Wednesday, September 24, 2014

BRIEF GUIDE: WHERE TO DINE IN LONDON NOW - THE SHORT LIST






The Huffington Post's "25 Places to Eat in London" was gleaned from the original list.





REDUX: WHERE TO DINE IN LONDON NOW - THE SHORT LIST

By BRYAN LAVERY





The food media are necessary members of the culinary community. Like any thoughtful patron, I hope that I bring appreciation and sensibility to the table. But the food media’s mission goes beyond that. We must pass our unbiased impressions on to the readers, while alerting the dining public to the diversity of choice on the culinary scene.

Are rating restaurants purely a question of taste? And within that there lies the matter of ingredients, innovation, style, consistency, service and much more. We place importance on other criterion such as, the wine list, the atmosphere, the setting, the service, philosophy and obviously, the price.
Good writing furnishes you with enough information and insight to enable you to make informed decisions, while helping to arbitrate the standards of dining out. If you don’t have a good, strong food media — whether you love them or despise them — you don’t have the same degree of interest, enthusiasm and accountability.
One of the greatest joys about writing about culinary matters is “unearthing the diamond in the rough”. In my opinion, among the disappointments are discovering restaurants that don’t live up to their reputations, or the complaining owner who has lost interest in the business and the writing is on the wall. Almost as bad is the culinary equivalent of grey: dull at worst, inoffensive at best. Or the one-trick pony — the great restaurant whose menu never changes, and quickly the food becomes stagnant.
Even more disappointing are those hosts/servers who ride on the chef’s laurels and the restaurant’s former accolades, thinking the chef’s/restaurant’s reputation gives them carte blanche to dispense surly, indifferent or poor service to their customers.
Despite the changing definition of restaurant professionalism, poor customer service and unfriendly reservation policies disappoint us, and good service fosters loyalty, which in turn inspires repeat business and great word-of-mouth. Every time I return to certain restaurants, it hits me just how much uninterested service irks me and how profoundly irritated its patrons must feel, even when the food is the cream of the crop. Once you have been trained to view things from both a chefs and a restaurateurs perspective it never leaves you. I have devoted most of my working life to both ends of this spectrum.


Reading someone else’s assessment of a restaurant is not necessarily enough for every reader to evaluate a restaurant. The real way to do a restaurant justice is to eat there. These are my opinions and reflect my professional expertise. This is the shortlist.


NEW: 

Wolfe of Wortley
Restaurant Ninety-One at Windemere Manor
Glassroots (Vegetarian)
Plant Matter Kitchen (Vegetarian)
Toboggan




Abruzzi
119 King Street 519- 675-9995 www.abruzzi.ca
Chef Dave Lamers and co-owner Rob D’Amico work with local farmers and growers to source products that boast both integrity and flavour and then incorporate these seasonal offerings into Abruzzi’s Italian-provenance-oriented menus. A superior wine list features plenty of exciting consignments. Windows that open to the street make the indoor to outdoor dining experience feel unified.



Aroma Mediterranean Restaurant 
123 Richmond Street (at Piccadilly) 519-435-0616
Felipe Gomes’s Aroma evokes a strong Old World ambiance. The open courtyard dining room features a three-storey vaulted ceiling, creating a spacious yet cozy space. Menus feature signature specialties from all over the Mediterranean. There is always a selection of fresh fish.


Black Trumpet
523 Richmond Street (South of Kent Street) 519- 850- 1500 www.blacktrumpet.ca
Chef Scott Wesseling has a modern-day take on international classics, drawing from local and seasonal ingredients to create his new menu offerings. The expanded lunch menu includes a couple of different burgers, one using bison and the other venison. The restaurant's elegant courtyard patio is on of London's gems.


