The Ledbury – Best. Brunch. Ever!! (London, UK)

•June 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

While on a trip to London, a friend recommended The Ledbury in Notting Hill. You have to book pretty far in advance and I was lucky enough to score a brunch reservation a couple weeks prior to my arrival thanks to the same friend who recommended the place. It’s a prix fix menu and they don’t skimp on the extras. The space is immaculate and feels luxurious but not stuffy. There were three amuse bouche courses.

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The first was a game meat pate (venison or elk maybe) with jelly and dried, flavored seaweed. The pate was rich, smooth and not as gamey as you would think. The meat flavor was evident but the texture was so different it was hard to believe it was meat. Might be some of the best pate I’ve ever had. Perfectly balanced, perfect texture, rich flavor, simply perfect. The crispy seaweed, which had a complex salty flavor (I was too busy enjoying myself to try pinpoint the spices), was the perfect compliment and the jelly added a nice, well, jelly texture to the whole bite. A very small hint of sweetness but mostly for texture.

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The next amuse was a crunchy meat filled pastry (another game meat, maybe bison…definitely something beefier, maybe elk again…I’m seeing a pattern). Crisp pastry on the outside that wasn’t too thin but not too thick. Just perfect really. How they get it to this state without it flaking out at some point is truly remarkable. The game meat on the inside was warm and comforting. It is like a cross between a British sausage roll and an Asian dumpling. A delicious bite!

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The last amuse was an elk meatball. Come to think of it, maybe all the amuse bouches were elk. It was a flavor bomb of meat! Warm, rich, soft through and through, and wonderfully complex as the meat, jelly and spices swirled in your mouth. We were three amuse dishes in and I’m already insanely impressed.

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The first official appetizer was the Cany beetroot with caviar and smoked, dried eel. I couldn’t even tell it was beetroot. It was cut laser thin and had the texture of very high quality sashimi. The dried eel gave it a savory but almost seafood like flavor (which is why you could easily mistake this for sashimi) and the smoked caviar was divine! The saltiness and the smokiness was perfect with the light, smooth vegetable upgraded by the eel. Hard to pinpoint the highlight, so just it’s best to eat it all with a little bit of each ingredient in each bite.

IMG_5335.jpgThe next appetizer was the hand dived scallop ceviche with seaweed, herb oil and frozen English wasabi (laid out as the flaky powder in the picture above). The scallop was buttery, rich with a small hint of tartness but elevated by the herb oil and wasabi. The wasabi gave it a little bite while the accompanying veg added some crunchy texture.

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Along with the apps came the housemade bread with whipped butter. It reminds me of fife bread we have in Canada. Crunchy and crispy crust, rich with herb seasoning and a warm, soft inside. The whipped compound butter was so smooth, rich, soft, and easily spread over the warm bread. I could eat this every day.

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Next was a beautifully plated dish of fresh grilled cuttlefish, garlic and cracked wheat. There were soba noodles on the side, squid ink and a creamy aioli. Mixing it all together resulted in a complex and delicious bite. Creaminess, light saltiness, silky noodles, and fish. The fish was a little rubbery but the flavors were excellent!

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The next dish was the warm Bantam’s egg, celeriac, arbois, dried ham and spring truffle. This might have been one of my favorites of the meal. I love truffles and eggs which may bias my opinion but how this all works together is truly incredible. You get the richness and warmth of the Bantam egg, the saltiness and savory flavor of the ham (not to mention the crispy texture), the elevated touch of truffles and the nice crunchy texture of the celeriac. Smooth, cream, crunch, salt, savory, meat, truffle overtones and repeat. Each bite…over and over. This may be one of the best dishes I’ve eaten in my life.

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Next was the lobster wrapped in shitake mushrooms with asparagus and macadamia. The lobster is perfectly cooked, slightly sweet and the pieces melt in your mouth. The rich umami flavor of the shitake mushrooms compliment the sweetness of the lobster and the asparagus, as buttery and crunchy as anyone would hope, balances the dish out in terms of both texture and flavor (although does buttery lobster and butter asparagus balance?…maybe I just like butter).

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The main courses were heavier like the Pyrenean milk fed lamb, creamed jersey royals, mousserons cooked in earl grey and celery. The tender lamb is perfectly cooked, rich and fatty and full of flavor. The seasoning of the skin is excellent and perfectly balanced by the lighter creams and foams paired with the dish. The crispy skin also add a nice crispy texture to the soft meat and smooth textures of the cream and foam.

