Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Evolution of Richmond Row


When Ann and David Lindsay moved Ann McColl’s Kitchen Shop to Richmond and Hyman Streets, after five years on Dundas Street in 1972, it was one of just three small owner-operated specialty shops on Richmond Row. Of course, there were restaurants like the Toddle Inn, which opened as a modest establishment with a simple menu and a large, horseshoe-shaped counter in 1947. Today, The Toddle Inn remains the Row’s oldest restaurant and most enduring, nearly seventy years later.

In case you think that’s determination, the iconic CPR Hotel and Tavern, known today by its more familiar name, The Ceeps, has been operating since 1890. When Ontario went dry in 1916, the business continued by operating the rooms. In 1927, when Prohibition ended, the taps began flowing again. Today Colin Tattersall operates three distinct parts to that iconic business: The Ceeps, Barney’s and the outdoor patio on Richmond Street.  

 In the early days, Richmond Street was an eclectic array of Victorian architecture, ranging in style from Georgian interpretations to modifications of the Italian school. The emergence of the Richmond Row/Village into a unique area of specialty merchants, independent services and a tourist-oriented theatre district came when the Grand Theatre changed from its repertory system in 1984. By then, people were already comparing the area to Toronto’s Yorkville. Despite several large office-retail-apartment developments, Richmond Row sustained its commercial and architectural uniqueness. Diners, shoppers, theatre-goers and university students continue to enjoy strolling along the Row with its wide sidewalks, leafy trees, boutiques, shops, bars, cafés and upscale restaurants. Today there are estimated to be some 275 to 300 businesses in the Richmond Row district.

London City Council unanimously passed the boundary expansion of Downtown London, effective January 1, 2015, taking in Richmond Row and the surrounding area all the way to the north side of Oxford St. and to the Thames River. Janette MacDonald, executive director of Downtown London, said Richmond Row will keep its “fantastic brand” and retain its unique identity under the Downtown London umbrella.

Dennis Winkler, (the co-owner/general manager of Wink’s who has chaired the Richmond Row group until recently), stated “I am extremely positive about the Richmond Row Merchant Association joining with the London Downtown Business Association (LBDA). Our association had reached a point where it had grown to over 60 members and over the past 15 years has been run by volunteers. By joining the LDBA there will be enough funds generated to have their paid professional team take Richmond Row into the future. The same group of volunteers were finding it difficult to find the time to keep the marketing and event programs expanding to give the members what they deserve. Plus all the merchants in the area will contribute financially, instead of just those concerned merchants who paid their $400 per year to keep advertising the Row. The volunteers over the years have done an excellent job of promoting Richmond across the city and province but it is time to take it to the next level.”

Things keep on evolving on the Row. Restaurateur Mike Smith owns a number of restaurants in the area—The Runt Club, Fellini Koolini’s, The Toboggan Brewing Company, and the landmark Joe Kool’s. Smith recently installed a brewery in the basement of his former Jim Bob Ray’s bar and is launching a line of locally-brewed craft beer. The brew will be made and served at the Toboggan Brewing Co., the new name for the freshly renovated bar and grill that is next door to Joe Kool’s, Smith’s flagship restaurant on Richmond Row. Joe Kool’s is a must-see attraction for tourists visiting downtown London. The following section highlights some, but certainly not all, of the interesting culinary options found on Richmond Row.

Aroma Restaurant and Café

Felipe Gomes’ Aroma Restaurant and the separately situated Café combine classic Mediterranean cuisine with amenities for cooking classes, corporate team-building exercises, wine cellar dining and a private conference room. Aroma’s open courtyard dining room features a three-storey vaulted ceiling, creating a spacious yet cozy piazza evoking the vibrancy associated with al fresco dining. Attached to the restaurant is a Parisian-style café, which fronts onto 717 Richmond Street at Piccadilly Street, 519-435-0616

Black Trumpet

Chef Scott Wesseling has a modern-day take on international classics, drawing from local and seasonal ingredients to create his innovative menu offerings. In season, a prestige spot for al fresco dining is the beautifully appointed and private Indonesian style garden. This secluded oasis, seating 60, is one of the city's best kept secrets. 523 Richmond Street (South of Kent Street), 519-850-1500

Church Key Bistro Pub

Vanessa and Pete Willis’s Church Key is a downtown gastropub with farm-to-table cuisine and an impressive selection of craft beers. Chef Michael Anglestad specializes in traditional food prepared with innovation and finesse. The salad with duck leg confit on greens, roasted mushrooms, and candied almonds is to die for. In season, there is a stunning outdoor courtyard. Stellar Sunday brunch.  476 Richmond Street, (North of Queens Avenue) 519-936-0960

