Last year saw a lot of changes on the London restaurant scene. Chef Thomas Waite’s Spruce on Wellington opened in January — his cuisine is expertly handcrafted, classic in its influences, innovative in sensibility and plating. The Wolfe brothers set the benchmark with the stellar Wolfe of Wortley (which ranked among Air Canada’s list of Canada’s Best New Restaurants of 2017). The brothers then opened the Mexican-themed Los Lobos in August. All at once, Craft Farmacy, Reverie Restaurant, Plant Matter Bistro, and Hunter & Co. opened in the late fall. Hot on their heels came the Wine Bar in Wortley Village (replacing the former Gusto). Che Restobar and Icarus have recently re-launched. David’s Bistro is expected to relaunch mid-January. That the Wolfe brothers are taking over the Harvest Bakery in Wortley Village means that things are not slowing down anytime soon.
Here is a brief but close-up look at four of London’s newest and hottest restaurants.
Dispensing Deliciousness at Craft Farmacy
The talented Jazey-Spoelstra and Wolwowicz are partnered in Craft Farmacy with Harmen Spoelstra. General Manager Geoff Hammond and Assistant Manager Cody Ballman round out a powerhouse restaurant team. This is the ultimate neighbourhood restaurant. With 112 seats, it features sharing plates, fabulous house cocktails, craft beer, a superior wine list and plenty of pizzazz. There is a private event space with room for 40 on the second floor.
Jazey-Spoelstra’s stylish design sensibility is reflected in Craft Farmacy, and delivers style and comfort, with attention to the smallest details. Setting the tone are a long bar, stunning fireplace, custom-made leather banquettes and repurposed tables with comfortable chairs. The servers’ leather aprons are custom designed by Coakley’s.
Jazey-Spoelstra delivers cutting-edge and quality food experiences combined with extraordinary service, her forte and hallmark as owner of North Moore Catering, River Room and Rhino Lounge. Wolwowicz (formerly of The Springs on Springbank Drive) cooks with reverence and purpose, sourcing ingredients from producers and farms dedicated to sustainable agriculture. Wolwowicz is aided by sous chef Kyle Trafford and cook Jayden Wickert. Menu items are progressive, rustic in style, featuring high quality ingredients crafted from local, region-specific and specialty products, and executed with aptitude, innovation and attention to detail.
At a couple of pre-opening menu tastings we watched Chef and Spoelstra tweak and fine-tune every nuance of the menu. Chef and his team are big on prep and having mise en place ready, allowing for a quick and easy execution of the dishes.
We enjoyed Roasted Bone Marrow with Ox Tail Marmalade; Lamb Belly Croquettes; Chicken Schnitzel with Warm Potato Salad, Forked River Abbey Jus and Rapini; and Black Pepper Crusted Duck Breast, Root Vegetable and Duck Confit Hash with Blood Orange Gastrique. There is a fresh oyster bar featuring a changing selection including Malpeque, Irish Point, Daisy Bay, Raspberry Point, Lucky Lime and Savage Blonde varieties.
Craft Farmacy is London’s first Feast ON certified “Taste of Ontario” restaurant. Feast ON is a criteria-based certification program designed to promote, market, and protect the authenticity of foodservice operators whose specific attributes qualify their commitment to local food. It is a program designed to help you experience restaurants that champion Ontario food and beverages. The program uses both verification and enforcement mechanisms to maintain its integrity.
449 Wharncliffe Road South, 519-914-2699
Thoughtful Modern Canadian Cuisine at Reverie Restaurant
There has been a movement towards a modern, minimalist cuisine that is natural, but also resolutely seasonal, local, and with a focus on pristine ingredients and terroir. New Nordic Cuisine has been a phenomenal success, one that has resonated with chefs all over the world. London-based chef Brian Sua-an has adapted the Nordic discipline in refining the spectrum of Canadian flavours. This is a new concept, modern, minimalist and hyper-curated.
Before Reverie opened, I attended a tasting menu preview that garnered spectacular reviews. This is an intimate 500-square-foot space with four tables of two (or a communal table of eight) and four seats at the bar with an open kitchen. There is one five-course tasting menu that changes. The goal is to serve inventive and intelligent cuisine based on simple, high-quality ingredients and traditional techniques. Everything else is secondary. By keeping everything simple, from the pared-down equipment (dishes are hand-washed) to the minimalist interior, the environmental footprint is kept to bare bones. The focus is on innovation in a casual and relaxed setting.