Blackfriar's Bistro
46 Blackfriars Street 519 667 4930
Blackfriars Bistro is a deliciously arty bistro with a cheerful persona, knowledgeable servers and a top-notch kitchen. The health conscious, creative and eclectic seasonal menus are handwritten by restaurateur Betty Heydon. This casual bistro located just west of the Blackfriar's Bridge also features innovative, seasonal blackboard specials daily and a good Sunday brunch.


Blu Duby
32 Covent Market Place 519- 433- 1414 www.bluduby.com
Chef combines comfort food classics with modern European, Asian and Mediterranean twists. This is comfort cuisine in upmarket surroundings with a nod to hip, but not a speck of pretension. Owners Joe and Cheryl Duby feature a well thought out wine list offering a variety of price points.


 Budapest Dining Room & Tavern
348 Dundas Street 519- 439- 3431 www.oo5.com/bpr
The Budapest is a local treasure with red velvet, unintended kitsch and old world charisma. Doyenne Marika Hayek has been delighting patrons with her risqué repartee and dependably great Hungarian specialities in this traditional old- world tavern setting for 56 years. Comfy street side patio. "Of course, you must try the schnitzel or the stuffed veal — the spätzle is also delicious —save room for the palacsinta."


Che Restobar
225 Dundas Street (at Clarence) 519-601-7999 www.cherestobar.ca
Marvin Rivas has designed an atmosphere that sends exactly the right message about Che: it is sexy and urbane, and casual and spontaneous, but it's personable, too, and the core commitment to authentic cuisine isn't blasé in the least. The menu blends tradition and ingenuity in true Latin American style.


Chinese Barbeque
994 Huron St; London 519 963-0375
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.

The Church Key Bistro Pub
476 Richmond Street (across from The Grand Theatre) 519- 936- 0960 www.thechurchkey.ca
This is a top-notch cooking and Chef Michael Anglestad has a repertoire of flavours that are big, brash and rustic but thoroughly cosmopolitan. Pastry Chef Cliff Briden is also at the top of his game. Best of all owners Vanessa and Pete Willis’s haven’t overlooked its roots as a place for locals to meet and imbibe. An intimate outdoor courtyard borders the south side of the building.


 David's Bistro
432 Richmond Street (at Carling) 519- 667- 0535 www.davidsbistro.ca
David Chapman and Chef Elvis Drennan present a solid array of classic French favourites. The dishes are so virtuous, in such a French way it's almost impossible to believe you're not in France. The bistro with its tiny bar, vivacious red walls and black-checked tablecloths is a venerated downtown dining destination. There is a sensibly priced, extensive and ever-changing consignment wine selection and interesting VQA’s.


Dragonfly Bistro
715 Richmond Street   519-432-2191
Donald and Nora Yuriann have an irresistible kitchen, a moderately priced menu, and service that is welcoming. If you are planning to visit for Indonesian Rijsttafel on Monday nights, be sure to make a reservation. This is a hidden gem in plain sight, on Richmond Row.


The Early Bird
355 Talbot Street 519-439-6483 www.theearlybird.ca
Gregg and Justin Wolfe’s Early Bird is King and Talbot’s red-hot, retro diner with casual farm-to-table cooking. The Early Bird has a quirky charm and a hotchpotch menu of updated retro diner classics and new generation comfort foods. Signature dishes include: the king-sized “turducken club” sandwich made with turkey, chicken and duck, perogies, and Montreal smoked meat that is made on site. Save room for the bacon-fried pickles. These are dishes with real soul. You can’t get much more hip-but-earthy than the Early Bird Diner. Check out the seasonal patio.



Garlic's of London
481 Richmond Street (beside The Grand Theatre) 519- 432- 4092 www.garlicsoflondon.com
Proponents of farm-to-table cuisine, Owner Edo Pehji, Manager Emma Pratt, Chef Carla Cooper and their culinary team offer intelligent and ethically informed menu choices. Garlic’s combines all the elements of a perennial favourite - as delicious, affordable, top-of-the-line, rustic cooking using seasonal and high quality ingredients.