Dragonfly Bistro

Simple, stylish and sophisticated is the best way to describe the charming Dragonfly Bistro. Donald and Nora Yuriaan have an irresistible kitchen, a moderately priced menu and welcoming service. We were enthused by the fragrant heat that bathed the Balinese-inspired Ayam Betutu (chicken breast served with a spicy red chili, tomato and spice sauce) on the current dinner menu. Other entrees at dinner include filet of salmon, beef tenderloin peppercorn steak and roasted rack of lamb. If you are planning to visit for lunch, dinner or the Indonesian set menu which is available every evening, be sure to make a reservation. 715 Richmond Street, 519-432-2191

Fellini Koolini’s Italian Cuisini and The Runt Club

Fellini Koolini’s Italian Cuisini and its sibling restaurant, The Runt Club, operate twin patios on a charming backstreet just off Richmond Row. Fellini Koolini’s is uber-restaurateur Mike Smith’s homage to the surreal Italian director. Railings are intertwined with grape vines and the terracotta pots filled with bread sticks lend a touch of Italian kitsch. Menu favourites include a large selection of pastas, thin crust pizzas, steamed mussels, calamari and delicious steaks. 153 Albert Street, 519-642-2300

Garlic’s of London

Edo Pehilj’s Garlic’s is the prototype for the ethical modern Ontario restaurant. The cooking repertoire of chef Chad Steward is influenced by a strong commitment to supporting local and sustainable food and agriculture, and has been instrumental in helping to raise the bar for intelligent and ethical dining in London. 481 Richmond Street, 519-432-4092

Mythic Grill

Traditional Greek cuisine with a modern flare, served in a quaint bistro atmosphere. There is seating for 34 inside and another 18 on the popular patio. Tender lamb chops, sizzling saganaki, and succulent calamari are signature dishes. The ambience of the Mythic Grill appeals to diners looking for an intimate dining experience. No reservations on weekends. 179 Albert Street, 519-433-0230  

Sakata Bar and Grill 

The cozy Japanese-inspired Sakata Bar and Grill has opened in the premises that Blue Ginger previously occupied on Richmond Street. Try tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, tako yako (with chunks of octopus) and top-grade sashimi and sushi rolls. iPad menu, 644 Richmond Street, 519- 601-2866


This Richmond Row mainstay is owner/chef Shawn Ham‘s take on authentic Korean, sushi and fusion-inspired Japanese favourites. Be sure to try the okonomi yaki (Japanese-style pancakes). 607 Richmond Street, 519-642-2558

The Talbot St Whisky House

The Talbot St Whisky House is a brand-new 1920's-prohibition-themed bar and restaurant. The menu is a blend of fine dining and comfort food made from scratch, fresh daily. The Whisky House showcases a large assortment of whisky and designer cocktails, as well as offering beer on tap and in bottles, and a wide variety of red and white wine. 580 Talbot Street, 519-601-2589

The Tasting Room

Lively tapas bars were the inspiration for this popular hotspot. Menus are a montage of the latest culinary 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. 383 Richmond Street, 519-438-6262

Willie’s Café

Ian Kennard’s Willie’s Café has been a revered lunch spot for 19 years. Chef Gail Rains is a dynamo who combines efficient professionalism with friendly repartee in the small open kitchen. Menu items include over a dozen different sandwiches and wraps, along with a variety of soups, salads and other house specialties. Everything is made in-house and from scratch. Willie’s has built a reputation as a caterer, and fresh healthy fare can be delivered to your office at an affordable price. Set price, set menu dinner the last Friday of the month and a good Saturday brunch. 731 Wellington Street, 519-433-9027

Wink’s Eatery

Co-owned by Dennis and Adam Winkler, Wink’s is celebrating its 9th year. Wink’s casual menu has something for everyone ranging from breakfast, to burgers and nachos, to dinner entrees like steak, baby back ribs, salmon and pastas. 551 Richmond Street, 519-936-5079

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Remembering Ann McColl's Kitchen Shop

Ann McColl Lindsay and David Lindsay: A Brief History of a Road Less Traveled

Hospitality and the culinary arts have always gone hand in hand. In London, Ontario, we have a history of exceptional restaurateurs, chefs and culinary retailers. Among the latter are Ann McColl Lindsay and David Lindsay, the former proprietors of the legendary Ann McColl’s Kitchen Shop, one of Canada’s finest cookware shops.

