Hot Chocolate at Fika, Toronto, Canada

 

Hot Chocolate at Fika, Toronto, CanadaI get it now. For years I’ve heard everyone going on about how fantastic Toronto is, but I’ve never understood why. I thought it was just a big, impersonal city, but then again I had never really spent any time in Toronto. But now that I’ve finally spent a few days there, I get it. What I have loved the most about Toronto is all these fascinating little pockets of life it has spread out across the city and perhaps one of the most unlikely pockets, just minutes from the business district, is Kensington market.

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Kensington market is a handful of blocks, mainly following a zig zag shape, lined with specialty stores in particular food stores. We fell in love with one store called the Good Egg which was filed with stunning cookbooks from around the world. The whole area has a funky and artistic vibe, lots of graffiti and artistic touches.

Right in the heart of this little zig zag market is Fika. The word fika in Swedish is a verb that means “to go out for coffee”. There it is common to invite friends to have coffee and a sweet snack every few hours during the workday. Instead of coffee we chose their Lavender White Hot Chocolate.
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I woke up excited about trying this unique hot chocolate as the starting point to our exploration of Kensington market and I wasn’t disappointed at all. The frothy perfectly white drink was presented in an orange Le Crueset earthenware mug. Just before you take your first sip your nose is filled with the calming scent of lavender. It looks and at first tastes like hot milk, but with a much richer and creamier finish. It enveloped my taste buds and the rest of me like a big fluffy duvet on a cold morning.

Actually if it wasn’t for the coffee counter…and the other guests…, add in a big comfy bed and I would have been more than happy to wake up here. The small space feels bright and airy with very pale blue walls with delicate green accents. A handful of large photos of eagles and wild horses in their natural habitats in shades of whites and greys hang on the walls. Two large comfortable looking light grey chairs with fussy blue throws draped over the back are pushed up against one wall. The bright morning sun shined straight through the windows and flooded the café. At that moment I couldn’t have thought of a better way to have started our chilly Toronto morning.

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Verdict: An absolutely beautiful hot chocolate. As unique as Kensington market, perhaps even more. Now one of my favourites. CDN$4 Fika, 28 Kensington Ave, Toronto, Canada

 FIKA Café on Urbanspoon

 

 

December 15th, 2014|Canada, NORTH AMERICA, Toronto|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Nadege, Toronto, Canada

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I had been walking around Toronto for eight hours before I arrived at Nadege. I was so tired and dehydrated by this stage, that everything was a bit of a blur. I remember having to ask the woman behind the counter to describe the hot chocolates they offered three times in a row because I could hardly concentrate and then finally just asked her to give me all of them. Luckily there were two of us and two hot chocolate offerings so in the end I didn’t sound as crazy as I thought I did (hopefully).

Nadege is the creation of Chef Nadege Nourian, a fourth generation pastry chef born in Lyon France. The store is right in the middle of West Queen West, a unique and colourful street lined with interesting small businesses, restaurants and cafes. It is also in the middle of what I started calling Espresso Alley because, apart from Nadege, every shop selling a drink on this street seems to be a coffee shop. Nadege with its clean white front and neon purple sign sticks out and acts like a clear beacon for hot chocolate lovers like me.

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Inside the shop is long and narrow. Up front along one wall is a long display case carrying all the delicious items you expect from such a place. At the very back is a glass wall separating us from the kitchen where they prepare all of their delicious cakes. We sat down at a table right next to the window and watched as a handful of pastry chefs prepared their creations. One young man was peeling apples for what seemed like an hour and then proceeded to cut them up into small pieces. He was making us very nervous with the knife he was wielding …he just didn’t seem too confident with it and we worried so much that something might happen that we had to look away. I suspect he feels more at home with a spoon than with a knife. But whatever he was preparing looked pretty good.

The store sells a variety of perfect looking macaroons and other chocolates in boxes featuring the work of Canadian artists. They also have a range of chocolate tablets, each packaged in a different coloured packaging and each featuring a different letter of the alphabet and a different flavor profile.

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After a few glasses of water to perk myself back up I was ready for my mysterious hot chocolates. The first was a Gourmet hot chocolate, 72% cacao with milk, sugar and some other good stuff (that was all Rich remembered from the description, I remembered nothing). The other which took a bit longer to prepare was made with Illanka chocolate which we were told is available in Canada only though Nadege. It is from the Piura region of northern Peru and was especially creamy and as it cooled down you really got the fruity notes as well. The hot chocolates were beautiful, brought me back to life and gave me the energy to continue our exploration of West Queen West and all the fantastic and unique things it had to offer.

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Verdict: A beacon of goodness in must visit West Queen West. Beautiful hot chocolates and very patient staff! Nadege, 780 Queen St. West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

 
Nadege Patisserie on Urbanspoon
 

December 11th, 2014|Canada, NORTH AMERICA, Toronto|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Balzac’s, Toronto, Canada

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I’m a big fan of food tours, and I think one of the best ways to experience a new city or a new country is through its food. Food tours allow you to get straight to the heart of a city or district, introducing you to the local food legends and produce and most importantly, filling you up!

