I don’t talk much about work on here, but it’s not really a secret that I’ve spent my entire career — save a two-year stint in software which ended not long before the beta version of this blog was born, in 2001 — in banking. Next week, that changes.
I never really expected to work for a bank, despite having a business degree. I was recruited out of university by a very large one where I spent two years, then went to the afore-mentioned software company for a couple years, before returning to the same large bank for (*checks notes*) twelve years. In 2013 I switched to a much smaller bank, and did some cool stuff there, but about two weeks ago I gave my notice. I wasn’t looking to leave, but an opportunity came up, and when I sat back and looked at it, I decided 22 years in banking was enough. (And about 20 more than I ever thought I’d last.)
The opportunity that came up is actually in the wine world, so I’ll be excited to marry up my professional background with a personal passion. My current company didn’t even get that mad when I told them — they know how into wine I am, and how infrequently an opportunity like this would come along. I’ll have lots to learn in a new industry, but hopefully lots to offer as well. The only downside I can think of right now is that I’ll have to commute to Mississauga, which means I’ll have to own a car for the first time in my life.
So next week is my last week, and the rush is on to get everything wrapped up & squared away. I’m taking the final week of June off, to give my brain a bit of a break. I considered getting out of town, but between this final sprint and a huge deliverable that Lindsay’s working on, I think I might just spend those days lying on the couch, or sitting in the backyard, or maybe going to a patio. (Speaking of which: I went to Chez Nous on Monday, my first patio in…I literally don’t even remember how long.)
Anyway, I’m excited. It’s a little scary, but good scary. And I’m ready.
This was my first full week working from home. Except for some short walks around the building, and one quick trip to Blackbird for some bread, I haven’t been out at all. Until this afternoon, when I took an hour walk outside, stopping along the way at Reid’s Distillery for some gin and hand sanitizer.
I did start the week feeling sick, but just with cold-not-covid symptoms. And it’s pretty typical for my body to have a quick little sick right after I push myself hard for a few weeks, just as I start to relax. And I did, so it did. But by Tuesday morning I felt fine and have since.
I’m an introvert by nature so staying inside and not talking to people in person is fine with me. So far.
I’ve been replenishing the wine & gin supply with online orders from local wineries and distilleries, and so far have had more than enough groceries and delivery options. So: still feeling awfully lucky.
Wednesday was my last day at work. It was a pretty crazy sprint, but now I (like most of my company, and most of the people who can) am working from home. Wondering how to move to 100% e-commerce. Trying to figure out how to share an open loft with someone who has very different approaches to work. Thinking longingly of cancelled trips to Spain, London, New York, and Montreal. And eminently grateful that those are the least of my concerns, personally.
I’m exceptionally thankful for so much, of course. My employer is continuing to pay everyone, and I’m able to work effectively from home. I have no physical challenges with looking after myself/us, and am not especially concerned about my immune system. My family is safe, after a bit of an international adventure. I worry about my parents, especially with my mom having so recently endured cancer treatment, but being isolated on a remote farm might now come in handy. My cat seems to be thriving with both his parents around. My wine collection is coming in handy, and I’ve been ordering from local wineries to restock it. (And pre-paying a tab at Chez Nous for when this whole thing breaks.)
Just before Christmas a plan came together. I had a work reason to be in Madrid in early January, and decided to skip just a little further on to Cairo, to visit brother #2.
Flew from Pearson to Madrid overnight. Not the newest AC plane but it was still probably the most I’ve ever slept on an overnight flight.
That bit of kip, plus a super-easy exist from the airport and a comfy Uber ride downtown made for what might have been my best transatlantic travel experience ever. My hotel — the Gran Hotel Ingles — was stunning. The staff apologized for how cold it was; I explained that as a Canadian I would be just fine. I got a few more hours of sleep, then a shower, and felt fresh again. Really, given that it was only 3pm, I felt like I was starting my day at the same time as most Spaniards.
Right down the street from my hotel was Brew Wild pizza & craft beer bar, so…yeah, I went there. I ate a diavola pizza and drank a few excellent beers and enjoyed their music mix, then walked around a bit enjoying the sunshine. Everyone else was in heavy jackets, but 9 degrees felt pretty good to me.
