Toronto

Home to my native Canada for Christmas, I thought readers might find a guide to Canadian eating useful or perhaps even a little horrifying.

Pretzel at hockey game

Firstly, Canadians love donuts. And I mean love. Other countries have coffee shops, Canada has donut shops that sell coffee. Donuts (Doughnuts until recently) come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There’s the traditional donut with a hole in the middle, there’s the holes and there’s other shapes like the Dutchie (below right.)

Tim Hortons Christmas donutTim Horton's dutchie donut

Another form of the donut is the Beavertail, which is basically a funnel cake that’s shaped like, you guessed it, a beaver’s tail (the beaver is Canada’s national animal, so it’s a very patriotic treat.) Pictured is cinnamon and sugar topping and oreo topping.

Beavertails cinnamonBeavertails oreo

Popular treats that are unique and ubiquitous to Canada are the Nanaimo (na-nigh-moe) bar and the buttertart. Both are super yummy. I once made my sister bring me a slab of frozen Nanaimo bars in her suitcase to give me a fix. The base is chocolate, graham crumbs and coconut. The yellow bit is custard powder, sugar and cream. The top is just chocolate. The three combine to create heaven in your mouth. And a sugar rush.

The buttertart has a runny filling made of butter, sugar and egg. Sometimes raisins are mixed in. Simple but delicious.

Nanaimo barsbuttertart

Now the bit that seems to gross a lot of non-Canadians out. Poutine. Mmmm. Medium-cut chips, gravy and cheese curds. Yes that’s curds, as in ‘eating her curds and whey.’ Curd has a mild flavour but sasitfyingly spongey texture. It’s appealing because it doesn’t fully melt the way other warmed cheeses do, so you get bit of stringyness and a bit of texture. A heart attack on a plate but well worth it.

Poutine with great cheese curdsHarvey's poutine

Another unique Canadian food is Peameal bacon, which is the best bacon ever. It’s a back bacon that’s rolled in cornmeal and served thick cut. The fat ends up being crispy and the meat succulent. Drool. It comes in sandwiches and with breakfasts.

An added bonus for you, here’s a Canadian breakfast. It’s a little larger than normal due to the Christmas factor but one thing that is common in Canadian breakfasts is the potatoes. (Scrabled eggs, chopped grilled potatoes, maple syrup baked beans, toasted bun, peameal bacon, streaky bacon, vegetable thing, orange slice and tomato juice.)

Peameal baconCanadian breakfast with peameal bacon

Probably more a North American thing than just a Canadian thing (at least have never come across it in the UK) is the hot sandwich. Usually either roast beef or roast chicken leftovers, warmed up and placed on white bread than slathered in gravy. A classic. (Have you noticed how most of the chips have the skin on? Mashed potatoes with skin on are also common.)

Hot beef sandwichSwiss Chalet hot chicken sandwich

Two more things Canadians love- macaroni and cheese and dill pickles. Both now available in deep fried form. Canadians like deep frying stuff. You may be getting the picture that Canadian diets aren’t the healthiest. It may be due to the large Scottish heritage???

Deep fried macaroni and cheeseHarveys deep fried dill pickles

A quick mention of three things – 1) cider is not alcoholic, 2) Canadians put white vinegar on chips, though seemingly only available in the UK as a cleaning product. It’s better than malt vinegar in that the flavour stays long after it’s exposed to air and 3) (not pictured) tomato juice often comes combined with clam juice, yes, really.

Canadian apple ciderCanadian vinegar

A few iconic Canadian restaurant chains any traveller to Canada should visit:

Tim Hortons – THE donut shop, now also part of the Canadian Identity. Founded by a hockey player, it was spoofed in Wayne’s World. The largest food chain in Canada, they sell more than 500 million donuts a year. Over the years they’ve expanded their menu and now also serve muffins, pastries, croissants, bagels and soup & sandwiches. There’s definitely something for everyone and no trip to Canada would be complete without a visit to Timmy’s.

Tim Hortons exteriorTim Horton's chocolate glazed donutsTim Hortons 12 pack donutsTim Hortons muffin

Harveys – Canadian burger chain featuring flame grilled patties. You direct them in how to top your burger, more pickles is a popular request.

