When we first moved back to our hometown of London, Ontario from the Toronto area seven years ago, I was somewhat disappointed in the local food scene compared to what we had in the GTA. But one bright spot on the horizon was the London Wine & Food Show. We've been going to the show since its first year and it has gotten better and better every year. And the food scene in London has gotten better and better too. It's running this weekend, January 10-12 so check it out if you get the chance!
My new favourite restaurant in London was represented at the Wine & Food Show. The Early Bird is a local diner downtown, right across from Budweiser Gardens (formerly the JLC). We had dinner here one night before a London Lightning basketball game, and it was amazing. They have fantastic sandwiches and entrées and the housemade perogies are the best I've ever had. At the Wine & Food Show they're serving up duck and smoked meat sliders with chips. Both are absolutely fantastic.
The Wine & Food Show has different sections to highlight local counties, and this year they've added a "Man Cave" to attract some dudes, I guess, focusing on beer and spirits. I'm not really onboard with this idea because the whole place is great for men and women and there are local beers featured all over the show. But that's where The Early Bird is, and also my new favourite pop - Dry Soda. The cucumber soda is so delicious and refreshing on its own or with vodka, and they have vanilla bean, blood orange, lime and rhubarb flavours as well as lavender and juniper berry. These make a great mixer and are also nice on their own. They're available in London at Remark, Sunripe and Covent Garden Market.
You may be aware that I love hard cider. Twin Pines Cider House is in Thedford, Ontario, about an hour West of London, right near Pinery Provincial Park. They have a great little orchard where they sell several varieties of cider in growlers. It is fantastic.
The show works on a ticket system. Most wine samples are 2 tickets ($2), but fancier wines and spirits are more. Some of the LCBO Vintages selections were up to 18 tickets for a 2oz sample! Many beer samples are only 1 ticket. Food ranges from 1 to 6 tickets, depending on the portion size. So we were able to cobble together a nice dinner out of several "sample" plates.
This was our main course. Top of the Fair seems to have some of the best value and most delicious food each year. Last year it was a beef, mashed potatoes and gravy served in a martini glass, and this year we had pork ribs with parsnip creamed potatoes and crispy onion straws. The ribs were very tasty and the portion was impressive.
Each year there's also more and more spirits represented and this year there were plenty of cocktails available. You may know how much I love tequila. Tromba is an independent tequila from Mexico founded by a Canadian. It was very tasty in a margarita.
Right next door were some amazingly delicious quesadillas from Fonda Lola. They're opening a restaurant in Toronto and currently do catering. The guys were so nice and the food was fantastic.
I think the tastiest thing I tried at the whole show was the Five Brothers cheese from Gunn's Hill Artisan Cheese in Woodstock. It's a cow's milk cheese similar to Gouda and it tastes unbelievable. I can't believe it's made so close to home. We plan to visit the cheese shop in the spring but until then we bought some at the show to bring home.
We also tried a cheese plate from Thornloe Cheese in Northern Ontario and bought their Temiskaming cheese, a wine-washed goat's cheese and some curds to bring home.
We had a delicious bite of asparagus wrapped in duck proscuitto from Braywick Bistro.
We also tried some Jalapeno Cheddar Sausage from Farmgate Deli and Fresh Meat and I plan to check out their St. Thomas shop for local meat products.
And I finally tried something I've always wanted to try - Nepalese Dumplings. I see these dumplings from Momo's at the Market every time I visit the Western Fair Farmer's Market and I've always wanted to try them and finally had some tonight. There's veggie and pork and they were spectacular. I especially loved the pork ones.
But what about the wine? Besides cider, my favourite thing to try is all the Prosecco, Cava and other sparkling wine. But I tried some nice Shiraz and Pinot Grigio too.
And now I'll pass it over to Matt to talk about all the local beer he tried at the show...
Even though I'd had this one at Milos' before, I have to say, I was impressed, not only with the beer itself (despite the fact that I generally tend to prefer styles other than lagers) but also with how friendly the staff was. Easy-drinking but still interesting, I'll be sureto visit their church-turned-store in the Niagara region once it is up and running.
Hops & Bolts India Pale Lager by Mad & Noisy (new brand by Creemore Springs)
Apparently, Creemore Springs created their new Mad & Noisy brand to do more non-traditional styles, starting with their India Pale Lager. Once again, lager isn't my favourite but once again, this one was still worth drinking. Nice citrusy notes... far more interesting than a typical lager.
The cool thing about Ramblin' Road is that they are a "brewery farm", which means they actually grow their own hops. The beer itself was decent and balanced but not quite as intense or interesting as I personally prefer. That said, kudos to them for their business model and for the fact that they are starting to grow more interesting hops and barley varietals for future beers.
Ok, enough with the lagers. Let's get on to the big boys. I had the St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout when I first arrived, but if you haven't already tried that one, shame on you. As for the Railway City Black Coal Stout, it was pretty darn good. Nice bitterness and roasted notes... not fantastic, but they are working towards it.
This was one of the more pleasant surprises of the show. The first Nickel Brook beer I ever tried was at the Food & Wine show five years ago or so. It was their green apple beer and while I'm sure it has its fans, I am not among them. What a difference five years and the change in the Ontario craft beer scene makes. This stout was deep, rich, creamy, bitter and delicious, which leads me to...
As much as bourbon-barrel-aged stouts are incredibly popular on Ratebeer, more often than not, I find myself preferring the original stout they are based upon. Perhaps I just love stout more than bourbon, but I usually find them either too strong on the bourbon end or just unnecessary. That said, this one worked. It just added depth of flavour and another nice note to appreciate. Best news of all? They told me Milos already picked up two kegs of it, just in case you don't make it to the Food & Wine show. Cheers!
[Also of note at the show to beer aficionados Mill Street brought their Paradise IPA and Vanilla Porter, Muskoka brought their Twice as Mad Tom DIPA on tap, Granville's Winter Ale was there, Lake of Bays had two different booths (one in the main room and one in the "Man Cave"), and all the other local / Ontario stuff you might expect. I didn't try Bud Light Platinum but I'm sure it is... umm... bad. Also, there was a little magazine called Indulge, which highlighted some Ontario beers and local brewers and craft beer pubs.]