Notes from the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia (BC), which contain the main wine regions like the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, and the Okanagan Valley in BC. I ate in around 30 restaurants during a trip in 2006, then returned to Vancouver and the Rocky Mountains in 2012. This report includes reviews from both trip, all restaurants still operating as of 2013.
Toronto: Sassafraz, 100 Cumberland Ave. Tel: (416) 964 2222
I had lunch twice in Sassafraz, one-week apart. It’s a terrific people-watching spot in the posh shopping district of Yorkville, with pavement tables and a smart dining room. On both occasions I had their house burger: ground Angus tenderloin beef with molasses braised onions and nicely mature cheddar cheese, served with sweet mustard butter and a large bowl of chunky fries. This is a hip and trendy place not losing sight of really good quality food. A top spot for lunch or brunch. Open every day, 11:30 – 02:00.
Toronto: Scaramouche, 1 Benvenuto Place. Tel : (416) 961 8011
A real institution, Scaramouche is rather hidden away in the ground floor of an apartment building (we took a taxi) and has been one of the city’s top spots for 25 years. It is in a slightly elevated position offering fantastic views of the skyline, and is an extremely good, if rather middle-aged and middle-class dining experience. The food is solidly European haute cuisine in style, and there is a fantastic wine list at approachable prices. Relaxed and confident in style, an evening here is pretty expensive at around $100 (£50) a head for dinner, and whilst it is far from cutting edge, it does what it does really well.
Toronto: Ruth’s Chris, 145 Richmond Street W. Tel: (416) 955 1455
Ruth’s Chris is a chain of steak houses across North America, which might bear some resemblance to the UK Aberdeen Steak House formula, but that resemblance is entirely superficial. The steak here is not cheap, but it is absolutely prime beef, matured for extra flavour, and prepared and served immaculately. I had a classic three courses of Caesar salad (excellent), fillet steak with fries and onion rings (irresistible) and cheesecake. I was surprised at the quality of the wine list, with lots of local wines (we drank the white and red wines from Stratus in Ontario) and reasonable mark-ups. A meal like this in Ruth’s will run to around $100 a head (£50) without wine.
Niagara-on-the-Lake: Stone Road Grill, Garrison Plaza, corner of Mary and Mississauga. Tel: (905) 468 3474
Niagara-on-the-Lake is a picture postcard village in the heart of the Niagara wine region, on the shores of Lake Ontario. The other dining choices here are on Queen Street at the village’s centre, but Stone Road Grill is well worth searching out for some of the best food in town, served in a very unpretentious setting. Beware also that it has no external signage, but ask and you will find it. We had a daily special of a selection of three different Canadian oysters, served with a brilliant salsa, then I had a saffron Linguini, the hand-made pasta filled with sautéed prawns, confit tomato and basil that was deliciously flavoursome. For dessert, cloudberry crème brûlée with walnut cookies was as good as it sounds, and espresso was top notch. The wine list is great, with an ever changing “reserve selection”, and a good by the glass range. Highly recommended and only about $40 a head (£20) excluding wine.insider tip: right opposite Stone Road Grill is one of Canada’s best bakeries where pastry chef Catherine O’Donnell turns out impeccable cakes, pastries and chocolates, plus there’s a small sit-in coffee area. Open for breakfast.
Niagara-on-the-lake: EscabÃ¨che. Tel: (888) 669 5566
Within the upmarket Prince of Wales hotel, EscabÃ¨che offers European-influenced fine dining in a pretty room with picture windows to one the world’s most picturesque main streets. The food here is very good, and as much of the produce as possible is sourced locally, including the scallops and slow-braised pork belly in my unusual starter, served on a bed of black beans and cabbage. For my main course I ordered a pan-roasted fillet of cod, and though I can’t recall the accompaniments, it was a really well cooked piece of fish. Sommelier Fred Gamula is encyclopaedic in his knowledge of local wines, and provides very helpful advice. I stayed in this hotel too, and breakfasts are delicious – especially the French toast, cut as thick as a bible and piled high with strawberry compote. Around $100 per person, excluding wine.
Niagara-on-the-lake: Ristorante Giardino. Tel: (905) 468-3263
Another restaurant within a hotel, at the other end of Queen Street from EscabÃ¨che. The dining room here is modern and minimalist, but the food is pretty solid traditional Italian, done competently. That word sums up my salad Caprese, with good local tomatoes, which I followed with Osso Buco, braised in Guinness (okay, that’s not very Italian) and served with garlicky fried potatoes. Around $70 per person excluding wine.