Glassroots (NEW)


646 Richmond St, London 519-850-8688
www.glassrootslondon.com

Culinary stalwarts Yoda Olinyk and Mike Fish recently opened Glassroots and have quickly taken the concept of “local” to a new level, sourcing everything from as close to home as possible. They are savvy and know how to build an expanded clientele by casting veganism as healthful lifestyle rather than a moral crusade. Olinyk and Fish also know how to build community and have done so very effectively, partially through their crowdfunding initiative and social media channels.
With a newly renovated and intimate dining room (tables are quite close), Glassroots is already becoming a high-energy hub for a dedicated healthful food culture. The dining room has lots of natural light with stained glass and heritage accents..
Olinyk and her culinary team mix local and seasonal made-from-scratch food, with a warm and inviting ambiance and a friendly and authentic dining experience. Olinyk redefines the diverse repertoire of modern plant-based cuisine with a wholly inventive and idiosyncratic approach. Innovation and seasonality are paramount and some menu items change weekly. Rotating dishes that have been on offer include falafels, hearts of palm calamari, tofu scallops with spicy soba noodle salad, mac and cheese, corn dogs, wild mushroom risotto, Buffalo cauliflower (not the city, the sauce) and waffles. The vegetable charcuterie board features red pepper pepperoni, “Field Roast” sausage, eggplant and tomato pâté, mustard, pickled vegetables and toasts. Another excellent choice is the “Nuts for Cheese” plate, featuring cashew cheese, homemade jams and pickles.
Olinyk is a certified Red Seal chef and is also skilled in plant-based nutrition. She was the brains behind the very successful vegetarian catering company called Yoda’s Kitchen of St. Thomas. She brings to Glassroots her reputation, expertise and repertoire as “the healthy chef” and creates innovative, sometimes surprising, flavoursome creations.
Fish, her partner in life and work, is a certified sommelier, Canadian wine scholar and cocktail guru who bring years of professional experience and training in the wine industry to the table, with a goal of offering one of London’s best wine, craft beer and cocktail lists. The cocktails are fresh, seasonal and a spin on the classics. Try the refreshing Horse’s Neck. This is the only restaurant in town whereyou can get Muscedere Vineyards pinot grigio from Lake Erie’s North Shore.
Glassroots is open for full service dinners Wednesday to Sunday, and features a Sunday brunch and a healthy, vegan, take-away lunch throughout the week. The restaurant is available for wine workshops, tasting events, fundraisers and more. There is a charming 14-seat elevated patio facing Richmond Street.
Glassroots Restaurant

Idlewyld Inn
36 Grand Avenue 519-433-2891
A local landmark since 1878, the Inn combines the elegance of a bygone era with all the modern amenities sophisticated travelers have come to expect. Chef creates a culinary experience that is both sophisticated and classic. The restaurant is a reflection of the casual elegance that the Idlewyld has built its reputation around.  Plaudits for the cozy ambience, innovative cuisine and artistry on each plate.  Jazz Nights.


La Casa Ristorante
117 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market) 519- 434-2272 lacasaristorante.com
Chef's menus are rooted in the authentic Italian tradition. All the classics of Italian culinary canon are on the virtuous menu —prepared from scratch with skill. Consistency and familiarity are the hallmarks of the La Casa culinary experience. Signature dishes like: risotto al salto, house-made angel hair pasta with sautéed shrimp and lobster tagliolini are masterworks.


London Ale House
288 Dundas Street (across from Delta Armouries Hotel) 519-204-2426 londonalehouse.com
The Ale House has a huge selection of beers - local, from around the world, draught, bottled and ciders. Menu items include delicious BBQ smoked items, smoked outdoors in their beer garden. Everything from duck to brisket to pulled pork. Experience their charming beer garden for lunch, dinner or late night. Menu items are prepared in-house, from scratch - even the condiments, using beers and ciders with each of their menu items.