Back at the hotel I started watching The Mandalorian, then conked out for a bit (again), got up (again!), bought some wine from an excellent wine shop down the street called Los Rosales, and then did another very touristy thing on my street: I went to a Flamenco show at Cardamomo. I’ve long been semi-obsessed with Flamenco…the percussive dancing, the plaintive singing, etc. I sprung for a good ticket. I didn’t realize just how close to the stage it would get me.
Honestly, it was pretty fucking great. I loved the music. I think I fell in love with the female dancer. And the male dancer was some kind of flamenco celebrity with his own reality show and who’s apparently danced for the King and Queen of Spain. So yeah, it was cool.
After the show I had dinner around the corner at…uh, Atlantik Corner. It was empty at 10:30, which led me to think Spaniards eat even later than I thought, but it might have just been a quiet restaurant as they locked the door behind me when I left. Pretty good meal though:
grilled artichokes w/ crispy king prawns + piri piri
With no dessert, and having been hustled out, I made one last stop across the street from the hotel: La Vanencia. They serve only five kinds of Jerez (aka Xeres, aka Sherry) along with some cheese and cured meats. They write your tab on the bar in front of you in chalk. The place looks like it hasn’t been renovated in decades. Hemingway used to write there. Republicans conspired to overthrow Franco here. I had glasses of Fino and Palo Cortado; it cost 4.10 Euros. I tried to leave the 0.90 as a tip and was very firmly rebuffed. What a place.
I made the most of the hotel — got up, ate breakfast, had a shower, did some work, and finished The Mandalorian before heading to the airport. I sped through the airport (Gold Track FTW!) and killed some time at the lounge before boarding my flight to Cairo. Over the Mediterranean we went, hugging the African coast. I watched Official Secrets (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and most certainly did not drink anything.
Landed in Cairo. The Meet & Assist person made it easy to get through, and I performed my duty-free store duty, and then suddenly, there was brother #2!
The drive to his place was…illuminating. Traffic rules in Cairo are theoretical. Highway lanes are merely loose suggestions, ignored by all. Traffic signals might as well not exist in cars. Horns are a distinct language. Pedestrians scamper hither and yon with so sign of a crosswalk. And I hadn’t even been downtown yet, where things get really chaotic.
We ordered in from Zooba for my first taste of koshari and ful and taameya, and I drank an Egyptian beer, and then I crashed.
Since I only had two days in Cairo we’d arranged for tours both days. I dragged my poor brother who’s seen everything half a dozen times, but gamely played along. We were joined by an American nurse visiting her mother, and a Canadian teacher.
First up was Saqqara, an ancient site west of the Nile and south of Giza. And by ancient I mean >4500 years old…hard to even fathom. The architecture, tombs, glyphs…it was a lot to take in, even with a guide helping us understand it. We fended off the swarm of people trying to sell us stuff long enough to learn a few things, and just marvel.
After a stop at the Imhotep museum at the foot of the site we ate some lunch at a nearby restaurant. After lunch we drove north, along a polluted canal strewn with garbage (so much garbage everywhere…and stray dogs…and just people) to see the big boys: the pyramids of Giza, practically in the suburbs of Cairo. You spend your whole life hearing about something, reading about it, seeing pictures of it, and building it up in your mind to the point where the reality can’t possibly meet your expectations. Except, this did. The Great Pyramid of Cheops deserves every bit of the Wonder of the Ancient World tag it carries. I’m so lucky I got to see it. I’m so lucky it’s still there, nearly 5000 years later, for me to see.
The other two pyramids at the site almost paled in comparison, as did the Sphinx down the hill. It’s actually an enormous site and I’m sure we missed all but the most impressive 2% of it, but still — what a sight.
After a quick stop at a cotton market we headed home, bobbing and weaving through pedestrians and traffic all the way. We ordered burgers (!) and drank some of the wine I picked up at duty free.
Day two of touring: this time just the brother and I. We started with a tour of Coptic Cairo. I had no idea a significant part of the population is Coptic Christian, but I guess it makes sense. Anyway, this neighbourhood was basically a mixing pot of several religions: an ancient Coptic Christian church (built on the site of the cave where the Bible says Jesus and his legal guardians stayed when in Egypt), a Greek Orthodox church, a Synagogue, and the first Mosque built in Egypt.