Ann and David met, married and taught school in Windsor, Ontario from 1961 to 1968. They resigned their positions, sold their red brick bungalow, and embarked on a year-long food pilgrimage across Europe while camping in a Volkswagen van. Travelling in the van with a gas burner allowed them to truly enjoy the local terroir.

The first six months of their trip, which ended at the French border, is described in Ann’s memoir Hungry Hearts – A Food Odyssey across Britain and Spain. The second volume, Hearts Forever Young, includes their travels in France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.

This formative trip introduced the Lindsays to small independent grocers, hardware stores, street markets and antique stores jammed with domestic serving pieces. It was during this time that they started to collect the one-of-a-kind utensils that would comprise a useful and saleable batterie de cuisine. Of a foray to British food writer Elizabeth David’s Kitchen Shop, Ann says, “This innocent morning’s shopping expedition turned into a lifetime obsession”.

 Upon their return to Canada, they opened Ann McColl’s Kitchen Shop and Victoriana in rented premises on Dundas Street where they lived above the shop. They specialized in culinary utensils, antiquarian books, furniture, and Victorian paraphernalia.
I should point out here that it was about this time that the Lindsays befriended restaurateurs Ginette Bisallion and Robin Askew, who opened the seven-table L’Auberge du Petit Prince ((named after Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince, who, if you remember, cooked over volcanic jets on a far planet). L’Auberge was later purchased by chef Chris Squire in 1976. Squire would operate the landmark business for 21 years. These steadfast relationships cemented their connection to the local restaurant scene.

After several years on Dundas Street, the Lindsays moved to new premises with beautiful storefront windows, on Richmond at Hyman Street. It was one of just three small owner-operated specialty shops on Richmond Row at the time. Ann started to write cookbooks. David, a talented artist and photographer, illustrated them.

In 1977 Ann authored The Cookshop Cookbook, which instructed readers in the use and care of kitchen utensils and equipment. “We had always been traditionalists in the matter of kitchen equipment, shunning all electrical contrivances and putting our faith in good knives, sieves, mortar and pestles. The autumn of 1975 saw a change in all that. The Cuisinart Food Processor arrived in Canada and automatically half the stock in our store became obsolete,” wrote Ann. The business prospered anyway and they outgrew that location.

In the 1980’s they relocated the shop to 350 Talbot Street. Built in 1890, the building was originally erected as a showroom and repair shop for Massey-Harris Co. To this day, the landmark building provides a strong reminder of the late nineteenth century commercial activity in downtown London. The new store was one of the most professionally stocked and artistically merchandised cookware shops anywhere. It had everything you needed to be a successful cook, except the food. The shop offered bakeware, pots and pans, woks, scales, utensils, gadgets, drain boards, glassware, bowls, and many specialty utensils. There was even a step-down kitchen in the renovated tractor repair shed with an AGA stove for cooking classes and demonstrations.

 Already outspoken heritage activists, having had four of their buildings designated, they campaigned for the preservation of the streetscape on the Talbot Block which culminated in a “Hands Around the Block” demonstration. Ann’s commentaries on culinary matters, urban issues and heritage preservation have appeared in countless newspaper articles, magazines and letters to the editor over the years.

In 1994, the Lindsays published Ann McColl’s 25 Greatest Hits, which showcased 25 of the store’s greatest products beautifully illustrated by David. Eventually, they would sell this building and move the business to King Street, across from the Covent Garden Market.

The Lindsay’s announcement in 2002 that they were retiring and closing down their store on King Street presented the opportunity for Jill Wilcox to expand Jill’s Table into that location. The space was four times larger than Jill’s original market space. Jill’s Table was able to fill part of the vacuum that Ann McColl’s was leaving in the community.

During the 33 years they ran their kitchenware business the Lindsays were also avid gardeners at their home in Woodfield, and in community gardens. A few years ago, Ann was instrumental in recreating the original Victorian herb garden at Eldon House. To this day the Lindsays are fondly remembered as the benchmark example of how to blend culture and commerce. They continue to be intrepid market enthusiasts, artists, heritage preservationists and community boosters.