Harveys exteriorHarveys burger toppings

Swiss Chalet – A sit down chicken rotisserie restaurant that’s everywhere and has been around for yonks. Known for their dipping sauce, which is often the craving of many a homesick Canadian.

Swiss Chalet exteriorSwiss Chalet sauce

Sunset Grill – Originally the most popular Toronto all day breakfast spot, it has now gone province wide. Enjoy delicious all day breakfasts (though most would argue it’s not quite as good as it used to be.) The pancakes and french toast are superb.

Sunset Grillfrench toast and strawberriesCanadian pancakesDSC_4554

And lastly, because I was there for Christmas I thought you might be interested in seeing what a Canadian Christmas dinner looks like. As much stuffing as you can fit on your plate, pickles, tomato juice, various vegetables and, of course, pumpkin pie. And no Christmas would be complete without egg nog. You buy it in the dairy section and it is not alcoholic until you add your own (along with nutmeg.)

Canadian Christmas dinnerCanadian eggnogChristmas stuffingPumpkin pie

I hope that sheds some light on eating in Canada, and that if you ever travel there you promise to eat lots of donuts and at least try the poutine.

(Canada is a big place, and there are some regional differences, I was in and around Toronto, Ontario.)

The Queen’s Head Weybridge

Probably the most popular pub in Weybridge, yet for some reason I’ve only been once before. Finding ourselves in the area, we popped in for a quick lunch.

The Queen’s Head is a part of a small chain of pubs, The White Brasserie Company, that has 5 locations, including another Surrey location in Chobham.

Queen's Head Weybridge exterior

Inside is made of of several small rooms, that are partitioned off from one another yet manage not to feel detached or claustrophic. ‘Nice pub’ decor with lovely touches like the open kitchen. And very classy, you get real linen here.

Staff are chilled out and helpful. Our Friday lunch was bustling (hence not very many indoor photos) yet we didn’t wait long for our food to arrive.

Queen's Head Weybridge interior

Not to big, not too small, the menu is interesting and widely appealing. The set menu changes monthly.

Short on time we both had sandwiches. Mr had the hot sausage and red onion marmalade baguette £5.95 An impressive size and amount of sides for the price. It was tasty and very enjoyable. He even commented how good the salad dressing was.

Queen's Head Weybridge sausage baguette

I had the melted goat’s cheese, beetroot and walnut baguette £5.95. A bit awkward to eat but yummy. The cheese was thoroughly warmI would have preferred a bit more of the beetroot flavour coming through. Nice chips, not too fat, not too skinny.

Queen's Head Weybridge goat's cheese, beetroot and walnut baguette

I’m now kicking myself, why haven’t I been coming here more often? Lovely pub, good food, good sounding evening menu. I think we’ll be back soon for the three course set menu, only £14.95 for weekday dining before 6.30.

The Queen’s Head, 1 Bridge Road, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 8XS
www.queensheadweybridge.com
Small car park or street parking
Dogs allowed in pub area

The Foresters

Winning Time & Leisure’s best pub three years running caught our attention. We visited independly owned The Foresters in Hampton Wick during a busy Sunday lunch to see what the fuss is about.

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick external

Entrance is via the bar area. It's a one of a kind space – a padded bar draped with a Union flag, mis-matched distressed furniture in a non-shabby chic way and a penchant for using empty wine bottles as candlesticks plus, most joyously, the upbeat sounds of 1930s jazz. The Foresters is boho hipster in pub form.

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick bar

A cosy sofa corner with a roaring fire would far too easily become a spot you never leave. We resisted the temptation and carried on to the restaurant area.

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick cosy seating

More quirky decor in the dining area, with a tented ceiling and chandelier. Exposed brick is always nice. None of that lovely music though, probably a good thing considering how many people there were.

Staff were cheerful, which was impressive given all the running around they were doing.

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick dining area

The Sunday lunch menu had, well, roasts though there were a nice amount of sides and a vegetarian choice.

Mr went for the Roast rib eye of beef with Yorkshire pudding, sweet braised red cabbage, chantenay carrot, sautéed green beans and horseradish cream – £14.30 It was very enjoyable though the Yorkshire pudding was a little crispy.

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick roast beef

He opted for one of the sides, the Cauliflower Cheese £4.00. It was nice enough but he would have preferred sharper cheese.

