Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Patio Season: Al Fresco Hot Spots in London, Ontario Summer 2015

Dining Al Fresco in London, Ontario Summer 2015

There is nothing like dining al fresco when the weather heats up, and London has great outdoor dining options. There’s a very strong café culture in this city, with outdoor culinary experiences for everyone. During patio season, you can enjoy dining at a sidewalk café, in a private garden or secluded courtyard setting, under a pergola, on a roof-top patio, or on a charming side-street terrace. Sometimes windows that open to the street, like the ones at Abruzzi and The Works on King Street, make the indoor-to-outdoor experience feel seamless. Here are just a few recommendations for al fresco living in London:

Gregg and Justin Wolfe’s red-hot Early Bird diner, with casual farm-to-table cooking, 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. You can’t get much more hip-but-earthy than The Early Bird diner. “Rock Au Taco,” next door to the Early Bird Diner, is serving up delicious and authentic tacos and Mexican cuisine, ice cold cervezas, and smooth tequila. 355 Talbot Street, 519-439-6483 www.theearlybird.ca

Chef Andrew Wolwowicz and co-owners Tim and Laura Owen’s, The Springs, is one of London’s premier culinary hot spots. A beautifully appointed patio seats 40. Chef is a culinary gymnast who cooks with skill and dedication, using locally grown ingredients from farms specializing in sustainable agriculture, organic growing practices, and ethically raised livestock. 310 Springbank Drive, 519-657-1100 www.thespringsrestaurant.com

The Idlewyld Inn & Spa is nestled in London’s quiet Old South neighborhood, in a grand Victorian mansion built in 1878. After an extensive renovation last spring the property has been restored to its former glory and the Inn’s guest rooms, reception areas and dining rooms have also been newly updated, keeping the character and charm of the original property. The new owners have added many elegant touches to the property including a stunning outdoor fountain. This is true gourmet dining in a secluded courtyard setting. Chef Trevor Stephen’s passion for food translates into innovative cuisine that showcases local, seasonal and exceptional ingredients. The beautifully manicured grounds and elegant ambiance of the Garden Courtyard create a welcome retreat for diners. Whether you choose to sit under the pergola or at the umbrella tables, twinkling lights and table lanterns add to the ambiance in the evenings. The Idlewyld Inn’s elegant Garden Courtyard, serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as Sunday brunch. 36 Grand Avenue, 519-432.5554   www.idlewyldinn.com

In the warm weather months, Black Trumpet Restaurant is another prestige spot for al fresco dining in its beautifully appointed, private Dutch colonial Indonesian-style garden. The courtyard garden, replete with two koi ponds and a Zen-like concrete water fountain, with just a splash of turquoise blue mosaic, is shaded by a magnificent Japanese maple. At the back of the garden along the fence line, an existing ash tree has been preserved at some expense. This secluded oasis seats 60, with comfortable cast-iron chairs and tables are situated on several levels amidst the wild plantings and exotic foliage. Chefs cook contemporary classics with Mediterranean and Asian flavours. 523 Richmond Street, 519-850-1500 www.blacktrumpet.ca

Owners Pete and Vanessa Willis’s Church Key Bistro-Pub resides in a prominent heritage building across from the Grand Theatre and beside St. Paul’s Cathedral on Richmond Row. The pub features an intimate outdoor courtyard with a sophisticated mix of comfortable tables and chairs. Chef Michael Anglestad follows in the British tradition of the gastropub by specializing in traditional food prepared with gourmet flair and finesse. The bistro-pub has a great patio for casual cocktails or dinner pre-and post-theatre, and they also serve a fabulous Sunday Brunch. 476 Richmond Street, 519-936-0960 www.thechurchkey.ca

Jerry Pribil’s Marienbad Restaurant and Chaucer’s Pub exudes old-world charm. The brother businesses feature a welcoming sidewalk patio with a black iron fence, flower boxes, and comfortable tables with umbrellas that recall the gentility of the European-style outdoor café. The restaurant features European with Austro-Germanic specialties. The kitchen’s forte is schnitzel. The perfect schnitzel has a dry crust that rises like a soufflé and shatters with the touch of a fork, revealing the tender meat within. The menu offers a variety of classic schnitzels including crispy Jäger schnitzel (hunter schnitzel) with mushroom sauce; Franz Josef schnitzel stuffed with ham and cheese and lightly seasoned with mustard; and the classic Wiener schnitzel. There is a superior beer selection. 122 Carling Street, 519-679-9940 www.marienbad.ca

Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium is London’s premier craft beer destination, owned and operated by 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. Twin seasonal patios. 420 Talbot Street, 519-601-4447 www.pubmilos.com