Monday, March 16, 2015

2015 TASTE Downtown London Guide

    Here is the new 2015 TASTE Downtown London Guide produced by eatdrink magazine, written and researched by Bryan Lavery 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Blue Mountain and Beaver Valley Apple Pie Trail


Blue Mountain and Beaver Valley Apple Pie Trail


Our annual culinary road trip, consisting of a scenic drive through the towns and hamlets along the Georgian Bay coastline, through the remarkable Beaver Valley and along the top of the Niagara Escarpment, brought us past Georgian Hills Vineyard. Unknowingly, we were following a similar route to that of the Blue Mountain Apple Pie Trail.  The trail is a year-round culinary route that winds through the apple and pear growing country from just east of Owen Sound to Collingwood and offers a truly top-notch culinary experience.

Over the last seven years, the trail has continued to expand by offering travellers a diverse complement of agricultural and culinary partnerships, tours, events and experiential adventures that focus on Ontario's apple orchard country. At last count the trail connected 37 stops for local apple-inspired products and fare, including restaurants, orchards, food merchants, breweries and wineries. A winner of the Premier's Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence, the trail also received Tourism Ontario's Culinary Experience Award in 2012.

Georgian Hills Vineyard

At the Georgian Hills Vineyard our hospitable and intelligent hosts spoke about the winemakers and explained the Niagara Escarpment’s unique terroir and the microclimate created by the proximity to Georgian Bay. Georgian Bay's moderating effects produce favourable grape growing conditions. The area has been designated “an emerging wine region” by the Wine Council of Ontario. We sampled several varietals that included a Perry, a Seyval Blanc, a Vidal Blanc, an unoaked Chardonnay, a Marachel Foch and a Vidal (Frozen on the Vine). We retreated to the terrace, where comfortable chairs overlook the vineyard, with glasses of Riesling in hand and an outstanding platter of local cheeses and charcuterie. Georgian Hills makes its own sweet dessert wine called Frozen to the Core, created from peaches and apples. Tasting room hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 12 – 5 p.m.

Beaver Valley Cidery

Our next stop was the Beaver Valley Cidery where hard ciders are crafted in small batches from select varieties of heritage apples grown in the orchard or supplied by local Georgian Bay growers. The restored century barn has been converted into a cidery and tasting room. Co-owner Judy Cornwell told us that they kept the barn's foundation, and posts and beams, replacing the cladding, floor and roof. The tasting room and the outdoor gardens are stunning. Two types of hand-crafted ciders can be tasted and paired with a plate of superb artisanal cheeses. 235853 Beaver Valley Rd (Grey Rd 13), Kimberley. Open May to December, Thursday to Sunday 11-6 p.m.

Bruce Wine Bar and Kitchen

Bruce Wine Bar is a scratch kitchen, featuring farm-to-table menus which showcase local and regional products. Downstairs in The Kitchen, dine on traditional Neapolitan wood-fired pizzas (funghi, artisan salumi, fennel sausage, etc.), salads and sandwiches. Or head upstairs to the wine bar for quality wines, spirits and craft beer, shared plates and charcuterie. Think smoked local whitefish fritters or beef striploin tartare with sous vide duck egg yolk. The chef follows sustainable principles. The restaurant is a Feast ON certified taste of Ontario establishment for people who seek out authentic "tastes of place" when travelling. Open daily, lunch and dinner; closed Mondays from September to June. 8 Bruce Street South, Thornbury; (alley behind TD Bank)

  The Cheese Gallery

Casey Thomson's Cheese Gallery on the main street in Thornbury is a cheese shop in a gallery setting, showcasing the talent of local artisans who craft local foods, beverages and art. We usually visit the Cheese Gallery several times a year. This unique experience offers a licensed tasting bar with cozy seating, charcuterie and a truly dazzling array of salumi and international and artisan cheeses. Open year round, daily. 11 Bruce St. South, Thornbury.

The Blue Mountains Apple Pie Trail

No matter what time of year you visit, the Apple Pie Trail is a year-round culinary destination. Last year the culinary trail added six new stops, including the Northwinds Brewhouse and Eatery, and Bonnie Dorgelo Jewellery and Paintings in Collingwood, Twist Martini Restaurant and Bar, Booster Juice in the Blue Mountain Village, and the aforementioned Bruce Wine Bar in Thornbury and the Beaver Valley Cidery. For a special treat be sure to stop at the hospitable Kimberly General Store for some locally-sourced provisions and a delicious sandwich.