Next up was the Citadel of Cairo, originally built by Saladin during the crusades, and extended over the years into a police museum and military museum. Lots of mentions of how they bravely fought for and kept the Suez canal. Not so many mentions of the other wars. Anyway, the mosques up there were absolutely gorgeous, especially the Mosque of Muhammad Ali.
Just down the hill we visited two more mosques — the Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan and the Al-Rifa’i Mosque — built side by side. As with the others the architecture was stunning, but at the latter (which also houses the tomb of the Shah of Iran) we had richer experiences — we were shown a side room containing elaborate tombs, where the guide leading us turned off the lights to let the light stream in a single stained glass window, and sang prayers so we could hear his voice echo around the dome of the building. He also showed us the 150-year-old key (which weighed about three pounds) he used to unlock the doors to these rooms. It was all pretty amazing.
Our final stop was to be dropped off in the teeming throng of humanity that is the Khan el-Khalili market (after first driving through part of it, which seemed like the height of insanity until I saw several tour buses squeeze through, FFS) and walk around a bit.
I had no desire to buy anything, just to see it. Much like at the tourist sites I had to learn to ignore all the calls for our attention from the vendors. You could barely make your way through, although apparently the market was relatively calm that day. Our guide led us to a quiet little perch from where we could sip coffee and observe the madness below.
Anyway, we eventually found our van (leaping hurriedly into it in the middle of the street) and headed home. Pretty tuckered, to be honest. Again, we ordered food and drank more wine, and called it an early night. We’d packed a lot of Cairo into those two days, and we both had early starts the next morning.
My flight back to Madrid was at 9:30, so I got to the airport early. Fortunately I flew out of the newer terminal 2, which was pretty sane at that hour, and got through the various security and passport checks with plenty of time. Also fortunately, I had access to a few lounges, and found one — Pearl — that I liked. Not long after I was safely aboard my flight back to Spain, catching up on work, and watching Luce (imdb | rotten tomatoes).
After we landed I got to the conference hotel near the airport, showered, and (finally!) unpacked. There’s not really much going on at that hotel (it’s by the airport) so I reckoned I’d Uber downtown each day to see more of Madrid. And so, I did.
My first stop back in Madrid was actually to visit a little piece of Egypt: the transplanted and recreated Temple of Debod, gifted to Spain in 1968 by Egypt for Spain’s help in preserving historic sites threatened by the construction of the Aswan high dam. Being winter, the site was mostly closed, but the views from the park were stunning.
Still, it was (relatively) cold outside, and the wine bar on which I’d set my sights didn’t open until 8pm, so I walked to mur cafe instead, had a cappuccino, and read my book. When I did eventually hit Entrevinos wine bar I found a small table, tried a few different wines, and ate a delicious dish of lamb shoulder with spinach, green beans and sesame sauteé.
After a quick meeting in morning, I dashed downtown once again, this time to the Plaza de Oriente, and the Café de Oriente thereon. I dearly wish it had been warm enough to sit outside and enjoy their view of the Square and Palacio Real; alas, it was not. Still, though, I got in a cup of coffee and a glass of Rias Baixas and some nibblies, which I think were some kind of whipped fish (?!) on toast.
After a quick sit in the park I walked along the Palacio, past the Catedral de la Almudena and its amazing door, past the postcard-perfect Plaza de la Villa, past the Mercado de San Miguel, and to my next intended stop where I planned to do some work, given that my ofice back home was waking up.
I’d heard the Federal Café was laptop-friendly, but as soon as I plugged mine in it melted. Or something. Anyway, it bluescreened and I never, ever got it working again. I took this as a sign from the universe to stop working. Or, at least, to buy a paper notebook.
Thus chastened, I consoled myself by walking to San Ginés for churros con chocolate. I sat outside and dunked my churros in piping hot chocolate and watched tourists flood by.
From there I walked to Taproom Madrid (the one on Plaza de Isabel II) for a beer. I got a sour, met an American (and American) pilot named Tim, and chatted for quite a while. Our server never returned after that first pour, so we eventually left. He was headed to Mikkeller; I wasn’t sure where I’d go.