At Mykonos on Adelaide, Heidi and Bill Vamvalis have been serving the London community and the Old East Village neighbourhood 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 and a large outdoor patio at the back of the restaurant, which is heated during the cooler weather. 572 Adelaide Street, 519-434-6736
The Morrissey House, in the hotel district on Dundas, is a welcoming, warm and cozy local, serving interesting and innovative pub fare to clients of a very wide demographic. Situated in London’s downtown hotel district, The Morrissey House is hospitable, intimate and friendly. The 60-seat patio, set back from the street, has become an industry and neighbourhood hot spot, attracting its fair share of foot traffic. The house made nachos rock. 359–361 Dundas Street, 519-204-9220

Bertoldi’s Trattoria, from Dino and Bob Difruschia of McGinnis Landing fame, has a well-appointed rooftop patio that gives patrons a great view of the denizens on Richmond Row. The patio, with seating for100, resembles an Italian garden, with hanging baskets and colourful umbrellas. On cooler evenings, an infrared heating system lends the patio a warm glow. On sunny days, a misting system helps cool things down without getting patrons wet. There is a full menu of Italian-inspired choices for diners. 650 Richmond Street, 519-438-4343

Fellini Koolini’s Italian Cuisini, and its sibling restaurant, The Runt Club, operate twin patios on a charming side street just off Richmond Row. Fellini Koolini’s is über-restaurateur Mike Smith’s tongue-in-cheek 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 pastas, thin-crust pizza, steamed mussels, calamari, steaks, etc. Next door is a larger patio at The Runt Club, a typical pub, but offering Fellini’s menu. The terrace has sleek contemporary stainless chairs and tables and plenty of shade from mature trees. 155 Albert Street, 519-642-2300 www.fellinikoolini.com

At the Covent Garden Market, Olive R Twists Food and Beverage House has a spacious outdoor patio/bar with awning wraps around the restaurant and overlooks London’s King Street restaurant row and the Market Square. In warmer weather, the 158-square-metre patio is outfitted with couches, a dining area and an outdoor bar and barbecue. As a well-liked seasonal destination for al fresco dining or cocktails, this smartly appointed patio, with its classic wrought iron fence, is landscaped with seasonal foliage, flowering planters and, at street-level, over-sized flower pots. This a relaxing place to lounge and one of the best vantage points for people watching in the city. 30 King Street (Covent Garden Market) 519-204-9184 www.olivertwists.ca

Toboggan Brewing Company is the brainchild of long-time London restaurateur Mike Smith, owner of the venerable Joe Kool’s and Fellini Koolini’s. Smith has installed a state of the art brewery in the basement of his former Jim Bob Ray’s bar, enlisted the help of experienced brewing masters, and launched a line of craft beers to serve the local market. The in-house 519 Kitchen emphasizes local ingredients and Neapolitan pizzas cooked in the large stone wood oven, brought over from Smith’s former P Za Pie restaurant. Elevated patio with tables and chairs and raised bench seating.585 Richmond Street, 519-663-5665, www.tobogganbrewingcompany.com

Waldo’s on King’s kitchen brigade offer definitive bistro-style selections. There’s a comforting trajectory with this kind of reliable fare, dependably good appetizers to a fresh spin on classic entrée favourites. This is where you will find the best “organic” burger in town. The close proximity to Budweiser Gardens makes this patio a desirable choice on event nights. 130 King Street, 519-433-6161

Monday, June 29, 2015

Rethinking The Sandwich at Wich is Wich


Elaine Sawyer and her son, chef Josh Sawyer, take comfort food to new heights at their “proper sandwich shop,” Wich is Wich. The shop is essentially homage to the diversity of the sandwich. With global flavours, exotic ingredients and textural contrasts they become edible works of art. Like the artisanal grilled-cheese shops, the gourmet sandwich shop has become a culinary subgenre that is booming in urban centres.

Elaine Sawyer is familiar to Londoners as a former morning radio co-host, who was successfully paired with Rich Greven on Q97.5, for many years. Elaine’s road to the on-air booth was circuitous. She worked in radio and television marketing, eventually ending up at CKSL, where she and Greven became good friends. After a format change, Greven moved to Q, and the station embarked on a search for a co-host. That is when Elaine got the call. For years the high-profile duo could be found at local community functions from charity fundraisers to cook-offs.

Josh was employed for many years as a chef in upmarket West Coast restaurants, and aboard the Attessa IV, while working for billionaire industrialist and philanthropist Dennis Washington. Josh cooked for Washington and a roster of celebrity guests which included Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Barbra Streisand, Leonardo DiCaprio and Quincy Jones. If someone wanted to eat late night, Josh was on call 24/7. — They often wanted one of his sandwiches.