So not surprisingly, on my first day in Toronto I signed up for a food tour with The Culinary Adventure Company of the St. Lawrence Market and the Old Town. I liked the fact that their tours are run by chefs themselves, and we got the fantastic Chef Kevin Durkee as our guide who apart from giving these great tours also has Canada’s ultimate cheese restaurant, Cheesewerks, which is all about everything cheese (Kevin do you have a hot chocolate with cheese? Highly recommend it. Check out this example from Melbourne.)
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So myself along with 3 other visitors started a 3 hours tour of the area during which Kevin covered lots of history and told plenty of interesting stories. I learnt that the St. Lawrence market was named by National Geographic in 2012 as the best market in the world, however having been to some stunning markets around the world I was more than a bit skeptical about this gigantic claim. The St. Lawrence market may not get my vote for the best market in the world, but I can see clearly how it got this title. This 200 year old market is filled with some incredible family businesses. We had Toronto’s famous Peameal Bacon sandwich, tasted Kozlik’s spicy mustards, got a lesson in cheese tasting from the master and tasted Kangaroo jerky (maybe not so Canadian but interesting nevertheless).

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The very first thing we did on our tour was visit Balzac’s to fill up with caffeine (or hot chocolate in my case). Balzac is a much loved Toronto staple. The founder, Diana Olsen, fell in love with coffee while travelling in France and then studied it in the US, roasting her own coffee. She pitched her idea on the Canadian version of Dragons’ Den, a TV show where entrepreneurs can get funding and did well enough that she was able to expand to eight locations in and around Toronto. They sell a number of specialized coffees including seasonally sourced coffee sold in limited edition. Balzac’s has been offering Fair Trade Organic coffee, sugar and cocoa since 1997 and all milk used is organic and locally sourced. The cafes are all also certified as Environmentally Accountable Food service by Leaf meaning that it demonstrates high commitment in a number of key sustainability areas including energy use, building, waste disposal and employee policies.

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Balzac’s is obviously known for its coffee, but I enjoyed their hot chocolate offering as well. It was light yet creamy with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. It was a great accompaniment to the fantastic stories that Chef Kevin told us about the area around the market.

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Verdict: Would definitely recommend both the food tour with Culinary Adventure Co. and Balzac’s hot chocolate to go with it. Balzac’s, 10 Market Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

 

Balzacs Market Street on Urbanspoon

December 8th, 2014|Canada, NORTH AMERICA, Toronto|0 Comments

Hot Chocolate at Cluny, Toronto, Canada

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Toronto’s Distillery District is unique. Ten years ago a small group of developers saw these derelict Victorian Industrial buildings that had been pronounced a national historic site and imagined transforming it not into a tourist village, but into an area that showcases fantastic food, designs and ideas. Since 2003 this area which was once the site of the Gooderham and Woorts Distillery, is now full of restaurants, stores and galleries (and still quite a lot of beer). It is often used as a film set and tonight was full of models and beautiful looking people walking home after a fashion show in one of its many artistic spaces.

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It was rainy and cold out so our first stop in the Distillery District was actually Soma Chocolates where we had our hot chocolate fix for the evening…or so we thought. Before we left there we asked some of the staff where they thought we should go for dinner and they were unanimous in saying we should go to Cluny just across the lane.

It was still raining when we walked outside to Cluny but it wasn’t keeping people away. The Distillery District was quiet, but Cluny was jam packed and buzzing with energy. To the left of the entrance is a French bakery complete with baguettes and pain au chocolate. To the right is a bar area full of mirrors and glasses of champagne. But we wanted to be in the stunning the main room.

The restaurant is inspired by a French bistro and takes a lot of elements from one, while at the same time being nothing like a French bistro. It is playful and fresh, very romantic with touches from around the world. The beautifully decorated ceiling and floors have a Mediterranean, almost northern African feel. Several large glass displays are filled with illustrated china. There is a seafood bar area where you can sit and watch the staff preparing the fresh seafood (Torontonians apparently love their seafood). A long table in the middle of the restaurant is covered in freshly baked breads, cut up and presented to us at our table.

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The food was light and colourful and soooo good. Our waitresse brought us course after course of beautiful food, fresh oysters from PEI, rib eye for Rich and a drunken tuna for me. At the end of all of it, happy and full we spotted Hot Chocolate on the dessert menu and couldn’t resist. “Ohhh you made a good choice” hums the waitress. “the hot chocolate here is so good, I’m so jealous”. She goes on to describe that it is made from a super thick bittersweet ganache made in house by their chef using his own secret recipe. She then prepares it using condensed milk and presents it to use with a few shortbread squares on the side. It was light and malty and delicious. A perfect finish to a perfect meal and night out.

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Verdict: Great all around. I’m dying to go back. Cluny, 35 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

December 2nd, 2014|Canada, NORTH AMERICA, Toronto|1 Comment