Icarus Resto Bar Ascending on Richmond Row


Zack Agathos has the presence and magnetism which combined with a genuine earnestness bodes well in the hospitality business. He’s good looking and charming and approachable and has good restaurant chops. Agathos descends from a long line of savvy Greek-Canadian restaurateurs. His grandfather, Jim Agathos, father Ross Agathos (Sweet Onion Grill in Wortley Village) and Aunt Effie (newly-opened Kosmos Catering and Eatery on Richmond Row) operated The Dancing Greek (formerly the Huron House and Jimmy’s Tavern) for 51 years before it closed.

Agathos confides that he was drawn to the cautionary legend of Icarus, and chose the name for his new resto bar after careful deliberation. He felt the story of Icarus spoke to him. Icarus is of course named after the son of Daedalus, who ventured too near the sun on wings of wax and feathers. The story goes that Daedalus had been imprisoned by King Minos of Crete within the walls of his own invention, the Labyrinth, whose function was to hold the Minotaur. But the master craftsman would not suffer incarceration. He fashioned two pairs of wings by fastening feathers to a wooden frame with wax. Giving one pair to his son, he warned him that flying too near the sun would cause the wax to melt. But Icarus became elated with the ability to fly and neglected to heed his father's warning. The rest, as they say, is history.

Agathos is confident, he has bravado (the good kind) and he believes he has the right skill set to succeed in the restaurant business. He has intentionally surrounded himself with staff, confidantes and advisors who have the finesse and judgment it takes to birth a successful restaurant.

Icarus Resto Bar is located in the repurposed premises formerly occupied by Coffee Culture on Richmond Street. Last year, on my initial visit to meet up with Agathos, he emphasized that the restaurant would have an interactive open-kitchen concept with a contemporary Greek/Mediterranean fusion theme. Sometimes when speaking with him I was reminded of an impresario who is trying to bring Modern Greek cuisine the acclaim it deserves. Despite his due diligence, he had many unforeseen setbacks during the construction of the restaurant, which he endured with optimism.

            Today, the long room features large picture windows, seating for more than a dozen at the open kitchen (protected by a large sneeze guard), yellow brick walls and chestnut-coloured accents at the entrance, and a bamboo ceiling in the front portion of the restaurant. There are good acoustics. Behind the row of banquettes, near the back of the 2,000-square-foot restaurant, a whiskey and bourbon bar is slated for a future expansion. There is also talk of an outdoor patio at the side of the building which would allow al fresco dining. 

            With its noble preparations, enthusiasm for direct spicing and emphasis on lamb, olives, garlic, lemon, yogurt, cheese, grains, nuts, honey and seafood, Greek/Mediterranean cookery has a long tradition. Dishes are mostly enhanced with lemons and fresh and dried herbs such as oregano and thyme. Spices – cumin, cinnamon and allspice – are used frugally but are integral to the flavour profile of dishes like pastítsio. At Icarus, pastítsio comprises layers of pasta noodles and lamb ragù with a creamy béchamel topping and is served in a small and exceedingly hot-to-the-touch cast-iron fry pan accompanied by a chef’s knife

Like most cuisines, flavours change with the season and geography. Some classic savoury pastries and desserts use filo pastry. There is a surprising continuity in culinary matters from ancient Greece through to contemporary times, and many dishes are part of a larger tradition of Ottoman cuisine with Turkish, Arabic and Persian roots. You can see these influences in the menus.

“The Squash” is a wonderfully rich, sweet and savoury salad of roasted butternut squash, beet and pumpkin with red and green onion and spiced nuts tossed in maple vinaigrette. 

Chef is just as confident with the layered butternut squash parfait with whipped Greek yogurt, honey, granola, quinoa, spiced nuts and dried apricots. Each morsel reveals a blast of flavour and texture, and the crunch of spiced nuts combined with the sweetness of honey against the yogurt and dried apricots is sublime and perfectly balanced. There are several vegan-friendly and gluten-free choices, and the menu is peppered with substitution suggestions and add-ons.

 Tacos are versatile and delicious. (Variations on the genre are popping up on menus everywhere these days.) On the lunch menu there is a trio of grilled tacos with lamb ragù, slathered with feta, and dressed up with pico de gallo. The tacos are excellent. More surprising on the mostly Mediterranean-centric lunch menu is the stand-out, mouthwatering wild mushroom and leek pappardelle with sweet peas and burnt lemon. Some items, like the lamb burger and prime rib beef dip, repeat on the dinner menu, which is larger than the lunch menu, but not overwhelming.The menu is big but not overwhelming; the family-style setup makes it easy to order from every section

At dinner, Chef flirts with our taste buds, with thick garlicky tzatziki with a hint of cucumber and updated Greek specialties such as spanakopita, keftedes (lamb meatballs), pastítsio, souvlaki and grilled calamari. Chef brings new life to these staple menu items. Saganaki is pan-fried goat cheese flambéed with lemon and brandy creating a crispy, salty, stringy, succulent melted goodness.