Executive Chef Thomas Waite, (proprietor of the boutique catering company, In Home Chef), and sous chef Andrew West are also on hand in the kitchen. The team is known for its take on classic comfort food, specifically updated riffs on gourmet versions with global ingredients and an eye to health consciousness.

Last July Elaine leased the former Cakewalkers space across from the Covent Garden Market. At the time the space was a bare-bones shell, which needed to be developed and adapted for restaurant operations. Several organizations provided help to Elaine to expedite the development of the premises, in particular Ethan Ling in the Business Liaison office, Jason Silcox in the Building Division, Cory Tung at Middlesex London Health Unit, along with the Fire Department
Elaine also gives credit to her neighbour, Downtown London. The organization helps downtown businesses take advantage of all available incentives, promotes downtown businesses and handles a variety of other functions that support their members.

A smart urban exterior features a large window, which gives Wich is Wich a close-up view of the Covent Garden Market. It’s pretty much a sit-down restaurant, with plenty of seating and friendly hospitable servers, but with a casual ambiance and a curated soundtrack of predominantly laid back rhythm and blues. There is a bit of an urban-industrial aesthetic with modern touches, reclaimed brick walls, a playful mix of retro chairs, window seating and a communal table designed by Chris at McKaskell Haindl Design Build.   
The prepping and assembling takes place in full view of customers, (behind a glass partition), showcasing the creative ways ingredients are being paired by the chefs and facilitating interaction with the customers.

Impeccably proportioned sandwiches made with fresh baguettes include such classics as chicken w’anh m, (their take on the Vietnamese classic bánh mì), which is given a twist when prepared with marinated chicken thigh, pickled crunchy vegetables, cucumber, cilantro, sweet chili condiment; Moroccan-inspired Marrakech chicken prepared with certified Halal thigh, ras el hanout, tzatziki, Shiraz salad, lemon tahini, lettuce and pickles; The Italian-inspired Bella is prepared with sopresetta, porchetta, green olive aioli, crunchy marinated vegetables, lettuce, tomato and provolone cheese; The South American influenced Carnitas are made with pork shoulder, tomatillo jus, pineapple salsa fresco, salad greens and ww’acamole (Wich is Wich’s take on guacamole).

               The melt-in-your-mouth porchetta is savoury, fatty and moist and prepared from locally-sourced pork shoulder, with crackling, herby mustard seed vinaigrette and arugula, and served on a bianco roll. There is a charcuterie board for sharing, the Wich Board, with quality butchery meats, pickles, artisan cheeses,`Lito’s beer mustard and other accoutrements.

The kale and wheat berry salad is decadent with its marinated raisins, red pepper, carrot, beet, sunflower seeds, and a knock-out honey-ginger dressing. Also on offer are homemade soups, a kids’ menu (Nutella and Banana sandwich), cane sugar sodas, Ontario craft beers (Black Swan, Forked River, Mill Street and Wellington) and red and white wine by the glass. The Bananas Foster is so over-the-top good it could become a calling card for the sandwich shop.

The stylish 40–45 seat shop offers dinein, grab & go, and catering services. Customers are able to email their orders for pick up. The shop features curb-side takeout as an option.

Wich is Wich
125 King Street (across from Covent Garden Market)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Culinary Road Trip: Stratford, Ontario

The Red Rabbit has progressed since this photo was taken, but we think it's a great photo of Jesse Larsen.

Stratford, Ontario, is not only a cultural haven for world-class theatre, but also for a world-class creative community which includes actors, artists, playwrights, writers, musicians, and many uniquely talented professionals, all of whom contribute to the vitality of the city. Stratford has a deserved reputation for being a hotbed of culinary talent, including farmers, growers, bakers, chefs, culinary instructors and restaurateurs.

Stratford is known internationally for the Stratford Shakespeare Festival which runs from April to October. The Festival’s primary mandate is to present repertory productions of William Shakespeare’s plays, but it also produces a diverse variety of theatre, from classic Greek tragedies to more contemporary works. The Festival and the renowned Stratford Chef School have contributed to the formation of a distinctively vibrant dining culture and restaurant community.

One of the standout features of Stratford's successful gastro scene is its relaxed but more intellectually driven, approach to food. Gastronomes, foodies and restaurant enthusiasts have long disputed whether The Prune, Rundles and more recently The Bruce, is the premier fine dining restaurant in Stratford. The Church (soon to be the Revival House) in its hey-day was also a bench mark for fine dining. There are of course many other notable farm-to-table restaurants which include: Bijou, Mercer Hall, Monforte on Wellington, Wawa Grub, Pazzo Taverna & Pizzera. We are anticipating the re-opening of Down the Street and new contenders: The Red Rabbit and Revival House. Here are a few photos of a recent culinary trip to Stratford.