The Buzz: January/February 2016

Written by The Editors

Call it romantic, call it foolish, but gifts from the passionate kitchen are most certainly gifts of love. Cupid’s arrows have been ritually targeted at the most cynical among us, long before Valentine’s Day became the prevailing feast of sentimentality. So what better night to go out and dine and combine the pleasures of love of food and wine? Love, when celebrated, awakens many an appetite. Perhaps, that’s why we celebrate a month known for its cold days and stillness. Just ask those who celebrate Valentine’s Day by dining out. Many of us agree sharing the pleasure of dinner together publicly is a romantic expression of our affections.

Regional …

Chef Jonathan Gushue is taking a chance on downtown Kitchener, opening not one but two restaurants. Along with hospitality veteran and business partner Ryan Lloyd-Craig, the former executive chef of Langdon Hall has opened The Berlin at 45 King St. W. The menu features a modern twist on European cuisine. The second restaurant, Graffiti, will be a casual, northern Italian-style restaurant showcasing pizza, music and drinks in a pub-like atmosphere. That 60-seat business will take over the former Marisol restaurant at 30 Ontario St., just around the corner from The Berlin.

Mountainoak Cheese of New Hamburg and Bright Cheese and Butter were winners at the recent World Cheese Awards, held in Birmingham, England, where 2,727 different cheeses were entered by countries from across the globe. Mountainoak was awarded Gold in its category with Mountainoak Farmstead GOLD.

Adam and Hannie Van Bergeijk’s family has a rich history in dairy farming and cheese making. Mountainoak opened in 2012 with a mission to make high quality products using only the best ingredients and a traditional Dutch recipe. Their premium Dutch Gold won in its category at the prestigious 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix. Bright Cheese and Butter Manufacturing Co. Ltd. of Bright, Ontario won Bronze for its entry of asiago cheese, and Silver for its old coloured cheddar at the World Cheese Awards. The Asiago and Old White Cheddar became finalists at the Great Canadian Cheese Grand Prix 2015. A recent Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence came after the 140-year-old company invested in infrastructure, equipment and product development over the past two years.

We are at a literal tipping point. Ontario is prohibiting restaurant owners and managers from sharing in tips that are meant for servers and other hospitality staff. Restaurant owners will no longer be allowed to take a cut of staff gratuities under provincial legislation that passed in December 2015. Liberal MPP Arthur Potts said his Private Member’s Bill 12, or the Protecting Employees’ Tips Act (an amendment to The Employment Standards Act, 2000) which must still be proclaimed into law, was designed to prevent employers from dipping into the restaurant employees gratuity pool.

The proposed legislation was amended to permit employers to provisionally withhold gratuities if they reallocate them as part of an employee tip pool, a measure that allows some wage parity to front-of-house staff and lower-paid back-of-house workers. Managers will not be able to participate in the pool unless they are sole proprietors or double as servers.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa recently announced the 13 retailers that will be the first grocery stores to sell beer in Ontario. The retailers, a mixture of large and independent grocers, were chosen via a “competitive bidding process,” and must now apply to the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario for authorization for individual stores. Once that application process is complete, beer could go on sale at up to 60 locations.

“We are moving quickly to ensure that beer will be sold in grocery stores in a socially responsible manner,” said Sousa. Using the existing low-cost distribution system keeps Ontario’s beer prices below the Canadian average while offering greater ability to fund key government services and programs that people rely on, he said. In addition to the five big chain stores — Loblaws, Longos, Metro, Sobeys and Wal-Mart — Farm Boy (with three London locations) has also been selected as a retailer, while the remaining grocers have three locations or fewer. UPDATE: the Real Canadian Superstore in Oakridge began selling beer on December 16.

Stratford …

The Red Rabbit head chef and co-owner Sean Collins has crafted a menu of southern-style comfort foods. Divided into omnivore, carnivore and herbivore sections, the dinner menu offers Colonel Collins’ fried chicken, duck poutine, Perth County “hammed” pork shoulder, rabbit and leek pie, BBQ celery root, fried polenta and duck egg. Co-owner and manager, Jessie Larsen describes the menu offerings as a “choose your own adventure,” where customers can select various items to try and to share.

Nosh Monday continues every Monday night and The Red Rabbit Supper Club (one Thursday each month) series chases away the winter blues with a 1970’s psychedelic vegetarian dinner in January and breakfast for dinner a pyjama party in February.

Bijou closed for the season in late-December and will re-open in March. In the meantime, gather around Bijou’s custom bar with Head Chef Max Holbrook for the Bar8 series — exclusive dining experiences, each featuring a unique eight-course dinner menu with wine pairings, to be shared at an intimate bar setting for only eight guests. Each of the Bar8 series will feature an original menu exploring global ingredients, culinary regions or flavour profiles. Chef Holbrook will guide you through the pairings and courses, sharing his own passions and experiences that led him to create the menu.