 The squash theme is updated with micro greens and kale tossed in pomegranate vinaigrette and topped with warm goat cheese, slivered almonds and sundried cranberries. There is also spicy, crispy bite-sized chicken mixed with lemon pepper popcorn and roasted garlic aioli.

Rabbit is something rarely seen on menus in London. Chef prepares braised leg of rabbit with a sauce of tomatoes, leek and shallots accompanied by roasted potatoes. There are also the usual staples like beef tenderloin and the ubiquitous salmon.

 Agathos still loves all the food he grew up eating. He recalls family-style servings of homemade traditional Greek foods, including fresh fish, seafood, goat, rabbit and lamb. On the evening menu, in homage, The Icarus platter for four features skewers of chicken, pork and beef tenderloin, an order of pastítsio, Greek salad, potatoes, rice, pita and tzatziki. The Poseidon platter for three includes seared scallops, shrimp, grilled and fried calamari and baked salmon with Greek salad, potatoes, rice, pita and tzatziki. 

One of the best experiences we’ve had here was sitting at a high top near the chef’s counter in front of the open kitchen watching the machinations of the kitchen and the parade of Richmond Row fashionistas. Another was a birthday dinner when Chef pulled out all the stops when dessert rolled around. Desserts, like the plating, are innovative works of art.

Icarus Resto Bar
519 Richmond St., London
WEDNESDAY: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM
THURSDAY: 11:30 AM–10:00 PM


Locally Supported and Independent: The Evolution of Cuisine in Wortley Village


Wortley Village has a lengthy past as a residential suburb of London with a uniquely independent personality. This history of the village is reflected in the concentration of recognizable architectural styles (Victorian, art deco and mission-style) and an aesthetic combination of heritage buildings dating from the area’s early years between 1850 and 1930. The well-preserved heritage character of many of the homes and long-standing public buildings, along with the pedestrian-oriented streetscape of the Wortley Road commercial strip, give the neighbourhood an identifiable charm and cultural uniqueness. The area is bordered by Wellington Road to the east, Wharncliffe Road to the west, Horton Street to the north and Commissioners Road to the south.
A walkable and bicycle-friendly community whose residents have a reputation for their significant contributions to the creative vitality of London, Wortley Village is a respected core neighbourhood. A panel of judges from the Canadian Institute of Planners named Wortley Village Canada’s Great Neighbourhood for 2013 in both the Grand Prize and People’s Choice categories. “It has a true identity. When you think of great neighbourhoods, you think of physical spaces as well as the people,” said judge John Fleming, a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners, who is also London’s Managing Director of Planning, and City Planner for London.
Back in 2002, Wortley Village was dubbed one of Canada’s “coolest neighbourhoods” by enRoute magazine. The publication noted Wortley Village’s “gorgeous old homes as well as every kind of merchant and shop run as independent businesses. Residents don’t even need a car.”
Home to artisans and artists, unique home-run and independently owned shops, services, restaurants and nightlife, the Wortley Village mixed-use commercial strip has evolved organically over time to its present revitalized state. The streetscape is a varied collection of interesting buildings bustling with boutiques, restaurants, cafes, small-scale from-scratch bakeries, and one of the best ice cream vendors in the city. There are landmark retailers, like the recently renovated and environmentally friendly Quarter Master Natural Foods — one of the original health food stores in the city, having served Wortley Village and the community for over 30 years.  
There’s a very strong café culture in Wortley Village, with a diversity of outdoor culinary experiences for everyone. On the corridor the staggered buildings are mostly set back from the street and in season this allows patrons to enjoy dining at a sidewalk café, in a secluded courtyard setting, under a pergola, or on an elevated patio or a charming side-street terrace. The following section highlights some of the interesting culinary options found in Wortley Village:

The Village Harvest Bakery
This nearly 20-year-old Wortley Road institution, helmed by Sharon Landry and Douglas Huskilson, is a scratch bakery that has been operating since 1997. This is true artisanal baking — rustic, with an emphasis on quality wholesome ingredients and freshness. The bakery retails over 30 types of bread and a selection of high-quality specialty items, including diabetic-friendly muffins, granola, cookies, squares and tarts baked daily on site. The bakery is known for their pies, in particular cranberry pecan, apple and three-berry flavours. One of the breads the bakery is known for is Adelaide’s Nova Scotia Brown. Village Harvest Bakery’s apprentice Eric reflects their collaboration with the Youth Opportunities Unlimited organization. All the baking is from scratch and with as many locally-sourced Ontario ingredients as possible. The bakery offers seniors and the unwaged 10% off their purchases daily. 145 Wortley Rd., 519-667-1199

Sweet Onion Grill
The Sweet Onion Grill is located in the premises previously occupied by Ciao Bistro, and Relish, across from the Black Walnut Café. This informal, bistro-style restaurant is operated by the restaurant-savvy Ross Agathos (father of Zack Agathos of the newly opened Icarus Resto Bar) formerly of Ross Eagle Custom Sports and Huron House/Dancing Greek Restaurant. Agathos’ new hire, Welsh-born chef Chris Powell, has put together a traditional menu, albeit not locally-focused, having assimilated many influences. The restaurant looks to Greece as an accent, not necessarily a theme. Pan-fried pork belly is served with sweet onion marmalade and port reduction. Saganaki prepared with kefalograviera (hard sheep’s milk cheese) is flambéed with ouzo tableside. The service is genuine and hospitable and the price point is the most accessible in the village. There is a nicely situated outdoor terrace in season. 135 Wortley Rd., 519-204-5575

Mai’s Café and Bistro
This spot in Wortley Village has an unimposing frontage leading into a compact and pleasant interior, where aromatics of Thai cuisine permeate the narrow room, and the queue for takeaway is constant. There's an assortment of traditional Thai fare and an unexpected variety of Western food on the unconventional menu. Generally, Mai’s offers a satisfying dining experience with curry dishes, pad Thai, pasta, fish and chips and a Canadian breakfast. The Thai food is the real reason to go, though. Kai, Mai`s sister, is a welcoming and knowledgeable presence in the restaurant. Many of you will remember Mai as the former owner of Café Milagro in Byron. 142-A Wortley Rd., 519- 679-1221

Black Walnut Bakery Café
On a recent weekday morning at Black Walnut Bakery, customers lined up in front of the glass counter for shiny apple tarts, melt-in-your-mouth scones, lemon squares and a variety of savoury delicacies. From the welcoming hospitality and the rich aroma of fresh coffee, to the smell of pastries baking in the ovens, the Black Walnut Bakery Café is a destination café experience. With close attention to detail and strong relationships with the community, co-owners Wilson and Mandy Etheridge create a warm, neighbourly vibe. The Etheridges strive to provide a unique coffee experience by roasting their own distinctive organic, Fair Trade and Rain Forest Alliance coffees under the Black Walnut label. Specialty trained baristas are adept at handcrafting espresso drinks with organic syrups using the latest top-of-the-line equipment. The Black Walnut offers scratch baking every morning, seven days a week, as well as a café menu of artfully prepared made-to-order sandwiches, seasonal soups and salads, frittatas, bread, squares and light meals. Nothing is served in the café that isn’t hand-crafted and made in their scratch kitchen. 134 Wortley Rd., 519-439-BAKE (2253)

Old South Village Pub
Located in a restored heritage home, the Old South Village Pub is a warm, inviting old English-style pub and a good choice for relaxing alfresco in Wortley Village. The pub is located in the heart of the village, so there’s a great view of the neighbourhood. The menu includes homemade wood-oven pizzas, steak and Guinness pies and “the best” sweet potato fries. The pub also features a selection of popular Indian-inspired dishes. The pizzas are a favourite of locals in Wortley Village. 149 Wortley Rd., 519-645-1166

Gusto Food and Wine Bar
Open since September 2012, Gusto is a welcome addition to Old South’s dining scene. The restaurant is housed in a refurbished Victorian home that was formerly an antique shop and then the late lamented Casa Cubano restaurant. Chef Stephen Burns shows off his skills with a menu that includes charcuterie and tapas-style plates with “sharables” like risotto balls, pulled pork sliders and signature meatballs. The restaurant is known for its cracker-thin crisp pizzas. Dine inside or al fresco in season on the attractive verandah. 175 Wortley Rd., 519-937-1916

Wortley Village Fire Roasted Café
Fire Roasted Coffee has built its reputation on roastings, tastings, retail, wholesale, by the cup, and by the bag. The outpost café with its large picture window attracts Wortley Village hipsters, coffee aficionados, students and professionals with laptops. The café is known for its simple honest fare: freshly-roasted coffee, baked goods and pastries provided by the Artisan Bakery in Old East Village — locally produced beer, and a small wine list curated by local wine expert Michael Buck.