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick cauliflower cheese

I had the vegetarian option, Roast butternut with rocket and pumpkin seed salad, ‘Foresters’ spicy cous cous, sumac and rosewater yoghurt £13.50. The butternut squash was insanely good. I could happily eat it every day, lots of nice flavours and perfectly cooked.

I’m not sure how the cous cous goes with the squash. Without some Lamb Tagine to give it purpose there was never much chance I was going to eat it. The rosewater yoghurt did have a nice flavour though.

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick butternut squash cous cous

The single biggest thing you always miss out on when ordering the vegetarian option at a Sunday roast is the Yorkshire Pudding. Not a problem at The Foresters, they do them on the side. Yorkshire pudding £ 0.70

The Foresters Pub Hampton Wick Yorkshire pudding

It’s not difficult to see why The Forester has won best pub three years straight. The food and staff are lovely and the surrounds are unique and comfortable. The people of Hampton Wick are lucky to have such a fine independent pub on their doorsteps.

45 High Street, Hampton Wick, Surrey, KT1 4DG
the-foresters.com
Street parking
Dogs welcome in the bar area

Baker Street Coffee House

Kids on sleepovers meant Sunday brunch for me, yippee. I was able to try out a place that’s long been on my list, Baker Street Coffee House in Weybridge.

Baker street coffee house exterior

The pavement tables are in a suntrap, making it a nice spot in boarderline weather. Inside the decor is simple, unpretentious and clean.

They have lots of free newspapers to browse.

Baker street coffee house seating area

Being a coffee house, they serve artisan coffee. As you may know, I don’t drink coffee so unfortunately can’t give a verdict.

Interestingly, Baker Street serves cocktails in the evening.

Service is efficient, which is good considering the bustle when we were there.

Baker stree coffee house counter and menu board

The menu is big enough to have some of the rarer choices without being a silly size. Lunch choices also look good, with sandwiches, paninis, jacket potatoes and some salads.

One problem with brunching here, they have scrumptious looking homemade cakes on display and it’s too early in the day to eat them, unless you want to breakfast Italian style. You can even pre-order whole cakes to “takeaway.”

Baker street coffee house cakes

My husband kept it simple and with a Bacon sandwich (add fried egg 50p) £3.95. The bread wasn’t the most exciting, but it was tasty and satisfying.

Baker street coffee house bacon and egg sandwich

I had my favourite brunch choice, Eggs Hemingway – toasted English muffin, smoked salmon, poached eggs and homemade Hollandaise sacue £7.50. It did not disappoint Holladaise sauce was thick and rich, could have been watered down a slight but but overall was good. A big portion (a larger than normal muffin), it was very filling, I was still full at dinnertime.

Baker street coffee house eggs Hemingway

A good brunch spot can be hard to find. Baker Street Coffee House may not have a plush interior, but the food is good. It makes for a nice, chilled breakfast spot.

34 Baker Street, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 8AU
bakerstreetcoffeehouse.co.uk
Street parking or town car park.

The Clink

Prison might not be the first place you consider going for lunch but it’s actually an option. The Clink restaurant first opened to the public in 2009, within the walls of HMP Highdown in Sutton. Anyone can apply to go, you simply fill in the form on their website.

The Clink is a marvelously named charity that trains prisoners in cooking, baking, waitering, industrial cleaning, recycling and horticulture, so the prisoners have a skill when they’re released.

The Clink Restaurant logo

Much of the produce used is grown on site, where is it maintained and harvested by prisoners training in horticulture.

They work 40 hours a week in an environment simulating a 4-5 star hotel and gain City & Guild NVQ qualifications. Prisoners trained at The Clink are mentored for 6-12 months after their release.

And what a difference it’s making. For graduates of The Clink, the reoffending rate is under 14% and is falling with each year the charity has been running. In 2012 (the most recent year there are statistics for), only 1 of the 88 prisoners released has reoffended. National average reoffending rates of prisoners is a tragic 47%.

The Clink restaurant prisoner training

When you drive into the prison area there’s lots of high fences and barbed wire. Follow signs to The Clink reception at the conference centre (right at the roundabout.) All electronics and liquids must be left in a locker. No cameras allowed, which hurt me deeply (all images courtesy of The Clink Charity.) Swap your photo ID for a lanyard and you’re ready to go.