Niagara-on-the-lake: Fans Court, 135 Queen Street. Tel: (905) 468 4511
Tucked into a little alley just off the main street of the village, Fans Court was recommended by several people for good, inexpensive Chinese food, which is basically what it delivered. There was nothing revelatory here, but it was all freshly made and tasty, with friendly and efficient family-run service. Inexpensive at around $25 excluding drinks.
Niagara Falls: Wolfgang Puck Café, 6300 Fallsview. Tel: (905) 354 5000
Though the falls themselves are tremendously impressive, the town of Niagara Falls has become a mini-Las Vegas over the years, with Casino buffets, cheap diners and fast food dominating the streets. A branch of the Wolfgang Puck chain therefore is a haven of grown-up and rather good food in a bit of a gastronomic wasteland. The café is large, bright and airy, and was disappointingly quiet on my lunch visit given that the downmarket diner across the street was heaving. I enjoyed and excellent Caesar salad, with Romaine lettuce hearts, focaccia croutons and plentiful shavings of Parmesan. With dessert and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the bill for two came in under $60.
Kingsville: The Vintage Goose, 24 Main Street West. Tel: (519) 733 6900
For visiting the wineries of Lake Erie North Shore and Pelee Island, Kingsville is the biggest town and a very good base. The Vintage Goose occupies a lovely historic old building downtown, and serves good food drawn from eclectic sources, where dim sum and Creole ingredients mix with French and Italian cuisine. I remember some very tasty pork tenderloin here, wrapped in Prosciutto and glazed with Chianti. Moderate, at around $50 excluding wine.
Niagara: Dine On the Twenty, Jordan Village. Tel: (905) 562 3581
This restaurant forms part of the Cave Springs Wine Cellars in the village of Jordan, with the lovely Inn On the Twenty guest house just across the road. I had a tasting dinner here with winemaker Tom Pennachetti, and liked it so much I returned for lunch on my own a week later. The large dining room has a wall of windows overlooking vineyards and is serving up some serious cuisine. I started with smoked salmon and Dungeness crab, served on a little cloud of crème fresh topped with caviar, and ringed with an estate Gewürztraminer and cucumber jelly. My main courses included tasting portions of wild boar in filo, lamb and sour cherries and grilled veal sweetbreads on an apricot bread pudding. It was sensationally good, with fine ingredients and precise cooking. I did manage some cheese afterwards, which again was all locally sourced. Terrific at around $80 excluding wine.
Niagara: Vineland Estate, 3620 Moyer Road. Tel: (905) 562 7088
Another winery where my lunch with the winemaker inspired a return visit. The secret here is to reserve a table on the terrace; a stunning spot with views over the vines, then lake Ontario, then Toronto in the distance. There are two menus on offer: Prix Fixe at a modest $35, or $55 with wine, and the ‘Creative’ menu at $70 ( or $100 with wine), which is the one I enjoyed on both occasions. I’m a sucker for gazpacho, and this version was vivid and delicious, served ice cold with a scoop of olive sorbet on top, and with some plump langoustine at the bottom of the bowl. My main course Prosciutto-roasted chicken was moist and tasty, served on a truffle risotto infused with sage from the kitchen garden. Vineland has a wonderful selection of old estate Rieslings available by the glass and bottle too, rounding off a fine destination.
Niagara: Hillebrand Winery, 1249 Stone Road. Tel: (905) 468 7123
A restaurant I also visited twice, but each time under my own steam. Housed in the heart of the winery, with views to the barrel cellar on one side, and the vines on the other, Hillebrand’s restaurant is a smart, chic and beautiful spot. My most memorable dishes (each drunk with a wine by the glass suggested on the menu) included fresh mussels steamed with sparkling wine and served with rocket, hazelnut and rosemary salad and goat’s cheese grilled crostini, and a wonderfully simple but delicious dish of vanilla-scented saffron lobster risotto, studded with chunks of white lobster meat. Puddings are also extremely good here, memorably a Niagara peach tart tatin served with praline ice cream. Hillebrand is moderate to expensive, at around $80 excluding wine.