Every Friday, all day, Pazzo features half-price basic pizzas and $5 pints (all domestic draught beer) in the Pizzeria. This may be the best thing to happen to Friday since the invention of the weekend!

Unlike its seasonal predecessor, Revival House will be staying open for the winter months, offering local seasonal menu expressing the depth of Perth County’s food culture featuring whole animal butchery and charcuterie on the daily menu. Wednesday thru Saturday for lunch and dinner (11am-close) and Sunday brunch (10am–2pm)

Nightly features will include: “Wine Down Wednesdays,” an opportunity for guests to “Bring Your Own Wine” with only a $5 corkage fee; “Holy Grill! Thursdays” offer a Build-Your-Own Revival Burger menu; and “Flight Night Fridays” offers Revival Craft Beer flights (four 5-oz pours of guests’ choice from 13 taps of local craft beer!).

Sunday Brunch will continue throughout 2016 with new brunch menu items including Smoked Trout Cakes (7-min. egg, tomato, capers, mustard greens, aioli), Revival Eggs Benny (slow poached eggs, boar shoulder, spinach, brown butter hollandaise, focaccia), and chef’s weekly French Toast creation (think savoury Black Forest Cake toppings like cherry compote, chocolate chips and whipped cream)

A new partnership with Stratford Symphony Orchestra is behind a special event brunch fundraiser — “Symphony Brunch” — February 21.

Stringbone presents a “live @ Revival House” concert series: New Country Rehab (Jan. 28); Alejandra Ribera (Feb. 18); Amelia Curren (Mar. 24);and The Rizdales (April 21).

A new partnership with United Way Perth/Huron brings yet another monthly Winter Dinner/Concert Series: California Sun: A Beach Boys Tribute (Feb. 11); A Romantic Evening of Music with Mannheim Virtuosi String Quartet and March 10 A Celtic Celebration with Mystic Fyre. Tickets and information available by visiting

The Stratford Chefs School invites you to explore International Inspirations as chef students interpret the culinary styles of renowned International chefs. Courses are carefully paired with selected wines and are served at The Prune Restaurant. This dinner series is offered Tuesday through Saturday January 12 to 30.

Inspired three-course Stratford Chefs School Lunch Series menus are created and prepared by Level 2 student chefs. Reservations required. Choose from the black board menus on Fridays and Saturdays for a delicious mid-day experience at Rene’s Bistro, 20 Wellington Street. Wine is available by the glass or $5 corkage fee.

Stratford Winterfest, January 22–24 10 am–4 pm in Lower Queens Park: This year’s theme, “Keep Calm and Freeze On,” will include many activities and events perfect for a winter family outing. Plan to visit, ride the apple train and enjoy some outdoor winter fun along with tasty treats from a variety of food trucks.

Savour Stratford Tutored Tastings: 

UK Beer and Cheese, January 23. Join this tasting tour of Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales for some innovative cheese and beer combinations to savour. The tasting runs from 3 pm to 5 pm at the Milky Whey Fine Cheese Shop.

Soft & Supple Cheese meets Fortified Libation, February 13th: Bring your valentine and feel the love when these two opposites come together in a match made in heaven.  Sample six distinct pairings.

North American Wines & Cheese Pairings, February 28th: It’s getting better all the time! Come and taste how far we’ve come from cheddar and Baby Duck. This will be a celebration of fabulous wines and cheeses that are not European.

Murder Mystery dinner at The Parlour Inn, Who Wants To Murder A Millionaire, January 23.

Savour Stratford Culinary Trails

All year round Stratford offers Savour Stratford Chocolate, and Bacon and Ale culinary trails. Select five Bacon or six Chocolate stops to sample delicious taste inspirations. Pick up your trail passes at Stratford Tourism Alliance and

Junction 56 Distillery: Tours every Saturday 1 pm–2 pm

There are some new spirits to enjoy in Stratford. Junction 56 Distillery is proudly local and following tradition while leveraging modern ideas to make unique and delicious products without shortcuts. Mike Heisz is distilling vodka, gin and moonshine at a historic location next to the railway tracks at 45 Cambria Street. Locals will know the facility as the former Pounder Brothers Building at Junction 56. Want to learn more? Stop by on Saturdays at 1 pm for a tour and taste and purchase some local spirits to stock your home bar with some local flavour. Bring a friend and share the spirits at Junction 56.

Stratford Farmers Market: Every Saturday 7 am–12 pm at the Stratford Rotary Complex

Slow Food Sunday Market: Every Sunday at the Falstaff Family Centre

The restaurant at Mercer Hall Inn offers chef-inspired artisanal food and drink featuring local cuisine, Ontario-focused wines and house-infused cocktails. A little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, chef Ryan O’Donnell’s dishes focus on a combination of fresh and rich flavours that leave you craving more. Visit Mercer Hall for lunch or dinner and late night.