IMG_5341.jpgThe Iberian pork, fennel, elderflower honey and crackling is a dish for two (pictured is a single portion). It’s a small portion, but this may be the single best bite of pork I’ve had in my life. It melts in your mouth, it’s so rich and complex (just the right amount of salt, savoriness, and gravy). No fat or gristle, so it makes me wonder where they get all the rich flavor from?? Magic?! At this point of the meal I’m starting to believe in magic! The meat is incredible but the veg sides add additional texture and balance out the rich flavor of the pork. It’s perfect!

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The first dessert is the chocolate chantilly and mint. Thick morsels of rich chocolate balanced by small scoops of ice cream. Sweet, but because it was dark chocolate, not too sweet. The powdery outer layer flakes in your mouth as the soft inside melt between eat bite. If you mix it with the ice cream, the thick chocolate melds with the ice cream and forms a perfect balance of sweetness and cream.

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The last dessert was the Saulternes tart with apricot and chamomille. A wonderful, light, creamy, sponge-like cake. The jelly and fruit are sweet but this was balanced by the scoop of ice cream and creamy, spongy cake. The apricot is sweet, a little tart but balances by the creaminess of the ice cream. If you don’t like the heaviness that can come with chocolate desserts, this is perfection!

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Upon paying the bill, they brought cinnamon and sugar sticks (mini churros) and more chocolate. Rich chocolate (again dark chocolate so not too sweet) paired with sweet and spicy (cinnamon spicy) sticks. They really go over the top and out-do themselves with the service.

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They have good thinks too like the Bee pollen old fashioned. The bee pollen is a nice touch and the taste of the citrus comes through nicely, but otherwise, the old fashion is on par with other good cocktail bars.

The Ledbury is rated as one of the best restaurants in the world and I must say, it was the best meal I’ve had so far to date. The service is perfect. Friendly, attentive, helpful, and fun without being too invasive. And the food is spectacular! The flavor combinations are genius! The tastes, textures, plating, freshness of the ingredients (everything frankly) is unlike any place I’ve ever been to. This is truly a world gem in the culinary arts! If you are ever in London and are willing to splurge on a meal, this is your place!!

http://www.theledbury.com/

Holy Burgers! The Burger’s Priest and Holy Chuck

•June 2, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Having grown up in Alberta, I fall into the western Canadian stereotype of liking beef, maybe a little too much. During the Mad Cow Crisis of 2001, my family ate beef almost everyday since the highest grade cuts were all heavily discounted. In recent years, I’ve actually been asked to judge DIY burger competitions based on my “expertise” (I use the term very loosely) and continue my pursuit of the world’s best burger.

There are two chains that have emerged a number of years ago and spread like wildfire with locations around the city, The Burger’s Priest and Holy Chuck.

I tried the Burger’s Priest at their original location on Queen St. East a few months after it opened. When we arrived, there was a line down the block. Upon entering the restaurant, you could see trays of french fries (fried once and ready for a second bath upon ordering), pink patties sizzling on the flat top, and a crew working madly putting the burgers together. We ordered the Priest combo, a cheeseburger with the “option”, a portobello mushroom stuff with cheese and deep fried.  The combo includes doubled fried fries and a drink.

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The picture above isn’t the greatest because it fogged up my car in the cold Toronto winter. The fries are awesome! Super crispy and warm on the inside. Lightly salted. Very solid. You can’t appreciate the burger visually until you take a few bites and see the Option’s cheesy goodness. See below.

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The burger is beefy with a nice crisp char on the outside. The inside of the patty is juicy and moist. The veg is cool and fresh, the bun is perfectly squishy but holds up even after absorbing a little grease. What puts this over the top is the deep fried mushroom with cheese! It adds crunch with gooey cheese the coats the rest of the burger after a few bites. On another occasion I tried the double cheeseburger with bacon.  I wanted to try their bacon burger and the more “purist” burger. It has classic burger goodness (far surpassing the average diner burger) but I like the Priest better.

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These is also a secret menu that involves things like swapping out the bun for grilled cheese sandwiches… yes, two grilled cheese sandwiches.  My cardiologist is going to kill me….well unless the cholesterol does first.  I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I’d rather live a short life full of happiness and pleasure than a long life filled with regret and eating cardboard.

A few summers ago I made it to Yonge and St. Claire and finally tried Holy Chuck. The shop was larger and has the feel of an old school diner, something out of the original Back to the Future movie. The milkshakes are thick and delicious, there is a modern day soda machine, and a flat top grill whipping up some awesome burgers.