Vancouver: Rain City Grill, 1193 Denman St. V6G 2N1. Phone 604 685-7337
A real fixture of the Vancouver dining scene, the Grill was one of the first restaurants in the city to really celebrate local ingredients and lighter, Pacific cuisine. I had a lovely meal there in 2006, based around seasonal heirloom tomatoes, and was keen to return. The restaurant sits overlooking the beach at English Bay and a fun sculpture park, with a sunny terrace where we ate under the shade of an awning. The set lunch at $22 had plenty of appeal, but a few dollars more bought a wider lunchtime a la carte choice. Smiling, genuinely friendly and smart service led us into a fine, spicy tomato and cucumber gazpacho with horseradish and basil sorbet and smoked clams, then a seared British Columbia Albacore tuna salad, deliciously moist and cooked rare, with a green salad containing many hidden gems including Russian blue potatoes, free range egg, bacon and grilled red onion, all dressed with a grainy Dijon mustard & parsley pesto. We shared a very good chocolate mousse and coffees for dessert, and the excellent lunch (along with a couple of glasses of terrific Sauvignon Blanc from La Frenz at $14 per glass) came in at just over $100.
Vancouver: Le Crocodile, 909 Burrard St. V6Z 2N2 Phone: 604 669-4298
I was very disappointed with this meal I am sad to report, having so looked forward to dining at one of the city’s most renowned French restaurants. Knowing that Michel Jacob has been behind the stoves for 25 years since moving here from Strasbourg in Alsace (where a famous 3* namesake restaurant was his inspiration), I was expecting great things. The dining room is pleasant in a slightly old fashioned way, with shades of the Parisian brasserie. We were seated and served with what in all honesty might well have been the best dish of the evening, a little amuse bouche of a miniature Dungeness crab tart that was feather light and delicious, the filling encased in almost ethereal pastry. Settling in with glasses of gewürztraminer from the Pfaffenheim cooperative In Alsace, my first course of lobster tempura and grilled scallops was pretty good, though the batter could have been a little crunchier. There was a load of lobster however and a slightly unimaginative but fine salad of lettuce, olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes and chives. But the main course really was a bit of a disaster: grilled veal medallions with veal demi-glace and morel mushrooms was, I suppose, just that: two slabs of veal that were not particularly tasty, with a mound of reconstituted dried morels and an absolute sea of sauce. It was so old fashioned and artless as a dish, truly something from a bygone era and for me, not in a good way. A sad collection of weird vegetables including Brussels sprouts, squash and asparagus was certainly not chosen with great thought – my partner has exactly the same along with rack of lamb, again swimming in a pool of sauce. We honestly couldn’t be bothered with dessert or coffee, so paid the $250 bill (that included a half bottle of a very good local Bordeaux blend from Kettle Valley) and left. Prices are also very steep: we’d have loved to have started our meal with a glass of Champagne, but Charles Heidsieck NV at $27.50 plus tax and service equates to around £23 per small glass.
Vancouver: Fable, 1944 West 4th Ave. V6J 1M7. Phone: 604) 732-1322
The undisputed dining highlight of Vancouver was Fable, opened earlier this year with a mission to bring food ‘from farm to plate’. In a large, brick-walled and buzzy dining room in the trendy Kitsilano district not far from Granville island, we immediately got good vibes from the menu, welcoming service and buzz of the room. The menu and wine list are both short affairs in a single side of paper. “Canned Tuna” transpired to be a pot of chunks of Albacore tuna with lemon oil, tomato and potato given crunch from some crispy croutons. Heirloom tomato and goat’s curd salad was a highlight, rich with peppery olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, studded with tiny pieces of sun-dried tomato. For my main course Halibut & Chorizo was served on a chowder of mussels, tomatoes and fennel. We drank the excellent Joie Farm White noble blend from a short but well-chosen list, and finished up with coffees and ‘Daily Sweet Bites’ – in this case a plate of macaroons, deconstructed brownies and meringues. A fab evening of casual but hugely fresh and sophisticated food. Moderately priced at around $150 for two including wine and coffee.
Vancouver: Trees Organic Coffee Roasters and Café, 450 Granville St. V6C 1Z4
Fantastic spot, open from early for terrific fresh-baked goods (feta and spinach scones!) and great coffee, then soups, quiches and salads all organic and all fabulous. Cheesecakes (awarded best cheesecake in the city by Straight magazine) with a coffee is a shopped out and kackered tourist’s dream. Open until 10pm too, with live acoustic music on some evenings. Inexpensive.