I ended up at a place called Fábrica Maravillas, apparently one of the OG craft breweries in Madrid. I loved it instantly — fun Irish barkeep, and some nice beers on tap. I tried a bunch of them, and met a nice guy from just outside Philadelphia (okay, technically New Jersey) who was just on his way home from an internship at Cantillon (!) before Tim, from the last bar, appeared. I guess we were on a similar beer crawl.
Anyway, I’d not eaten, so I uber’d back to the hotel. At the hotel bar I ordered some dinner — filet mignon, wine, cheese — before the conference attendees started flooding in and ruining the quiet vibe. The guy standing next to me ordered two Johnny Walker Blue triples. But he ordered them with ice, and I wept. I popped into the American-style sports bar across the hotel to catch up with people I figured would be there, and I ordered a Don PX, which was the least sports bar drink ever. Fuck it though; an American sports bar has no business in a Spanish hotel anyway.
I had a quick presentation in the morning, then chilled in my room for a bit before eventually making my way downtown. I decided to have lunch at the Restaurante Vinoteca García de la Navarra; the food and wine were good, but the service was pretty wonky.
From there I walked to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza; I only checked out the ground floor, which was still full of subtle heavy hitters. I was saving the rest, and the other big museums, for when Lindsay comes with me in April.
It was too cold outside for much more so I went back to the hotel, worked for a bit, packed for a bit, and had dinner at Kalma in the hotel. Pretty good meal, actually:
This was never going to be a normal Thanksgiving weekend. I had a big — very big — work thing scheduled this weekend, which was going to run from Friday night through at least Sunday, and maybe Monday, to the point where it didn’t make sense to plan much at all.
The work stuff started Friday night and kept me awake for most of it. Saturday I managed to get a hundred things done in between calls, and we even ducked out to White Lily for dinner. We both got the hot turkey sandwich, so…check off one Thanksgiving tradition.
On Sunday I went to the office, and since there were dozens of us working onsite, the team brought food in. I was actually stuffed all day, but still couldn’t resist a piece of pumpkin pie, which the coordinator thoughtfully added to the menu, since everyone was giving up their holiday Sunday. Check a second Thanksgiving tradition.
I don’t want to jinx it, but it went well yesterday, such that I actually got home in time for dinner with Lindsay. I forgot that I didn’t have any Champagne in the house to celebrate with, but a bottle of Lightfoot & Wolfville 2012 Blanc de Blancs filled in nicely.
So yeah: no turkey, but no biggie. A huge work thing seems to have gone well. Lindsay and I might finally have a semi-relaxing day. Our families are good. Kramer’s good. Check check check.
We’re fresh off a hybrid work/fun trip to BC — Tofino and Vancouver, specifically — and have yet to come to grips with the fact that we can’t smell salt air. That aside, here’s how it went:
We had a fairly early flight, but timed it perfectly so that we walked right on to the plane with no waiting. After some screen issues I watched Captain Marvel (imdb | rotten tomatoes) and did some work while Lindsay fended off a brutally entitled family who crawled everywhere and kept their seats in her face the entire flight, poor thing.
We landed in Vancouver and had a few hours to kill before our transfer. We did the apparently very traditional BC thing of visiting White Spot for burgers, a milkshake, and some local wine. After that, we shuttled over to the south terminal and took a very tiny Pacific Coastal flight (the plane held 16 people, maybe?) to our destination for the next few days: Tofino.
I’d heard about Tofino — all rugged beauty and beaches and ocean surf and trees leaning into coastline — but I’d never been. Nor had Lindsay. Anyway, a few minutes out of the airport we saw what all the fuss was about.
A few more km down the road we pulled into our temporary home, the Wickaninnish Inn. After a brief orientation we settled into our room, and were immediately greeted with a jaw-dropping view.
We didn’t do much for the rest of the afternoon except enjoy that view and the smell of the sea, and wait for dinner at the in-house restaurant: The Pointe. Turns out the restaurant is pretty g-d spectacular.
We willed ourselves out of the perfect bed to get breakfast (smoked salmon rosti; fresh fruit crepes) and enjoy the view from the dining room now that it was light out. (If a little foggy.)
We were determined to do as little as possible that day, so we went for a stroll on that very beach (which is called Chesterman Beach, FYI), chilled back in the room for a bit re-watching Fargo, then took a bit of work down to the bar & lounge.