London …

Start the new year with some new eating and drinking experiences. Consider joining the newly-initiated London chapter of the Ontario Wine Society; meetings are held each month, with guest speakers, presentations, and wine portfolios.

On January 15th, an enduring London favourite, Willie’s Café, will have a 20th birthday. Willie’s has been around for 33 years, but it was on January 15, 1996 that Ian Kennard and Kent Van Dyk took over ownership. (Kent later left to pursue his culinary career, and is currently working in Ottawa). Ian is looking forward to celebrating with longtime colleagues Cindy Koivu and Gail Rains.

Another of our long-time favourites, Blackfriars Bistro & Catering, is also celebrating a 20th anniversary — in February. Stalwart Betty Heydon leads a stellar kitchen team to consistent levels of excellence. The artsy culinary landmark has dealt with the closed-open-closed Blackfriars Bridge (likely permanently closed to vehicles now) debacle with aplomb, despite Google maps continuing to steer new Downtown visitors to the bridge, rather than swing around via Wharncliffe Road. Blackfriars is seating for Valentine’s Day on both Saturday, Feb. 13 and on the big day too. Reservations for this intimate bistro setting are highly recommended.

With 28 years of food skills training, advocacy for careers in food service, and a commitment to a local, sustainable food system, London Training Centre is pleased to announce that the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has funded London Training Centre for a second year to provide a Culinary Pre-Apprenticeship program. The first of two sessions began in January, and the second intake will occur in April/May.

Last year’s pilot program was a success with the students in four months of full-time practical instruction, provided by chefs Steve James and John Fisher. This was by followed by 12-week paid work placements with restaurants such as Roco Taco, Bertoldi’s Trattoria, Dolcetto and The Red Rabbit, and with Chef David Van Eldik at the Convention Centre.

Some London Training Centre students have moved on into culinary programs at Fanshawe College, which strengthens LTC’s relationship with that institution. This year will mark the 10th anniversary of LTC providing a $1,000 bursary annually to a second-year culinary student selected by the facility (economic need and academic performance are criteria). The LTC have also provided two $500 bursaries to graduates of G. A. Wheable Secondary School enrolled in food-related post-secondary programs.

Londoners have been feeling like they are part of the family at Mykonos Restaurant & Takeout for over 40 years. Matriarch Hiedi Vamvalis is still doling out the hugs and husband Bill is quietly doing his part as always, but they are simplifying life a little with slightly shorter hours. Mykonos will be open for lunch until close on Thursdays and Fridays, and open from 2:30 pm–9pm every other day. This is what slowing down translates into for this hard-working couple! “Our heart is here,” says Bill. No wonder so many have voted them London’s “Best Greek Restaurant” the last three years running.

Fire Roasted Coffee we take possession of its Wortley Village location on February 1st and hopes to be open by early spring. The building was part of the Tuckey Home Hardware expansion, and the hardware store section is now up and running.

Shannon Kamins and Shawn Slade, owners of Booch Organic Kombucha, are experts in the art and science of fermented foods. From oatmeal and cabbage, to sweetened-teas, they love to consume and share their delicious fermented whole organic foods and beverages. Of all the local and seasonal ferments, they found their passion and talent in making craft kombucha and eventually opening Booch Organic Kombucha or “Booch.”

Londonlicious is back and will run Jan. 14–Feb. 7. Prix fixe menu options range as low as $15 for lunch to $40 dinners, and everything in between. This has been popular and reservations are recommended.

Old South’s Idlewyld Inn is presenting a Dinner/Dance with Jim Chapman & The Incontinentals on January 22, and then two special Valentine’s Day Jazz Shows and Dinners featuring London vocalist Sonja Gustafson on February 13 and 14. The Inn will be serving up High Tea on January 16 and February 14. And be sure to check out their Scotch Tasting event on February 26.

Tourism London announced that trivago, the world’s largest online hotel search site, has ranked London as one of two Ontario cities in their Top Ten Best Value Index for 2016. London and Niagara on the Lake are the only Ontario cities in the top ten. The trivago Best Value Index ranks cities based on a combination of consumer ratings and average hotel prices, with 100% being the top score. Only destinations with at least 30 hotels and a minimum average of 150 user ratings per hotel were considered in this index.

Locomotive Espresso will be celebrating their second anniversary on February 20. Make sure to read their Twitter and Facebook posts on this day to see what they’ve brewed up for customers. As seating at times can be at a premium, they have a community table and bar for everyone to share the space. Don’t be shy, you’ll meet awesome people, make friends and can learn something new about our great city.