Whistler: Nita Lake Lodge, 2131 Lake Placid Rd. V0N 1B2. Phone: 888 755-6482
Creekside is one of Whistler’s communities, just a couple of miles from the main Whistler village with its ski lifts, shops and restaurants. We liked the look of the Nita Lake lodge and were not disappointed with its lakeside setting, large comfortable rooms with fireplaces, huge soaking tubs and balconies. We decided to try the fine dining restaurant, Aura, which had positive reviews on a number of web sites and which, to our delight, also provided a fine meal. The restaurant too faces the lake, and has the ski chalet ambiance with lots of wooden beams and floors, large picture windows and well-spaced tables. A fine little ceviche of local prawns in a piquant dressing was a nice amuse bouche, before my fine starter of house-made ricotta gnocchi served warm and tangy with cheese, a touch of jalapeno and garlic pesto, on a clever dice of Spring vegetables including peas, green beans and asparagus that gave flavour and crunch. My main course of pacific halibut, Thumbelina carrots, coconut purple rice, sweet and sour Napa cabbage with smoked peanut sauce was superb: a generous tranche of fish with each of the flavours deep and not as jumbled as they might sound, the touch of peanut for example, just nicely discernable as a sauce. With house made sorbets and ice creams to finish, and each of us having two glasses of wine (Sauvignon Blanc from Alan Scott in Marlborough was one of my choices on a list favouring local wines but spanning the globe) the bill for $150 was decent value for excellent cooking of very good and mostly local ingredients.
Whistler: Royal Taste of India, Lorimer Rd. V0N 1B4. Phone: 604 932-2010
Having dined at the posh end of the market for several nights in a row, we definitely felt the need for something more casual, and finding a good Chinese restaurant appealed. However there were so many positive (and slightly surprised) reports about Whistler’s one and only Indian restaurant that we decided to give it a go, and I am very pleased that we did. Not revolutionary and not outstanding in any way, but the Royal tasted of India delivered a really nice meal that most UK curry house lovers would have found very familiar, from the papadoms and bajees, to the Lamb Rogan Josh and Peshawari naans. The setting is casual, on the first floor of one of the complexes within Whistler village, and we drank pretty dire Canadian big brand beer as we happily munched through crisp, crunchy pakoras, creamy and richly-sauced tender chicken and lamb, and freshly made naans and raita. The bill was not cheap at $100, but then nothing in Whistler is cheap and we left very satisfied.
Kamloops: Terra, 326 Victoria St. Phone: 250 374-2913
Kamloops, a staging post town that lies at the crossroads of three major cross state road routes and two train routes, seems like a sprawling sea of cheap and mid-price motels and fast food joints. But there is a heart to the town, and most review sites reckoned Terra was the foodie’s best choice. It was buzzing on a mid-week night whilst around other places were quiet, but after a short wait we secured a table to enjoy a fine, light (very by Canadian standards) dinner commencing with a Baby beet salad with a goat’s cheese cream, cherry tomatoes and mixed leaves, juliennes of carrot, pepper and radish. This was fresh, well constructed and well balanced thought the portion was small. Staying in a Caprine mood, I moved on to Goat’s cheese and pumpkin risotto with mixed roasted root vegetables and candied walnuts. The latter added real textural and flavour depth, and again a modest portion left room for a fabulous house-made baked ricotta cheesecake with summer berries. With 50cl of local Chardonnay at $31, the bill of $150 dollars for two was fine.
Kamloops: Oriental Gardens, 545 Victoria St. Phone: 250 372-2344
On our return from the Rockies Kamloops was again the chosen overnight stop and this large oriental restaurant in downtown Kamloops served up good food. It specialises in both Cantonese and Japanese cuisine, with separate sushi bar, Tatami Room serving Japanese cuisine, complete with sunken seating, and a large, general restaurant where diners may choose from any of the pan-oriental menus. We started with tempura prawns that were succulent and plentiful, though the dipping sauce was disappointingly watery. Dishes of boneless almond chicken and beef teriyaki worked well, washed down with some good pale ale from Okanagan Springs. The modest bill of $100 even included a refund for the parking lot next door.