We go with the Holy Chuck, a double cheeseburger with bacon and caramelized onions.

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Similar to the Priest, the patties have a nice char but are still juicy and moist on the inside. It’s beefy with a nice salty seasoning. Maybe I caught them on a bad day but it was a little on the salty side for my taste but still really good. Maybe it was the fatty bacon that added to the extra saltiness but I love bacon so I would put up with the extra saltiness for the savory addition of bacon. The caramelized onions add a buttery sweetness and the cheese adds a gooey richness. The bun is squishy and also holds up in the presence of grease. The fries are awesome! Crisp on the outside, warm and soft on the inside. Very McDonald’s like which, to me, is the gold standard. These fries are elevated by the seasoning.

When people ask me who has the best burger in the city it’s a tough question to answer. I generally divide burgers into three classes, (1) the cheap $5 burger (usually fast food or a really cheap diner), (2) a mid level burger ranging from $10-$20 (usually a specialty burger place or fancier diner or place with fancier toppings), and (3) the high end gourmet burger, above $25 in price (I’ve tried some above $50) and served in nicer restaurants. Then the differentiating factor is a classic burger with traditional toppings or a fancy modern burger. It’s hard to compare any of them directly so I usually have my favorites in each subgroup. I would say these fall into the mid level group and both are as good as you can get! The beef is perfectly cooked, nicely spiced and super juicy (I really hate dry burgers). The additional toppings are excellent (I love the deep fried portobello mushroom filled with cheese) and bun is perfect. The “stuff” to bread ratio is perfect! I continue to see more places popping up and am excited to see who can give these two places a run for their money!

http://theburgerspriest.com/

http://holychuckburgers.com/

Poke Guys

•May 27, 2017 • Leave a Comment

There is a food trend hitting Toronto and many other cities these days, Hawaiian poke. Having spent a good portion of my childhood in Hawaii (my mother was born and raised there) I suppose I find it surprising that it took so long for this delicious dish to make it to the mainland. In Hawaii, this started out as sashimi grade fish cut into bit sized cubes in very basic soy or ponzu based marinades. Almost like Hawaiian ceviche. Over the years, grocery stores began adding different marinades, then spices, then mayo, then veg, and then it simply escalated into what you see today, whole meals with fresh fish over rice and mixed with a multitude of ingredients. One of my favorite in Toronto is Poke Guys.

The PG bowl. Salmon in classic shoyu, masago, edamame, kimchi, corn, onions, jalapeno, nori and, black and white sesame seeds topped with the spicy aioli.

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The fish, as in all the bowls, is fresh and flavorful. The corn and edamame add a nice crunch (as does the crispy onions) and the kimchi adds some nice Korean flavors. The rice is also topped with furikake (a sesame, nori, sugar and salt mix). The topping sauce is up to the patron. I generally prefer spice, hence the spicy aioli which also add a nice creamy texture to the dish.

My go-to is the Cali bowl. Salmon and tuna in classic shoyu, crab meat slaw, masago, avocado, onions (fried, green and white), nori, jalapeno, black and white sesame seeds, and topped with the spicy aioli.

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I like the coolness and chewiness of the crab meat slaw, the creaminess of the avocado with the spice of the aioli and the crunchy jalapenos. You also get two types of fish which blends nicely with the textures and flavors of the additional toppings.

A newer addition to the menu is the Mauna Loa bowl (Volcano bowl). Spicy salmon, spicy seaweed salad, spicy cucumbers, edamame, masago, onions, jalapenos, tempura bits, sesame seeds, nori, and topped with wasabi mayo.

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The spicy seaweed salad has some nice heat and slimy crunch. The edamame and crunchy tempura bits add nice texture and the wasabi mayo cools the spice a little bit while adding a nice hit of wasabi. All the signature bowls are great. I tend to gravitate towards these three given the ingredient combinations but all are nice depending if you want something sweeter (like one with pineapple) or one without fish (shrimp or octopus poke bowls).

The purists can get poke alone, like you get in grocery stores in Hawaii. I go for the spicy tuna poke.

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They top it with masago and there are spicy cucumbers mixed in with the big chunks of tuna. They cut the fish cubes a little big for my liking, and big compared to Hawaii, but the flavor is a nice escape to my childhood and saves me the 10 hour flight…. Although the ten hour flight is worth it to eat the best poke in the world with the backdrop of one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

http://www.pokeguys.ca/

Astro Donut and Fried Chicken (Washington, DC)

•May 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’ve had an unusual craving for donuts the past few days. One of the best I’ve had in recent years was in Washington, DC. Astro Donut and Fried Chicken regularly lines up down the block so we decided to try it first thing in the morning before hitting the many amazing museums and historical sites.