Last year, entrepreneur David Cook approached Kendra Gordon-Green of the former Little Red Roaster, seeking to take over their space in order to give Fire Roasted a presence and higher profile in Wortley Village. Now there are plans to expand Tuckey Home Hardware into the current café space in 2015. A deal has been reached with owner Dave Tuckey, whose grandfather opened the store in 1946, to incorporate a new flagship Fire Roasted café in the plans. In the meantime, Cook views the Wortley Road location like a pop-up restaurant where he is able to create a complementary niche and a distinct footprint in the neighbourhood. 138 Wortley Rd., 519-601-9477 

London, Ontario Food Truck Update March 2015: The New Incubators For Culinary Innovation


Modern (gourmet) food trucks serve a diverse variety of healthy options and cultural foods in other cities. They are positioned to incubate new businesses and become an alternative launching pad for healthy, creative food. In fact, food trucks are the new incubators for culinary innovation. I am not talking about corporate food trucks serving commercially produced food. I am speaking about the chef-driven, entrepreneurial, indie food truck operators who tweet their location of the day to those in the know. Locally, think of the Goodah Gastrotruck whose operators are gearing up to grilling up their gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches curbside this summer.

I am a proponent of food trucks because they stimulate culinary innovation and ethnic culinary diversity, draw tourists, provide employment, and contribute to the social and culinary fabric of the city.

Well finally after three years of acrimonious debate, London residents will be able to eat at food trucks on city streets. During London City Council’s meeting on Feb. 24, London City Council voted unanimously, 15-0, to approve changes to the city’s Business Licensing Bylaw to allow a measly eight food trucks on London streets by this summer.

During the previous week’s session, councillors resolved to establish the licensing fee for each truck at $1,225, dismissing a proposal to require the installation of GPS units to monitor the trucks’ whereabouts. They also set a limit of eight licenses for the 2015 pilot, but staff will be able to come back and ask City Council to increase that amount if demand outweighs the number of obtainable licences.

Under the terms of the proposal, food trucks are required to stay 100 m from schools and special events while they’ll have to maintain a 25 m buffer zone around restaurants, homes and apartments. Operators also won’t be allowed to be stationary for more than 24 hours and are prohibited from operating between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. But every North American city with food trucks has rules. That includes Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Vancouver, Calgary and even food-truck friendly Hamilton.

In London, food trucks have been a topic of debate for several years now, and previous councils have voted against them over fears that established restaurateurs will lose business.  In an about face, a written request from Downtown London (Business Improvement .Association) suggested reducing the number of food trucks involved in the pilot to 2% of the brick-and-mortar eateries, or four trucks. A group of 25 (mostly Richmond Row) restaurateurs had previously written a letter to council.  

Ward 10 councilor Virginia Ridley recognized this issue. “We’ve heard from the downtown restaurant owners and there’s a limited amount of dollars that people spend,” she said. “The concern is now they’re getting less of it.”

Councillor Jessie Helmer, empathetic to restaurant owner concerns, stated that setbacks are essential to safeguard their businesses from the competition of food trucks, but he is confident that once the pilot is launched and the council can see how it is going to work everyone’s uncertainties will be put to rest. The previous council voted against them over concerns that current restaurant owners will lose business. The argument against food trucks is that they’re stealing the business of more established bricks-and-mortar restaurants.  I have seen no evidence suggesting food trucks have undermined anyone’s business, restaurant or otherwise.

Helmer also enquired about the probability of amending the bylaw to permit restaurants to opt out of the buffer zone if they wanted. The same idea was first raised by Councillor Michael van Holst last week. Helmer also questioned if the motion could be amended to allow for food trucks to set up in front of restaurants that are closed. He noted there are some restaurants that don’t open on Sundays and it wouldn’t hurt to allow food trucks to service the community in those locations under those conditions.

Those proposals will eventually be put over until this fall’s review of the pilot project as Mayor Matt Brown reminded Helmer that any modifications made to the bylaw now would need to go back to the committee level and be approved again, extending the already protracted procedure.

Businesses will be able to apply for the eight licences as of (today) Monday, March 2nd. The pilot will operate during the summer with plans to appraise its success in the fall. In that meeting the council is expected to review whether or not the constraints that have been put in place are needed.