Jasper: Cassio’s Italian Restaurant, 602 Connaught Drive. Phone: 780 852-4070
This large place on the main street in Jasper was fantastically average. Décor is anonymous 1980s corporate and food is generic Italianate with zero originality or authenticity: plenty of sloppy sauces and approximately-cooked pasta, served by seen-it-all-before waiting staff who are clearly churning through the tourists. I guess I found this place doing what it does every night of the week in this tourist town gateway to the Rockies. The wine list is rubbish too with neither vintage nor, very often, producer listed (“Chianti Ruffina, $25”) but the thing that stopped it from being a decent, does-the-job experience was the cynical addition of 17% service charge before tax (so in reality 19%) “for the convenience of our overseas guests”. All of us like to feel it is at our discretion to tip service as we see fit, not to have it applied in such a cynical way to a completely average experience. $100 for two courses and a 50cl pitcher of wine, including that service charge.
Jasper: Japer Pizza Place, 402 Connaught Drive. Phone: 780 852-3225
On a surprisingly balmy September evening we chose to have pizza on the open-air rooftop terrace of this casual dining place on the town’s main street. This was so much better as an experience than Cassio’s with perfectly friendly but low-key service and good, honest food served quickly. OK, the starter we shared of sweet yam fries with dipping sauces was not terribly good (the fries were clearly cooked from frozen), but the pizzas were really good with wafer-thin bases from the wood-fired oven, copious tasty toppings and lots of flavour. Washed down with our waiter’s recommendation for a really good local beer – the Hop Circle from Phillips Brewing of Victoria which was excellent – this was a really enjoyable evening as the sky above us filled with stars. $70 including just a smidgeon over 16% tip.
Banff: Evergreen, The Delta Royal Hotel, 459 Banff Ave. T1L 1B4. Phone: 800 661-1379
It’s tough to write this review, because we had a pretty dire experience here with a front of house melt-down leading to so many errors and huge delays in service. A formal email of complaint outlining these to the hotel and food and beverage manager resulted in a sincere apology and acknowledgement of failings and significant reduction in the bill, along with a promise that this was not their usual standard of performance. So let’s leave the details of that to one side and concentrate on the food, which was actually pretty good. A long, open kitchen runs down one side of the dining room, were industrious chefs seemed to be cooking most dishes from scratch. Of our starters, my roasted fennel and goat’s cheese parcel salad was very good: little filo sacks of a mild curd cheese, but lots of flavour to the salad with toasted almonds adding texture and flavour. However my partner’s crab cakes were disappointing, perhaps because they’d sat under a warming lamp too long, but they were pronounced as pretty boring and mushy, with a non-descript flavour. My main course was also very good: seared Pacific char – a white fish with a salmon like texture – set over a braised cabbage and creamy mash with a Chardonnay sauce. Two plump fillets of fish were very well cooked, with crisp skin and softly yielding flesh. To finish we could not resist English sticky toffee pudding – a very good (and sizeable) version with plenty of dates and flavour, a suitably rich toffee sauce and house-made vanilla ice cream. With a bottle of flavoursome unoaked Chardonnay the bill came to $160 before tip. If the service had been better, that would have been OK for this quality.