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There are about half a dozen or so different donuts on the menu at a given time. We decided to try the maple bacon and the PB&J.

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The donuts are warm and fresh from the fryer. Soft, with just the right amount of doughy chewiness. The maple bacon is sweet but nicely balances by the salty and savory bacon bits. The PB&J was also amazing! We also indulged in the fried chicken breakfast sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly could only be made better by combining it in a donut.

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The fried chicken is crispy and juicy with a nice batter spice blend. It’s also served on a plain vanilla glazed donut and topped with a southern sausage gravy. This may be one of the best breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever had! Textures bouncing from doughy to crispy. Tasting the sweet donut scoop up the savory, rich sausage gravy. And the fried chicken crispiness and juiciness to top it all off. There are few bites that are better.

The special for the day was a french toast donut with a caramel apple sauce (with creamy, whipped butter on the side).

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If you like french toast and apple pie (and who doesn’t), this is heaven! It’s like a cinnamon and egg donut and apple pie gave birth to a delicious love child. This may not be the most appetizing analogy but just look at the picture. It tastes better than it looks.

http://astrodoughnuts.com/

Sansotei Ramen

•May 14, 2017 • Leave a Comment

A number of years ago, I started noticing ramen shops popping up everywhere. And I mean everywhere! It started with Kenzo, then a string of Japanese imports, and then a lot of other shops with unique and interesting offerings. Now I’ve always loved a warm bowl of noodles and broth. It was comfort food as a kid and I have fond memories of my grandfather boiling a pot of noodles, and then cutting them up into smaller strands with scissors so us grandkids wouldn’t choke on it (I miss you grandpa). It’s still the ultimate comfort food for me today. One of my favorite places, partially due to goodness and partially due to convenience, is Sansotei Ramen.

Ramen to me is graded on three factors: quality of the noodles, tastiness of the broth, and compliment/goodness of the extras. All the bowls at Sansotei excel at atleast 2 or more of these. The Tonkatsu Ramen.

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Rich pork broth with a strong garlic oil flavor. It’s rich without being oily or fatty. It’s smooth and a little thicker than its shoyu or tan tan counterparts. The noodles, amazing! Fresh, perfectly cooked with the right amount of chew. The pork belly is nicely seasoned, which compliments the broth, the veg adds nice textures but minimal flavor with a broth this strong, and the egg… we should honestly just add eggs in almost everything. Here, it works perfectly with its yolky flavor and soft texture (nicely contrasting the pork belly). Below is the Shoyu Ramen.

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Simple soy based ramen. Clean but with a hint of fat from the meat. The veg again adds nice texture but the broth and taste of the noodles are really the highlight, which should be the case since they are the stars of the show. Noodles, they get this right every time. Spicy tan tan ramen.

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The menu says it’s spicy but it’s really not that spicy. It’s nice though. In terms of simplicity and complexity, it’s somewhere between the tonkatsu and shoyu. Complex with the spice but still simple and clean. I’m partial to spice so this is my favorite of the bunch. The pork belly is also “beefed” up (so to speak) by ground pork as well. Again, the noodles are perfect. For sides, here is the Gyoza.

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Meaty and juicy. Nothing to write home about but a nice side dish. If you want great dumplings there are tons of place in the city that specialize in dumplings. This is a place for amazing ramen! One stand out side dish is the Zangi (Deep fried chicken).

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This may be some of the best Japanese fried chicken I’ve had in the city. Small, bite-sized morsels that are nicely spiced, perfectly battered, served fresh out of the fryer, and incredibly juicy. If you order a side dish with your ramen, this is the one.

There are a lot of good ramen places in the city and this is one of my favorites. Vancouver always claims they have the best ramen in the country, which I’ll admit is pretty amazing, but this place gives even the best places a run for their money. I was recently in Tokyo on business and ate at some highly rated ramen shops and I’ll go out on a limb and say, Sansotei in Toronto gives them a run for their money too.

http://www.sansotei.com/

Adamson BBQ

•May 7, 2017 • Leave a Comment

So I’ve been on a bit of a BBQ fix lately. Rumor has it a place in Toronto has modelled itself after Franklin BBQ in Austin, Texas, one of the best BBQ joints in America. My friend and I made it out to Leslieville to check it out. Buried in a sea of warehouses and office buildings, we saw a long line snaking out of one of the buildings. We arrived at 11am, right at opening, and we still had to wait an hour in line.