Marienbad Restaurant

122 Carling Street (at Talbot) 519- 679- 9940 www.marienbad.ca
For forty years the Marienbad has brought the European dining culture to downtown in a casual atmosphere. The kitchen evokes eastern and central Europe with its skill for that perfect marriage of sweet and sour time-honoured specialties. There is an exceptional steak tartare and a variety of signature schnitzels.  A black iron fence, flower boxes, and comfortable tables with festive umbrellas add charm to the inviting side walk patio.

 Massey's Fine Indian Cuisine
174 King Street (near Richmond) 519-672-2989 www.masseys.ca
Chef/owner of Patison Massey and his partner and spouse Anisha, seem to be always on hand. Chef shows his expertise with his dazzling way with spices bestowing and building flavors to great effect. A variety of vegetarian offerings and classic favourites like: smoky-spiced baingan patiala, everything tandoori, butter chicken, nann, and various exotic accompaniments.

Michael’s on-the-Thames
1 York Street (at the bridge) 519- 672- 0111 www.michaelonthethames.com  
For thirty years and counting, Michael’s on-the-Thames has been regarded as London’s ‘celebration destination’ and for good reason. Owner-operator Joelle Lees, executive Chef Denis Clavette and their polished staff gives its patrons what they want, consistently. The restaurant has been smartly refurbished to create a renewed sense of comfort and well-being.

Milos' Craft Beer Emporium
This is London’s premier craft beer destination, owned and operated by renowned publican Milos Kral. Chef Matt Reijnen prepares menus that reflect their farm-to-table commitment and passion for everything local. Kral offers 23 micros on tap with excellent style variation. Craft beer enthusiasts have made this local landmark part of Ontario’s rich craft beer culture. Seasonal patio.



Morrissey House
359 Dundas Street 519-204-9220 www.themorrisseyhouse.com
Publican Marc Serré’s Morrissey House with its unique selection of beers and innovative pub food is a welcoming, warm and cozy local. Chef Andrew Harris offers a menu that is comfortable and accessible but with a twist. Almost everything is mad in house from scratch. There is al fresco dining on their popular 60-seat patio.

Restaurant Ninety-One at Windermere Manor (NEW)
200 Collip Drive Western Discovery Park (off Windermere, West of Western Road) www.restaurantninetyone.ca


The menus at Restaurant Ninety One pay homage to Modern Canadian cuisine. Picture perfectly seared duck breast with potato soufflé, chamomile and fennel and black mushroom jus, or braised and roasted lamb with toasted oat purée, honeyed turnip, olive crème fraîche, pickled strawberry and wheat grass jus. There is also local rainbow trout with gin cure, puffed wild rice, sorrel, sea buckthorn berries, dill and crème fraîche. The honey lavender panna cotta with black fruits, grapefruit pearls, violets and selgris is out of this world.
Murphy says, “A dedicated focus on creating all things in-house has translated to house baked sourdough bread before every meal, a completely in-house dessert menu featuring a variety of ice creams and pastries, and house cured meats and charcuterie. Creative vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan options are also available.” There is a stunning custom-made chefs’ table for dining.
Reservations are recommended and private dining rooms can be arranged upon request. There is a delicious Sunday brunch, live jazz on Friday nights and plenty of free parking.


Rock au Taco
355 Talbot Street 519-439-6483
The latest brain wave of the Wolfe brothers, Rock au Taco located next door to the Early Bird Diner is serving up delicious and authentic tacos and Mexican cuisine, ice cold cervezas, and smooth tequila. This is gourmet inspired street food and classic comfort-club grub.


The Root Cellar Organic Café
623 Dundas Street 519-719-7675
Community-focused, local, sustainable and responsible are the words used to describe the Root Cellar’s philosophy. The culinary brigade procures their ingredients from food grown and produced within a 45-minute radius of London. Breads and baking are crafted from Arva Flour Mill wheat. The Root Cellar features London’s first co-operatively owned nanobrewery  and offersthe beer on tap in the café.