We had some lunch (west coast clam chowder; fish & chips) in the bar, ogled their new wine cellar, and did…nothing, basically? Like, aggressively did nothing. Not until dinner, when we drove in to Tofino for dinner at Wolf in the Fog.
It was a cool space — we were sat right next to a wolf sculpture made out of driftwood, which is the most Tofino thing ever — and the food was as good as we’d heard. Here’s what we consumed:
Dan: The Sun Has Reached The Yard Arm (Nicaraguan rum, apricot, allspice, ginger, honey, lime, sparkling wine, black walnut bitters)
Lindsay: Nocino Negroni (Wayward Distillation House ‘Unruly’ gin, Odd Society bittersweet vermouth, Ampersand green walnut nocino)
potato crusted oyster w/ leek, truffle
seafood gemelli w/ pacific shrimp (special)
baked Tofino halibut (for two) w/ clams, white beans, fennel sausage, spring onions
After having some breakfast in bed sent up, we got ourselves ready for our one and only activity (other than eating) whilst in Tofino: whale watching. We drove into town and geared up at Jamie’s Whaling, completely swaddling ourselves in orange flotation suits.
The trip, though very foggy, was even better than we’d hoped. We saw:
grey whales — lots of them, including a young whale named Lasso who swam right by our boat;
sea lions, including a giant male who our guide said was the biggest he’d ever seen;
sea otters, all floating on their backs wrapped up in kelp, including a few babies with pups on their chests, all of which made me completely melt (I’m obsessed with otters);
harbour porpoises, which appeared to us only as fins swooping in and out of the water.
Then, as if Tofino was just showing off, on our way to lunch we saw a bald eagle just hanging out on a telephone pole. WHERE WERE WE?
Anyway, we grabbed a surprisingly excellent lunch of burgers (chicken; tuna) and beer at The Shed before driving home, stopping along the way for some beer courtesy of Tofino Brewing. After all that adventure, food, and drink, we had a hard nap in the room right up until the very last minute to get to the very last reservation at The Pointe. Our server assured us it wasn’t too late to order the tasting menu, and we trusted him. Thank goodness we did; it was one of the culinary highlights of the trip.
It was all superb, but the salmon w/ clam beignets was phenomenal, and the ribeye w/ black garlic jus will 100% be on the list of the best things I ate in 2019.
The weather was kind enough to clear for our last morning in Tofino, so we enjoyed one last coffee on the patio.
We went for one last long walk on the beach, which is just a spectacular place, full of sea life and surfers and romping dogs and digging kids. It’s as beautiful place as exists in Canada, which is saying something.
Finally, we got one last breakfast in at The Pointe (Rosti again for Lindsay; shrimp n’ eggs for Dan) before packing and heading back to the airport. Our flight back was a little more picturesque (and slightly less nerve-wracking for Lindsay) than on the flight out, and our cab ride into downtown Vancouver was uneventful. We arrived at the Sheraton Wall Centre to find NHL Draft posters everywhere. Apparently this was the home hotel for the NHL draft prospects, their families, and to some degree the NHL teams interested in them.
Anyway, while our room felt very old-Sheraton, the view was pretty solid: we could see all the way from False Creek to the mountains.
We didn’t hang around long though — the weather was too beautiful. We jumped in a cab and got ourselves to The Alibi Room. I hadn’t been in years, and it was Lindsay’s first time, but worthwhile given it’s the best beer joint in Vancouver (as far as my limited knowledge goes, anyway). We sat next to their open windows, sampled BC beer we’ve never tried, and ate charcuterie.
We’d decided to get dinner at St. Lawrence, like a mashup of Vancouver and our old Montreal adventures. It was tiny and bustling, and very delicious.
Salmon and scallop pie, leeks, potatoes & Bercy sauce
Bernard Defaix Bourgogne 2017
We didn’t have much left in us after that, except to take a cab back to the hotel and crash.
My two days of meetings started Wednesday, so we grabbed an early breakfast around the corner at The Twisted Fork, where we found portions so big as to be terrifying.