Banff: Eden, The Rim Rock Resort, 300 Mountain Ave. T1L 1J2. Phone: 403 762-3356
This meal cost twice as much as any other dinner in our two week trip, but to be honest it was at least twice as good. Other places, like Fable and Rain City Grill in Vancouver, or the Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, provided excellent meals of international standard, but this was the full Michelin 2* or 3* experience, up there at the French Laundry and Gordon Ramsay end of sophisticated, exciting, modern haute cuisine based around great produce and painstaking execution. The dining room has magnificent views of Banff’s mountains, and though there is a clamour for window tables (only guaranteed for those dining very early), in fact all tables enjoy the panorama. We settled into our super-comfy leather club chairs and the now familiar (for top end places) ‘chariot’ of Champagnes appeared. Baulking at $39 (plus tax and service about £32) per glass for a flute of Ruinart, we instead really enjoyed glasses of Schlumberger sekt from Austria at $16. First up was a little taster of a local shrimp, cooked on a hot stone at the table and served with an ice wine foam. The delicate flavours were lovely with the seared edges of the otherwise lightly cooked shrimp. The playful amuse bouche was a real treat: English afternoon tea interpreted as a cup of pear and tree bark tea, and a tiered cake stand of miniature scones, cakes and macaroons, but all savoury versions with goat’s cheese sandwiches and pork rillette scones for example. For my first course proper I chose seared Quebec foie gras, which came in a light broth of sweet Alphonso mango and eucalyptus, on a plinth of gingerbread pain perdu. It was excellent I have to say, with a basket of home made brioche and breads and house-smoked and goat’s butters, as well as whipped olive oil. With this we drank Alois Kracher’s Beerenauslese cuvee, the half-bottle coming in at $75. My main course was also terrific: Pura Vida Farm’s Angus beef, served as a lovely tenderloin steak, confit tongue and two little pastry shells filled with a softly braised shin. My partner’s lamb was also beautifully done, and a half bottle of Fonteruttoli’s 2005 Chianti Classico at $55 was perfect with both. The delicate accompaniments were slices of potato baked in ash, grilled lettuce hearts and summer truffle. For dessert, ‘Citrus’ was slivers of citrus fruit served with basil seeds and olive oil & thyme pound cake. We polished off the Beerenauslese with this and a selection of French and Quebec cheeses before coffee and petite fours. This was an outstandingly good meal, full of surprise as well as flavour. Service was good, though perhaps not quite hitting the heights of the kitchen, but as we left with our take-away bag containing a slice of delectable chocolate covered banana loaf (which constituted breakfast next morning with a cup of coffee) we were very satisfied indeed with a bill for $385, $445 with tip, given the outstanding enjoyment of the evening.
Banff: Maple Leaf Grill, 137 Banff Ave. T1L 1B6. Phone: 403 760-7680
The Maple Leaf Grill occupies a large corner site on Banff’s main street, with a cool downstairs bar where food is also served at loungey coffee tables, and with a large upstairs dining room with a ski lodge-like atmosphere. We were worried by several very large groups dining as we entered, but in fact we were shown to a little tucked-away corner of couples and foursomes that was not impacted too badly by this at all. Specialising in Canadian cuisine based around game, seafood and beef, Cape Town-born chef Morne Burger has a good reputation and the menu looked good. However we ate late after a very long day, so decided on just a main course. I chose pork tenderloin, and having pursued the extensive wine list (this restaurant won a Wine Spectator ‘Award of Excellence’ in 2011), a half bottle of the excellent Chardonnay from Kettle Valley Winery. The pork dish was really first class: two thick slices of tender pork had been crusted with apple and grain mustard, and charily grilled on the edges, whilst remaining moist and meaty in the centre. They sat on a bed of excellent mashed potato, with a jus enriched with apple and with steamed greens of asparagus and broccoli. It was a soulfully delicious, unpretentious dish with great flavour. $110 for one course and half a bottle of wine was not cheap, but then nothing in Banff is cheap and the quality was good.
Banff: The Bison, 211 Bear St. T1L 1B4. Phone: 403 762-5550
Another of Banff’s most highly-rated dining rooms, Bison sources the vast majority of its ingredients from Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan farms. As the name suggests, game is big here. The upstairs dining room has comfortable, clubby chairs and the typical Banff mountain lodge feel with exposed stone and wood dominating the décor. It affords really good mountain views from the windows that line three sides of the room. Our friendly waitress brought very good bread from the local Wild Flower artisan bakery and I quickly settled on a bottle of Cabernet Franc from Vinelands estate in Niagara at $50. To begin, I chose a carpaccio of bison, served with a generous sprinkling of pickled wild mushrooms, some torn chunks of buffalo mozzarella and plenty of good olive oil. It was delicious, the wafer-thin slices of meat melting in the mouth and the bread great for mopping up the garlicky oil. Continuing my foray into bisonology, I settled on the house bison burger which proved to be a great choice. Served on a focaccia bun from Wild Flower, the meat was supremely moist and packed with flavour, served with a ‘secret’ sauce (something not unlike a slightly spicy or mustardy mayo) and the usual burger accompaniments and a bowl of hand-cut fries with house-made ketchup on the side. This was really good food and the bill for two of $120 including tip was OK for pricy Banff.