Warm up this winter as they are serving drinking chocolate (xocolatl) made with chocolate from ChocoSol in Toronto. ChocoSol’s products are organic, forest garden, shade grown cacao, sourced directly from horizontal trade relationships with Indigenous communities in the Lacondon Jungle of Chiapas and the Oaxacan mountains of Southern Mexico. The chocolates are made without dairy, gluten, soy and nuts, and are also vegan. They specialize in both eating chocolate and drinking chocolate (xocolatl). Locomotive is also selling their chocolate bars, xocolatl and cacao nibs.

A new healthy-inspired menu has launched at BEGOS downtown. Ivette Calderon opened the Mexican cafeteria-style restaurant at 129 Dundas last year. The term “bego” was coined by her mother to describe the baked, stuffed baguette that she created. The focus here is on healthy baked bread made with whole wheat, flax seed oil, and other quality ingredients.

One of our favourite diners, Toddle Inn, which opened with a simple menu and a large, horseshoe-shaped counter in 1947, has announced its closing. Nearly seventy years later, it is still operated by the Egleston family. It was refurbished several years ago and has remained a well-loved destination. The closing leaves Campus Hi-Fi as the longest surviving diner-style establishment on Richmond Row.

Toddle Inn Update: Denis Dimitrakopoulos, owner of Metro Parking, plans to re-open the Toddle Inn as the Soula Cafe, named for his wife. Dimitrakopoulos was born into a farming family near the Greek city of Kalithea and immigrated to Canada 47 years ago. The cafe will serve Greek-Canadian fare.

Sommelier Mike Fish and Chef Yoda Olinyk have secured a restaurant premises (name and exact location are top secret for now) but it will be on Richmond Row and it will be privately owned by the chef and sommelier. Meanwhile, Chef Olinyk’s Yoda’s Kitchen has expanded and is now open Wednesdays from 11 am–6 pm for light lunch and seasonal to-go meals at the commercial kitchen and storefront in St. Thomas, and is open for cooking classes, workshops and events. Yoda’s Kitchen is also a new vendor at Western Fair Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market.

Robbin Azzopardi has joined Marvin Rivas at Che Restobar as manager. Che features unique, distinctive and delicious modern cuisine inspired by the rich culinary cultures of Latin America. Located in the heart of downtown London, they are open six days a week and can cater to all occasions.

The Covent Garden Market Farmers’ Market moves inside for the chilly winter months. Join them for their Winter Indoor Farmers’ Market, on Saturday mornings beginning January 16th to March 19th, from 9 am–1 pm., upstairs on the mezzanine. You can expect some of your favourite farmers, bakers and crafters to be there with local produce, meat, cheese, baking, hand-made soaps and jewelry.

In conjunction with the Winter Indoor farmers’ market, come to the free Saturday’s Supper cooking classes from 11am-noon each Saturday the market is running, upstairs in the Market Kitchen. Taught by local chefs, these demonstration classes will give you some inspiring ideas for simple and tasty meals made with market-fresh ingredients! And stop by the centre court of the market each Saturday from 10:30 am–1:30 pm, for some free samples of tasty products from market vendors.

We want to congratulate bartender extraordinaire and hospitality professional Rebecca Wright, who is celebrating a 30-year milestone anniversary at the Double Tree Inn (former Hilton) this February. Wright has been a dedicated mainstay at the lounge attached to the newly-refurbished Blakes and has long been one of London’s unsung tourism ambassadors and Downtown London proponents.

Marienbad, a Carling Street mainstay offering “a taste of Europe” for four decades and counting, has gained a following by hosting interactive Murder Mystery evenings where guests are encouraged to play different roles. Upcoming Murder Mystery dates are January 29 & February 26th. And watch for Marienbadfest January 15th to 31st.

Shawn Saraga is the President and the visionary of the franchise and real estate development consulting agency called Mr. Franchise and Marathon Realty Inc. After a long-time in development, Saraga is redeveloping the former Brass Door premises at the Park Lane Hotel. Twisted Toque is expected to be a Canadian-themed franchise restaurant pilot.

Luis Rivas and family continue to provide Latin flavour and ambience at their much larger True Taco Authentic Comedor Latino, across from the former premises on Dundas Street, near the Aeolian Hall. This lively cantina, with vibrant red walls and plenty of comfortable seating areas including a private room, is now licensed.

Val Andrew’s The Harvest Pantry, located on the 2nd floor of the Farmers’ & Artisans’ Market at Western Fair, also operates at the Stratford Slow Food Market on Sundays. The food and kitchen small wares vendor focuses on preparing small batch ferments, like shrubs, sauerkraut, kimchi, cultured mustards, miso and kombucha.


Do you have culinary news or upcoming events that you’d like us to share? Get in touch with us at and/or connect directly with our Social Media Editor Bryan Lavery at

About the author

The Editors