Poached eggs and ratatouille served with honey lager pork sausage, green salad, sourdough toast and house made jam (Dan)
Croque Monsieur with brioche, smoked gouda, cheddar and ham served with fresh greens and house tomato sauce (Lindsay)
After we walked that off, the rest of my day was taken up with meetings and a work dinner at Ancora overlooking False Creek. Lindsay met up with a friend and then, weirdly, got rather ill for about 24 hours.
After another long day of meetings I grabbed a drink at the hotel bar, surrounded by hockey families and NHL personnel (example: Barry Trotz ordered a Stella Artois next to me at the bar), before Lindsay — now mostly on the mend — and I walked down to Sunset Beach and then back to the hotel for a few local beers in the room. Later that night we met up with friends at Hawksworth, one of my all-time Vancity favs. Here’s what we got:
Various cocktails and sparkling drinks
I don’t remember what everyone got, but I do know that five years after having a Dalhousie #2 here, I ordered a Dalhousie #3: Lot 40 rye, pineapple, Montenegro, Ginger of the Indies)
(wines were by the glass; no bottle would satisfy all those needs)
Glasses of Sauternes, Cortados
Afterward we went for a drink at UVA, which had somehow shown up on my list of places to try, even though it turned to be really fucking weird. Weird decor, hinky service, long-but-strangely-empty cocktail list, etc. We had one and left.
We liked Twisted Fork so much we went back for breakfast again, and left equally stuffed.
Well done house-smoked Gouda baked eggs w/ sourdough toast, bacon, tomato, rösti and baked beans (Dan)
Eggs Benny with toasted brioche, poached eggs, hollandaise, roasted tomato, and avocado salsa w/ sautéed spinach, rösti and baked beans (Lindsay)
We did some work in the room for a while before decamping for Gastown, finding Six Acres a good place to sit and drink craft beer and watch the neighbourhood pass by while getting some shit done.
After leaving there and walking a ways (and taxiing the rest) we got back to the room to do more work and get ready for dinner, while killing a bottle of Blue Mountain sparkling Lindsay’d bought the day before.
Dinner was at Black + Blue, since we were looking for a simple (simple as in easy choices, not simple as in not-nice) dinner, and were tapped out on seafood. So, steak it was. And what a steak!
Caesar salad for two w/ crisp romaine, lemon & anchovy dressing, Parmigiano-Reggiano
Two glasses of Chardonnay (the exact one escapes me now)
Let it be known that the Wagyu was fucking unreal. Every bite was like butter. Maybe the best Wagyu I’ve ever had, and I’ve had lots. Another entry on the ‘best things I ate this year’ list come December, I’ll bet.
And that was it. BC. Tofino, Vancouver. All done. One last breakfast in the room and all that was left to do was pack up, head to the airport, fly home — no annoying families or busted screens this time; I watched They Shall Not Grow Old (imdb | rotten tomatoes) — coo at Kramer, and unpack.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: BC is the prettiest province. Now that I’ve seen Tofino, I know that’s even more true.
Forgot to mention: I was in Ottawa last month for work. I flew in, stayed at Le Germain, ate dinner (duck tartare + romanesco + cauliflower + birch and plum gastrique / smoked pork chop + side striped shrimp + fennel paper + hand-rolled semolina + rapini) at Norca, ate lunch the next day at Clover, and flew home ~24 hours later.
Really though, I was in Ottawa to address the Senate. Well, a Senate committee. It was interesting, and kind of fun. The meeting ran so smoothly it was almost shocking. Who says government can’t be efficient? Anyway, I also got to be one of the first people to present at a committee meeting in the new (temporary) Senate building, right across from the Chateau Laurier.
Fun. And not something I ever pictured myself doing, frankly.
I spent the better part of my last week in London. Mostly for work, but I squeezed in a little fun as well.
I flew out Saturday morning. The cost to upgrade to premium economy had been more than reasonable, which made the flight pretty easy — I watched a movie and got tons of work done. After landing I had my easiest ever escape from Heathrow; the customs line had four people in it. I’ve spent hours in that line before.
After a long Uber ride downtown I checked into the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. I got some room service, including a fair bit of judgment when I ordered a bottle of wine with only one glass. Anyway.