Which is a strange, daunting feeling for a person that has never been in a prison before. We went through several locked doors and finally into the restaurant, where we were instantly back in our comfort zone.

The Clink High Down dining area

Despite only serving breakfast and lunch, it’s a very evening décor. Copper stonework lines one wall, substantial tables with comfortable seats nicely fill the room with a view into the kitchen. It’s a calm environment, perhaps thanks to the chromotherapy lighting. A glass wall is frosted with poetry written by prisoners.

There are some signs that remind you where you are. Plastic cutlery, glass tables (no hiding anything) and only soft drinks available.

There’s a display cabinet of the awards they have won, and there are plenty, including most recently the Surrey Life Food and Drinks Award ‘best local menu 2015′.

You can’t help but feeling you’re in a positive place that a) makes a difference and b) is a nice place to eat.

The Clink Restaurant table close up

We were met and seated by our waiter, who was professional and unobtrusive (and not at all intimidating.)

On our visit, they were serving the Christmas three course set menu £24.95. It was not adventurous sounding but each dish was very well executed and had elements that really made it stand out.

Firstly, I have to say that all our plates were beautifully presented, even John Torode would be pleased.

The Clink Restaurant food presentation

For starters Bella had the ‘Citrus cured salmon gravlax, compressed cucumber and lemon mayonnaise.’ It was a dense filet, more enjoyable than your standard smoked salmon. Compressed cucumber was interesting, a hint of vinegar and a nice complement to the salmon.

I, obviously, chose the ‘Goats’ cheese and red onion tartlet with pesto dressing and micro herbs.’ It wasn’t huge but had lots of yummy layers of flavours and textures.

All main courses are ‘served with saute Brussel sprouts and chestnuts, spiced red cabbage, maple syrup glazed parsnips and crisp roast potatoes.’

Bella had the ‘Roast English beef and Yorkshire pudding.’ What a treat, it was pink, beautifully cooked. The onion chutney had a grabbing spice and made the dish. It must be their signature as you can purchase jars of it. Everything was superb save perhaps the Yorkshire pudding, which could have been more moist.

The Clink Restaurant roast beef

I went for the ‘Traditional roast free-range Norfolk Bronze Turkey.’ It was tender and moist, which is pretty impressive for turkey. The roast potatoes were top notch, extra crispy outside and an inside that disolved on my tongue. I even ate the Brussel sprouts, for the first time ever. The parsnips were excellent. Everything was excellent.

Our mains were good sizes and easily comparable (perhaps even better) to any Surrey gastropub Sunday roast I’ve had.

For dessert Bella had a ‘Selection of local cheese with celery, grapes, fruit chutney and biscuits.’ It was impressively presented on a marble slab with all the trimmings. Heavenly.

I, despite eating my daughter’s HE version all week, chose the ‘Lemon cheesecake with spiced berry compote.’ Delicious, with an unidentifiable spice that was intriguing and added a nice depth of flavour. Could have used some more compote. I won’t comment on if it was better than my daughter’s.

The Clink Restaurant dessert

They also sell merchandise, naturally I bought a mug. The amazing onion chutney is also for sale. Items can also be ordered via their website.

There are now also The Clink restaurants in HMP Brixton and HMP Cardiff with hopes of opening 7 more plus they’ve just launched an event catering service, based out of Highdown.

It’s an interesting experience, a positive experience and excellent food. Go!

HMP High Down, High Down Lane, Sutton, Surrey, United Kingdom, SM2 5PJ
theclinkrestaurant.com
Plenty of parking

Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill

I’ve been to check out the revamped, renamed Blubeckers in Shepperton for lunch. Ownership has stayed the same but the concept has altered.

Gone is the unmemorable old Blubeckers and what’s emerged is a fresh new dining and wining spot.

Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill exterior

The feel is certainly much nicer than it was. Presumably the wine bar element is to make it a little more upscale. White washed walls actually work in this space, as the building has tons of character without any help. Black & white photos on the wall are interesting.

It’s actually a sister pub of our first review, The Mute Swan though it isn’t obvious.

Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill dining area

We did find it a little perplexing that the desireable front room with the fireplace and the window wasn’t set for lunch.

Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill fireplace

A cute bar greets you at the door. Unfortunately they don’t have draught due to the cost of installing it with the thick concrete floor.

Service is youthful and enthusiastic.

Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill bar no draft

The menu is impressive, not too big, not too small. Think American classics with interesting twists and flavourings. Polenta even makes a few appearances. It’s easy to find more than one thing you desire.

He had the ‘crispy cod in beer batter with chips and crushed minted pease £11.75.’ It was very good, nice crispy batter. Unusual, tasty warm tartar sauce was the highlight of the dish (underneath the fish.)

Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill fish & chips

I had the ‘portobello mushroom burger, grilled portobello mushrooms stuffed with halloumi, lettuce, red onion, gherkin, chipotle mayonnaise and brioche £10 and corn salsa.’ with ‘polenta chips £3.‘ This was possibly the tastiest veggie burger I’ve had. Lovely textures and flavours with a bit of heat and a super yummy bun.

The chips were different with good spicing that certainly look good on the plate. Next time I’d prefer a mix of these and regular chips.

The corn salsa is cold (it’s an alternative to coleslaw.) It’s nice enough but there was far too much of it for me to finish.

Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill vegetarian burger

They have some pretty tempting desserts but we were far to full. With titles like ‘caramelised lemon tart’ and ‘red velvet cheesecake’ we will definitely have to go back to try one. Or two.

The Shepperton Wine Bar & Grill is another great new addition to the Surrey food scene. They’ve done a good job updating the feel while still preserving the character of the building. Though part of a chain, it definitely feels and tastes unique.

Church Square, Shepperton, Middlesex, TW17 9JY
www.homecountiespubs.co.uk/sheppertonwinebar
Car park in square opposite

Busaba Eathai

The revamped Kingston-Upon-Thames riverfront is filled with restaurants that each offer superb views of beautiful Kingston Bridge.

We happened to be in the area and decided to lunch in Basuba Eathai, as we know the London restaurants are consistantly good and were eager to try Basuba’s first Surrey location.

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames exterior

It would be amazing to dine on the patio on a warm, sunny day, alas it was a drab, cold day in November so we headed inside.

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  al fresco seating by river

A lovely bowl of floating flowers and candles greet you at the door, a nice cue to relax and enjoy your Busaba time.

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  floating candles, flowers

The dark wood interior is reminiscent of South East Asia. As in so many restaurants these days, the kitchen is open to the seating area. It’s a large space but the pillars section it nicely. There’s different choices of seating, from huge square 12 seaters to cosy tables with comfy chairs.

Service is very quick and attentive.

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  dining room

The menu is surprisingly large and has something for everyone, including lots of options for vegetarians.

We ordered a noodle dish each as well as a few dishes to share.

We shared the Thai calamari ginger and peppercorn £6.50. It was insanely delicious, really different flavours to what you normally expect in a calamari but not at all over powering. It was certainly the stand out dish of our lunch. Shame Marie didn’t manage to take a decent photo of it!

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  thai calamari

Another sharing dish, Phad pad French bean, broccoli, courgette, baby corn, cashew and pine nut £6.50. The veggies were fresh tasting and perfectly cooked, with lots of flavour, an enjoyable way to get your five a day.

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  thai vegetables

We also shared a Coconut rice £3.30, nice coconut taste and cute presentation.

You can see the real reason we were in Kingston…

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  rice

For individual dishes, Lynn and Clare both went for the Pad Thai rice roodle, prawn, dried shrimp, tofu, egg, peanut, beansprout and lime £8.40. Mmm, it was super yummy with great textures, exactly how you want Pad Thai to be.

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  pad thai

Marie decided to try the Pad Kwetio sen yahi noodle, smoked chicken, prawn and shitake mushroom £8.60 The waiter said it was the spiciest dish on the menu, Marie likes spice but not the spiciest, so she asked for less spice. In the end it didn’t have much spice but was tasty regardless.

Busaba Kingston-upon-Thames  Thai noodles

It’s wonderful to get Thai food in a proper, sylish space instead of an old pub or a blah takeaway. We’re very happy Busaba has come to Surrey.

4 Riverside Walk, Kingston Upon Thames, KT1 1QN
www.busaba.com