We ordered the Texas Trinity platter for 2. Half pound of brisket, half pound of ribs, sausage, coleslaw, beans, potato salad, and a s’more pie.

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Just watching them cut through the juicy brisket has you salivating at the counter. We were lucky enough to get one of the burnt ends too. Incredible!! Amazing rub, thick slices, and fat marbled through the whole piece. Best brisket I’ve had in my life! Beefy, peppery, smokey, and oh so juicy! The tenderness of the beef is truly magical!

The ribs, awesome! I don’t understand how it is even possible to get ribs infused with so many great flavors, like the smoke and rub, and still have it be so moist! It’s fall off the bone good. These may be the best ribs in the city!

For the sausage, we decided to go with the jalapeno and cheese curd. It had some nice heat and tons of flavor. I think I preferred the sausage at Cherry street but this was still amazing!

The sides were all great. The coleslaw was a little creamier than some of the city’s coleslaw counterparts and the coolness cut the heavy meat and smoke flavor nicely. The potato salad had a tasty zing. The beans were good. Better than Heinz in a can (which don’t get me wrong, is already pretty good…or maybe it just brings me back to my childhood).

The S’more pie was delightful! Light marshmallow that was whipped like cream or a merengue, the chocolate was nice a fudgey and the graham cracker at the bottom completed the whole bite! A nice sweet treat at the end of the meal.

We also ordered a pulled pork sandwich on the side. Nice spice rub and smoky pork. It wasn’t as fatty as some incarnations I’ve had recently but still juicy and delicious. The bun was perfect. Super soft, absorbed the meat fat but didn’t turn to mush. It’s loaded with slaw and pickle slices which adds nice texture and flavors to the meat bomb. I only was able to eat half and let me just say that reheating it the next day, it holds up nicely.

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I also got an order of chopped brisket to go. I haven’t opened it up yet but if it is half as good as any of the dishes we had, it will definitely satisfy my BBQ craving in the comfort of my own home. Now I’ll come right out and say, I hate waiting in line for food! Adamson BBQ totally worth it! It’s hard to imagine BBQ being any better than this. I guess I’ll have to make a trip to Texas someday and find out.

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http://adamsonbarbecue.com/

Cherry Street BBQ

•April 30, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I’m always on the look out for good BBQ. There seems to be a recent wave of BBQ places opening up in Toronto which makes this guy super excited. After hearing some good reviews about Cherry Street BBQ, I thought I would check it out. Holy crap! This place is awesome!

If you like caesars, the Pit Smoke Caesar might be one of the best in the city.IMG_7579.jpg

No special Clamato or Walter’s mix needed. They have a bottle of this brownish liquid they add which I assume gives it a delicious smokey flavor. Adding the succulent side rib is also a bonus and adds a nice peppery flavor to the concoction. Another must try is the pulled pork sandwich.

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This may be some of the juiciest pulled pork I’ve had in my life. The fat came shooting out the back of the sandwich after eat bite. So good! The beef brisket is also amazing!

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So tender! Let’s put it this way, I pinched it between my fingers and began to pull it towards me and it fell apart. Nice spice blend at the edges, wonderful smokey flavor and marbled fat throughout. Can’t go wrong. Also get the side of BBQ beans.

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Just the right amount of sweetness, smoke, and meaty richness. These may be the best baked beans I’ve ever had. On another visit we tried the baby back ribs.

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Huge portion size for half a rack. Sweet, smokey, good texture. It’s not fall off the bone tender but holds up well and is super tasty. We tried the side of coleslaw.

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It’s a nice cool side that cuts the richness of the meat. Very nice side to a very meaty meal. Next, the Mac and cheese.

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Perfectly cooked al dente. Nice and cheesy. Nothing to write home about but a nice option on the menu if you are looking for something rich that isn’t meat. In the next photo I meant to get the sausage but the framing was mostly brisket.

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The sausage, which regularly sells out quickly, is amazing! The meat is so juicy, the casing has a nice snap and it’s also filled with melted cheese. You get a nice long cheese pull with each bite. My friend got it caught in her hair. It was awesome!

I just realized I said everything on the menu is a “must try”…which is absolutely true! I suggest going with a big group so you can try EVERYTHING! This place is amazing! Seriously, just look at this spread! It’s heaven on a tray!

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http://www.cherrystbbq.com/