Tamarine by Quynh Nhi
118 Dundas Street 519- 601-8276 www.tamarine.ca
Chef’s Quyhn and Nhi’s modern Vietnamese menus are cleverly balanced, with a gentle rhythm between strong and subtle flavours uniting both colour and texture. The stylish dining room is so warm and embracing, it's hard not to think you're in a cocoon. http://ethicalgourmet.blogspot.ca/2014/09/tamarine-by-quynh-nhis-modern.html


T.G`s Addis Ababa
265 Dundas Street 519-4334222 www.tgsaddisababarestaurant.com
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.


 Thaifoon Restaurant
120 Dundas Street (East of Talbot) 519- 850- 1222 www.thaifoonrestaurant.com
Thaifoon sets itself apart with bang-on aromatic specialties from the Thai culinary canon and with their keen eye for detail and presentation. The minimalist room is sleek, with a sexy, upbeat soundtrack, rich dark woods and ultra-soft leather banquettes.



TOOK (The Only on King)
172 King Street, 519 936 2064 www.theonlyonking.ca
Possessing a good grasp on the tenets of terroir and sustainability, chef/owner Paul Harding’s cooking is faultless. The Only on King, with its casual farm-to-table philosophy and culinary repertoire is a master class in modern comfort cooking. The daily changing menu is unique by London standards and something that few chefs/restaurateurs would be in a position to execute.



The River Room Café and Private Dining
Museum London, Ridout Street N. 519 850 2287 www.northmoore.ca/theriverroom/
Panoramic views and the tailored simplicity and elegance of the River Room make it breathtaking.  Jess Jazey-Spoelstra’s kitchen has a deserved reputation for the quality of the ingredients and the knowledgeable and expressive exuberance of the preparations. Open Tues.–Fri., from 11 am. to 4 pm. and Sunday for Brunch.


The Tasting Room
383 Richmond Street 519- 438- 6262 www.thetastingroom.ca
Menus are a veritable hit parade of current trends and updated classics. Lively tapas bars were the inspiration for this restaurant for this popular hotspot. Menus are a mixture of up-to-the-minute trends and updated classics. Small plates are the main focus and the list is extensive. Wine tasting flights are divided into four, 2-ounce glasses of red or white.



True Taco Authentic Comedor Latino
789 Dundas Street 519 433 0909 www.truetaco.com
Luis Rivas and Elsa Garcia and family continue to wow guests by providing flavour and ambiance at their new and much larger restaurant. The kitchen offers up a spectacular all-day breakfast of huevos rancheros: sunny-side up eggs with homemade sauce and locally sourced beans and tortillas. Handmade pupusas are a specialty and are mad with rice or corn flour tortillas. Central American offerings include, burritos, tacquitos, quesadillas, enchiladas and corn-husk wrapped pork and corn meal tamales.


Unique Food Attitudes
697 Dundas Street 519 649 2225
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. 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.



Wolfe of Wortley (NEW)
After delays with the city, engineers and trades people Justin and Gregg Wolfe of The Early Bird diner and Rock au Taco have opened the highly anticipated Wolfe of Wortley in Wortley Village. They are bringing a fresh and innovative experience to the village with their 20 + seat restaurant which is complemented by a 14 seat patio. Expect casual but sophisticated dining focusing on pickling, fermenting and preserving. The restaurant has a meat window showcasing their house made salumi. The menu features raw, smoked and grilled oysters. Snacks include chicken liver brûlée, bone marrow, clams and chicken fried oysters.  There are charcuterie and cheeseboards.  House-made pastas include bucatini with smoked oyster, bacon, egg yolk and parmesan; cheese gnocchi with beer mushrooms and mustard. Proteins include pork belly, rainbow trout, bison ribs and octopus. There is a 17 oz. ribeye for two. Open Tuesday – Sunday at 5 pm, 147 Wortley Road, www.wolfeofwortley.com



















No comments:

Post a Comment