For those who are willing to travel, great rewards await. In the case of Katana Kafé & Grill, the good news is that you don’t have to travel too far.
On the outskirts of London, nestled beside the roaring tarmack of London International Airport, lies a hidden gem that patrons may not wish for you to know about. The Katana Kafé & Grill has been a London fixture for well over a decade and in that time it’s managed to cultivate a loyal clientele, while also, somehow, still flying under the radar.
Run by two red seal chefs, Jaime Peña and Executive Chef Chris Morrisson, Katana is everything you’d expect from a downtown establishment. But the distance from the city core has allowed them to dance to the beat to their own drum, without any need to ‘keep up with the Joneses.’
“What attracted me to Katana was that it was completely unique,” says Chef Morrisson. “The menus were different, even back then. This is not your typical restaurant.”
Doing their own thing has led to a menu that’s incredibly flexible for diners with all manner of tastes, including those with dietary restrictions.
“When I was taught to cook, 10 to 15 years ago, it seemed as though everything got floured. But in the last five years I haven’t cooked with gluten intentionally,” says Chef Morrisson. “Instead, we try to use chickpea flours and rice flour, etcetera. Plus we’re focused on getting back to basics, and cooking like French cooks used to — using reductions to thicken sauces. So, many of our dishes end up being gluten-free from top to bottom.”
“We bake all of our breads, and even make our own natural yeast. Our sourdough bread, while not gluten-free, is still made from our own starter. Sourdough is also known to be more gentle, as the fermentation process eats the gluten. The soup on our menu is always dairy-free, gluten-free and vegetarian, while the soup-of-the-day may be cream-based, or include meat.” On a grander scale, as the menu changes for the season, the development process is exciting and collaborative. Culinary inspiration, client feedback and the team’s strong suits are all shared in equal measure.
“When I do a menu, it’s like writing an album,” Chef Morrisson says. “For instance, I may think that this one will be ‘heavy,’ while the next one may be more ‘country.’ But, while I have ideas before I write the menu, [during the process] I’ll share what I’ve been thinking and say ‘let’s turn it into something more tangible or cohesive,’ between the two or three of us. We know we have to play to people’s strengths too. Two years ago we were doing steakhouse style menus, but now we’re doing contemporary global cuisine.”
The end result will always be an eclectic mix, thanks in no small part to the diverse needs and interests of the clientele, who range from corporate lunch-goers to customers who fly in from around the region looking for high-end fare.
“Over lunchtime, our Classic Reuben Sandwich (Montreal smoked meat with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and 1000 Island dressing on toasted marble rye) is a staple that will never go away, and now, neither will our Cubano (pulled pork, Virginia style ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and garlic dijonnaise served on a Vienna roll), the latter of which caused quite a bit of sadness in customers’ eyes when we took it off the menu one season”, says Morrison
“However, we’re also well-known for our steak and fish. Right now, our beef is sourced from a farm just outside of Prescott (north of Peterborough), and we get our lake trout (which is served with remoulade sauce, and lemon) from Manitoulin.”
“Our burger is also pretty epic. I think everyone’s seen one of those shows where some host with bleach blonde spikey hair shows off burgers that have half a foot of dusted onions piled on, or a fried egg, and we thought ‘we can do that.’ It was a bit scary at first to offer it on the menu, but we’ve found that there’s a market for it — and it’s always fun to see people’s faces when it comes out, or as they try to figure out how to eat it.”
“Over the weekend, we also offer breakfast and it’s very popular. We have fresh jams, and create our hollandaise from scratch.”
If none of these items pique your fancy, you may be interested to know that during the summer Katana also offers a themed patio menu. This year’s inspiration is Perch, Pizza, and Pinot.
“As the name implies, we’ll be matching a few of our pinot grigios and pinot noirs to perch and pizzas,” Chef Morrisson says.
Katana also has its own signature cocktail menu with various aviation-themed drinks: Runway (raspberry, Curaçao and 7 Up), Horizon (Malibu, cranberry and lemonade), and the Aviation Cocktail (Aviation gin, maraschino, and crème de violette), to name a few.
As one last note — for those who are fascinated by everything aviation — the pinnacle of action occurs at Katana when Airshow London, the largest military air display in Canada, comes to town (September 13 to 15). For this special event, the restaurant plans a fixed-price, custom three-course menu, and offers customers the best seat in the house to view the planes landing and taking off. If the weather cooperates Katana also extends its patio, increasing the seating capacity to make more room for those who wish to sit outside.
All-in-all, while Katana may be “far out, they like it that way” — and regardless of how you journey there — you’ll always be greeted with food and views that let you know you’ve arrived.
Katana Kafé & Grill
2530 Blair Blvd., London
Breakfast: Saturday and Sunday 9 am – 12 pm
Lunch: Monday and Tuesday 11 am – 3 pm
Wednesday to Friday 11 pm – 5 pm
Saturday and Sunday 12 noon – 3 pm
Dinner: Wednesday to Friday 5 pm – 9 pm
Saturday 5 pm – 9 pm;
Sunday 5 pm – 8 pm
Katana staff members, left to right, include : Jaime Pena, Krista White, Reta Coghill, Chris Morrisson, Ben Ferraro, Charlie Zucchero, Cameron Bonnyman, Chris Scott, and Heather McAllister.