Reverie is operated by Sua-an and his wife Jerrah Reville. Sua-an previously staged at NOMA and at 108 Restaurant in Copenhagen. It had been his dream to open a restaurant, but he never thought of it as a 12-seater, let alone serving a tasting menu only. Chef uses modern techniques and applies them to his cuisine to make a dish better, not less. Using seasonal and local produce is important, but quality is paramount. Chef plans food items months in advance, but also intends that the concept and development will evolve organically. Chef gravitates to perfect ingredients and goes to great lengths to source the very best of what is available. Forests, meadows and waters provide a diverse range of edible wild plants and funghi to forage for the menu. Chef encourages diners to eat specific courses with their hands.
The glassed frontage is reminiscent of a terrarium and somehow seems fitting allowing the outdoors to be part of the experience. Sua-an says, “Simplicity with quality comes first. Everything else is secondary.”
1–208 Piccadilly Street
Reservations only, Wednesday to Sunday or by special arrangement
Speakeasy Ambience with a Big City Vibe at Hunter & Co.
Restaurateur Erin Dunham and executive chef Matt Kershaw of The Other Bird restaurant group in Hamilton have expertly refurbished the former Kantina/Black George space on Talbot Street for their latest restaurant project. Hunter & Co. is a sultry cocktail bar/lounge with a speakeasy vibe featuring interesting hot food, as well as charcuterie and fresh oysters. We attended the soft opening and realized immediately that if you want a seriously well-crafted cocktail this is the place to go. We could sit at the bar all evening and watch Dave Fauteux and crew craft cocktails.
The restaurant’s urban vibe takes inspiration from two of their Hamilton-based restos: Rapscallion Rogue Eatery (offering culinary connoisseurs a full nose-to-tail experience) and a little bit of Two Black Sheep (offering oysters, charcuterie, salumi, cheese and pickles, carefully crafted cocktails, awesome wine and delicious craft beer). Menu items, described as “big-flavour-probably-bad-for-you cooking,” include Confit Lamb Shoulder, Tongue ‘n’ Cheek, “The Best Grilled Cheese,” Pumpkin Seed Crusted Whitefish, Pig Ear Poutine, Halloumi Tikka Masala, Fried Calamari and Korean Fried Chicken.
Whether you’re visiting the chef-driven and carnivore-focused Rapscallion Rogue Eatery, Two Black Sheep, or playful taco bar The Mule in Hamilton, Burro in Burlington (serving everything from ahi tuna ceviche to fish tacos), or the Woolf & Wilde at the elegant-and-boutique Arlington Hotel in Paris, Ontario, the motto is “And we just want satisfy you.”
Hunter & Co.
349 Talbot Street
3:30 pm–until late, seven days a week
Organic, Plant-Based Indulgence at Plant Matter Bistro
Plant Matter Bistro, across from the Central Library, is a fine dining version of the popular Wortley Village Plant Matter Kitchen. Owner Glen Whitehead says that the bistro takes its inspiration from New York, while Plant Matter Kitchen is inspired by San Francisco.
Executive chef Michael Thorogood and chef Zach McIntyre use local ingredients that are 100-per-cent organic and vegan. They work with a number of local independent farmers to secure that farm-to-table, as close to fresh and as close to its natural state food experience as possible. Open for lunch and dinner, the stylish restaurant features dishes inspired by global cuisines. The folks at Plant Matter Bistro are serving up dishes like empanadas, cauliflower pot-au-feu, chickpea and mushroom burgers, sweet potato gnocchi, gourmet grilled cheese, ravioli, bibimbaps, and enchiladas. A share board features caponata, hummus, olives, crostini, pickled cauliflower and cucumber and a selection of nuts for cheese. The house-made ravioli with chèvre, cheddar, ricotta and charred tomato sauce are exceptional. There is a chocolate cheesecake with almonds, coconut oil, organic cacao, sea salt and brown rice flour that is remarkably rich and decadent.
Plant Matter Bistro
244 Dundas Street
Tuesday to Thursday 11 am–8 pm
Friday and Saturday 8 am–10 pm
Closed Sunday and Monday