Kelowna: Bouchons, 1180 Sunset Drive. Tel: (250) 763 6595
Kelowna is the main town to the north of the Okanagan valley, and a great base for exploring the region. I confess to being a little tired and jet-lagged when eating here, but I recall the dining room as a very smart take on an upmarket French bistro, with lots of polished wood, lamps and mirrors, and sophisticated versions of French country cooking. I had a rabbit casserole here, authentically slow cooked with plenty of Dijon mustard, which was spot on. I’d like to have done this restaurant more justice, and would go back again like a shot. Moderately priced at around $50 excluding wine (serious list).
Cedar Creek Winery, 5445 Lakeshore Road. Tel: (250) 764 8866
Just south of Kelowna. Tom diBello at Cedar Creek makes some of the best wines in Canada, and they can be enjoyed with some really good food on the lovely terrace restaurant during the summer months. A platter of marinated vegetables, seafood, local cheeses and charcuterie was a very nice grazing first course as the sun beat down on the vineyards one lunchtime, and the herb-crusted wild salmon that followed was very nicely cooked, and served with pungent aioli and a terrific salad with Asian influenced flavours. A lovely vineyard spot, and moderately priced at around $25 for two courses.
Quail’s Gate Winery, 3303 Boucherie Road. Tel: (250) 769 4451
Not far from Kelowna. Judith Knight is one of Canada’s most accomplished chefs and my meal here was superb. The restaurant has a lovely, broad patio overlooking Lake Okanagan, with overhead heaters to take the chill off the night air. I luxuriated over an eight-course tasting menu here, which showed a really creative hand in the kitchen. Asian marinated Sockeye salmon was served lightly poached, with crispy noodles, braised bok choy and a mushroom sauce, showing obvious Pacific Rim influences, but this ran seamlessly into a lovely rack of lamb, with succulent, yielding meat, accompanied by an eggplant tart. One dessert that really sticks in my memory is a dark chocolate and Kaluhua truffle, with an iced almond and pecan nougat. We matched estate wines with each course, in a long, and very enjoyable evening of fine food and wine. Dinner without wine will cost around $80.
Mission Hill Winery Terrace, 1730 Mission Hill Road. Tel: (250) 768 6448
Not far from Kelowna. Mission Hill is an architecturally stunning winery set majestically above the Okanagan with a gorgeous terrace offering panoramic views. We ate the four-course tasting menu one lunchtime, with an estate wine matched against each course ($89). To start with a Tempura of prawns and heirloom tomato salad was crisp, flavoursome and beautifully light, washed down with a glass of Pinot Blanc. An Acorn squash soup had been flaked with rainbow trout and new potatoes to form a stew that was rich, yet not at all heavy. Braised lamb shanks, succulently falling off the bone, were served with a ragout of wild mushrooms and matched nicely to the 2003 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Finally, a tart tatin made from estate-grown pears was absolutely delicious, served with orange caramel, pecan ice cream and a glass of Riesling icewine. Not only is Mission Hill a must-see destination, this restaurant provided one of the best meals and most spectacular settings of my trip.
Hillside Estate Winery, 1350 Naramata Road. Tel: (250) 493 6274
Close to Penticton. As an antidote to all that high-class dining, Hillside’s rustic restaurant offers a very laid back approach and some terrific no-nonsense food in its Barrel Room bistro. Wild boar terrine was chunky and wholesome, served with a black cherry chutney, which I followed with some linguine, which came with an Asian inspired ginger and chilli-spiked sauce.
Nk’Mip Cellars, 1400 Rancher Creek Road. Tel: (250) 495 2985
Near Osoyoos on the US border, Nk’Mip (pronounced ‘Ink-a-meep’) is the winery and cultural centre of a unique winery part-owned and run by the Osoyoos Indian band. The patio restaurant is terrific, with great views, live aboriginal music, and a red-hot (in more senses than one) barbecue in the corner turning out copious platters of grilled bison and huge tiger prawns on foot-long skewers. Highly recommended.
Burrowing Owl Winery, Black Sage Road. Tel: (250) 498 0620
South of Oliver. Burrowing Owl is a very smart winery in the south of the valley that was just completing some guest cottages for rent at the time of my visit, so they take the hospitality side of their business very seriously. Something about my dinner here just missed the mark, but I’m prepared to believe I was having as much of an off night as they were during a long, sometimes tiring trip. The food was ambitious and on the haute side of cuisine, and the airy dining room was thoroughly pleasant, so I certainly wouldn’t be put off dining there again if in the area.