farm-to-table culinary repertoire. He is not just advancing “eating and sourcing local” and “eating seasonal,” he is vigorously and ingeniously enhancing and developing a new region-specific cuisine in the tiny kitchen at Kantina on Talbot Street. By the age of seven, Markovic’s precocious skills were already developing, from cooking and working with his mother in the family kitchen in former Yugoslavia. His father was a professional cook. Markovic`s menus are hyper-local and artisanal, with thoughtful and exciting riffs on an iconic indigenous cuisine. Markovic continues to be London’s reining culinary rock star.

BEST PASTRY CHEF – Michelle Lenhardt, River Room:

The desserts at the River Room are prepared by über-pastry chef Michele Lenhardt (former co-owner of Black Walnut Café and pastry chef at the AGO). Lenhardt’s Goat Cheese Cheesecake, Cherry Tart and Lemon Tart are all classics. Chocolate Pâté is rave-worthy, as is Semifreddo. Lenhardt brings River Room’s signature Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee dessert to a whole new level. The made-to-order apple fritters are served hot, with caramel dipping sauce. Beignets (deep-fried choux paste) are served hot, with bacon fudge and vanilla cream. If you are a connoisseur of classic pastry and dessert, you have come to the right place – Lenhardt`s talent is unparalleled in the city and consistently brings dessert offerings to a whole new level.

BEST DINING EXPERIENCE – River Room Private Dining:

Jess Jazey-Spoelstra’s River Room, inside Museum London, has banks of tinted windows with panoramic views overlooking the Forks of the Thames. This superb lunch spot has the clubby ambience of a Manhattan restaurant, with its casual, tailored décor and New York attitude and some of the best service in the city.

It is not just because Spolestra has had me to the restaurant for impromptu tastings of Russ & Daughters’ caviar, smoked fish, herring, cream cheese and bagels. Or, “that a taste of Russ & Daughters caviar is like receiving a kiss from the sea.” Quality, craft, and a discerning palette; these are three obsessions that have made Russ & Daughters’ world-famous. Think cream cheese is just cream cheese? The freshness, quality and double-whipped goodness of their cream cheese cannot be duplicated. And, nobody in this city does bone marrow the way the River Room does – oh, the pleasure of eating pure rich hot bone marrow.

BEST FINE DINING EXPERIENCE – Best Restaurant Wine List (Overall) 2013 – David’s Bistro

 Chefs David Chapman and Elvis Drennan have a strong and rustic culinary signature. They are long-time proponents of the philosophy that simplicity and purity are the hallmarks of good cooking. The eponymous David’s Bistro with its tiny bar, vibrant red walls and black-checked tablecloths is a venerated downtown culinary destination. David, his wife Cindy Kinsella, and David’s daughter Natalie are your hosts and are on hand to dispense knowledgeable, amiable and skilled service. 432 Richmond Street (at Carling) 519 667 0535 

David's Bistro


In its seventh year, The Only on King, with its fully realized farm-to-table philosophy, devoted acknowledgement of the local terroir and support of local farmers and producers, remains the personification and archetype of the virtuous up-to-the-minute Ontario restaurant. The restaurant’s kitchen, led by Paul Harding is a self-proclaimed “labour of love.” When Harding is not chained to the stove, he continues to find new ways to integrate the locavore ethic into all aspects of “The Only”.

The Only on King

BEST MODERNIST DINING – Kantina Restaurant

Proprietor Miljan Karac and Chef- molecular gastronomist Danijel Markovic reinterpret classic Balkan –inspired cuisine with plenty of skill, expertise and locally-sourced ingredients in their chic downtown London restaurant.  This is a scratch kitchen with a modernist flair and all items are made in-house and by hand. The menus are thoughtful, cutting-eddge and exciting riffs on an iconic indigenous cuisine imbued with modern farm to table ideals. 511 Talbot Street 672 5862


Proponents of stellar farm-to-table cuisine, Owner Edo Pehji, Manager Emma Pratt, chef Chad Stewart offers intelligent and ethically informed menu choices. This is affordable, top-of-the-line, rustic cooking using seasonal quality ingredients. Garlic’s embodies the warm relationship between authentic culinary pleasure and regional ingredients. A place to relax and savour superbly crafted dishes that are imaginative modern twists on tradition.

Garlic's of London


Blu Duby

 Joe and Cheryl Duby`s restaurant sports modern sophistication with its chic décor, combined with an innovative approach to family-friendly comfort food and artful cuisine. Casual bistro-style selections and tantalizing vegetarian choices are on offer, as well as many classic food favourites that have been updated and reimagined by Stratford Chef School alumnus, Chef Dani Gruden-Murphy (former chef co/owner of the original incarnation of the Braywick Bistro). The restaurant’s cooking repertoire keeps evolving, and the presentation is both stylish and simple. What you won’t find here is pretension or attitude. Together the Dubys, hand-picked a team of dynamic hospitality professionals: known for their exemplary customer service skills, clever repartee, and wit. Daytime manager Mathew Mckenzie, Kim Miller, William McKillop, Ray Nernberg, Hannah Kenwell, Scott MacDonald and Toni Mansilla make up the winning team. 125 Dundas Street / 32 Covent Market Place 519-433-1414

BEST CHINESE – The Chinese Barbeque:

The Chinese Barbeque (aka “Gee Gai Yun” – meaning “Our Family People”) is acknowledged as currently the number one Chinese Barbeque restaurant in the city. The cooking is informed by the Cantonese cuisine of Hong Kong, by way of Vietnam. This family-run business is the progeny of Quan Quyet Chow Ly and her sons Quan and John Ly. Keeping with “the nose-to-tail eating” philosophy and trend, this is the perfect restaurant for the true culinary adventurer to sample Chinese barbecue (char-siu) specialties. Hanging in the window near the entrance to the restaurant you will see whole pigs (sourced locally in Mt. Brydges) that have been coated with a signature honey and molasses marinade and roasted until the skin is crisp, glistening and golden brown. The food at The Chinese Barbecue has a fresh homemade quality with locally-sourced ingredients. No stale taro cake or premade, frozen Dim Sum here. The menu is expansive. 994 Huron Street, London 519-963-0375

BEST ETHIOPIAN –T.G`s Addis Ababa:

 Dining at chef T.G. Haile`s Addis Ababa is characterized by the ritual of breaking injera (the traditional yeast-risen flatbread which is spongy in texture, crèpe-like in appearance with sourdough tanginess) and sharing food from a communal platter signifying the bonds of loyalty and friendship. For more than a decade, T.G.’s Addis Ababa has offered a tour de force from the Ethiopian culinary repertoire. The modest restaurant is tucked away off-the-beaten-track in an unassuming brick building the south side of Dundas Street near the corner of Burwell and Maitland.

BEST GREEK – Mykonos:

Heidi and Bill Vamvalis have been serving authentic Greek food and traditional English fish and chips for over thirty years. In that time, we expect the gracious and irrepressible Heidi has hugged the entire city. Mykonos has an extensive menu selection of casual Greek fare. There is a nicely revamped wine list featuring several good Greek selections. 572 Adelaide Street, 519-434-6736

BEST ITALIAN – Abruzzi  Ristorante
Abruzzi is London’s premiere Italian-inspired restaurant, an up-to-date epicurean hotspot serving both modern and emblematic regional specialties. That Abruzzi is on the extremely short list of good Italian restaurants serving great food makes it one of the most exciting restaurants in London. That it is in walking distance of the Budweiser Gardens and the dining room looks out onto the Covent Garden Market square are additional bonuses. 119 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market) 519-675 9995


This restaurant quickly made its name and built a reputation for quality, authentic Mexican and El Salvadorian food. It all started with just a modest offering of 4 really delicious tacos and a limited menu of other specialities. “The big favourite being the taco al pastor made with juicy pork loin, pineapple, onion and cilantro that just melt into the meat." says Rivas. The other taco signature specialties are prepared with a choice of chorizo, beef barbacoa, or beef tongue, and a selection of homemade sauces. At the restaurant there are 16 fresh salsas to choose from. The nacho chips are house made, artisan corn tortillas are produced and sourced nearby in Alymer. True Taco offers a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros, sunny side up eggs with homemade sauce served with beans (locally sourced) and tortillas ($6.95) at both locations. 789 Dundas St; 519 433- 0909 (unlicensed) Western Fair Farmers and Artisans’ Market (Saturdays 8 to 3pm).

BEST POLISH – Unique Food Attitudes

Barbara Czyz`s  chic storefront bistro in the Old East Village has been an instant success due to its modern European sensibility, changing chalkboard menu offerings, fabulous food, and warm and attentive vibe. The bistro with its black slate counters, chrome accents, comfortable seating and sidewalk tables with umbrellas continues to draw clients from all over the city. House specialties include Goulash and potato pancakes, krokiety (crepes) and red borsch made from beets, bigos (sauerkraut-mushroom-meat stew), slow cooked cabbage rolls and tender peirogi with a variety of sweet and savoury fillings. One day our charming and hospitable server Beata recommended the szavlotka (delicious apple cake) and we have been converts to Czyz’s baking since. 697 Dundas Street 519 649 2225

BEST THAI – Thaifoon:

The kitchen’s oeuvre is a consistent showcase of Thailand’s regional flavours of hot, sweet, sour and salty, honouring tradition well embracing modernity. Thaifoon is careful to give you just the right level of spicing you want. Brothers Eddy and Alex Phimprhrachanh are the proprietors of Thaifoon, downtown London’s upmarket Southeast Asian restaurant.  Their hip and stylish take on the ancient Thai culture, with a décor that honours the past while embracing modernity, has earned both raves and admiration for their vision and ambitions.

BEST VEGETARIANZen Gardens Vegetarian Restaurant:

Zen Garden’s creative kitchen serves the best healthy vegetarian meals that you can imagine, in an upscale, tranquil atmosphere. Even meat substitutes are made from natural ingredients and spices; absolutely no chemicals or preservatives. 344 Dundas Street 519-433-6688

Tamarine is sleek and urban chic, with a sophisticated palette and upscale mix of contemporary Asian –inspired motifs, art cuisine and ambience. This is superb contemporary South Vietnamese cuisine. Dishes are designed to be mixed and matched in ways that balance flavours and fragrance, as well as texture and colour. 118 Dundas Street 519-601-8276

BEST ALFRESCO DINING Black Trumpet Restaurant
In the warm-weather months, a prestige spot for alfresco dining is the beautifully appointed and private Indonesian style garden at the Black Trumpet Restaurant. It is a secluded oasis, seating 60, and is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. At lunch, the cuisine is an amalgam of Asian- and Italian-inspired signature dishes, with influences and ingredients from various Mediterranean cultures.