I had the next day free (it was about $1000 cheaper to fly out Saturday vs. Sunday, so it saved the company money, but also gave me a day to hang out in London…wins everywhere.) and forced my tired self up at 8am, ate a big breakfast in the room, and went for a bit of a walk. I walked down the Thames toward Southbank, then crossed and doubled back toward Westminster, passed Big Ben (currently shrouded in scaffolding) and Westminster Abbey, along Victoria, ducking off to walk past Westminster Cathedral, and crossing Vauxhall. I grabbed an espresso at The Roasting and reveled in the opportunity to enjoy it outdoors, knowing full well that it was going to be -20 or so back in Toronto that week.
I was getting hungry again, so I went round the corner to one of the top-rated beer places in London: Cask Pub & Kitchen. I sampled four excellent craft beers and ate a roast chicken lunch that nearly killed me.
I walked back to the hotel via the Lambeth bridge, and — for the first time in months, probably — did almost nothing. Read some articles. Watched a movie. Willed my body to digest beer-soaked chicken and Yorkshire pudding. It was nice.
I’d booked a late dinner at a new location of a steak place I’ve been to twicenow: Hawksmoor. This time I walked the thirty minutes, past Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square, to the Seven Dials location. I took my table and jumped right to it, foregoing starters or cocktails for the main event: a 400g (14oz) ribeye, cooked rare with bearnaise sauce on the side, with a side of maple-roasted parsnips & bacon, all paired with 500ml of a Duero red. I finished it all off with a glass of Sauternes. The whole meal was great, but the steak might have been one of the best I’ve ever eaten.
My conference started Monday. I’d had plans to meet up with my friend Tom after, but work intruded. I made do by seeking out a nearby beer place: Beerhawk, in Southbank. I had a pile of fantastic craft, and a delicious little toastie made with pastrami.
On Tuesday I didn’t want another conference lunch, so I skipped outside looking for another option. I happened upon a little wine bar, Unwined in Waterloo, and had a brilliant lunch. It was the first day for the new chef, so the Instagram shot below was the exact special that ended up in front of me seconds later — a flatbread with chicken, spinach, peppers, halloumi, sriracha, and yogurt. I had an amazing glass of Georgian wine, then followed it up with a fried chicken slider and glass of Australian chard.
That night, through a bit of luck and good timing, I was able to have dinner with brother #2! He was in London for a conference of his own, which was scheduled well after my trip was set up, so it all worked out. He lives in Egypt now, and was craving certain kinds of meat, and I figured…screw it, let’s do another Hawksmoor. We met at the location in Knightsbridge, and ate yet another killer meal. I had scallops with an Alsatian Pinot Gris, then the filet. We split a bottle of 2005 Rioja, which lasted us through a cheese dessert course.
Wednesday was my last day — I finished up at the conference, got to the airport, sped through in (again) record time, hung out in the lounge, and flew home. The flight wasn’t quite as enjoyable this time, given the occupants of the neighbouring seats, but I zipped through Pearson and into an Uber home. I was tired and cold and a little jet lagged, but really happy to be home.
I was in Ottawa most of last week for work. I spent most of it staying at the Chateau Laurier, and ate dinner at their restaurant Wilfrid’s early in the week. There I discovered a trove of excellent Ontario wine, including a Le Clos Jordanne 2010 Chardonnay and a Bachelder 2011 Lowrey Vineyard Pinot.
The next day, between meetings, I snuck in lunch at Clover, including more Chard from KIN, a winery in the Ottawa Valley. So yeah, they have wineries in the Ottawa Valley now, I guess. I also had some familiar wine at a work event that night.
The next night I had a nice dinner at CBGB’s place outside(ish?) of town. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them. It was a great, if too short, visit. I wish I could have stayed for CB’s birthday this weekend, but I had to get back. I couldn’t even stay too long that night, as I had work to catch up on.
I decided, though, to do work near the hotel rather than in it. I went to Brother’s Beer Bistro and had a couple of killer beers. I love that place. I’ll be hard pressed to spend time in Ottawa and not want to go.
The next morning I went to Bluebird for coffee and breakfast, spent most of the day working, and then flew home. I’ve spent so much time on those Ottawa/Montreal Porter flights that I barely even notice them happening around me anymore.
Saturday we helped a friend celebrate her Champagne birthday in a very packed house full of people in 90s dress. So yeah, part of my was right in my element, and part of me was terrified. 😐
I was back in Montreal ever-so-briefly this week, from Wednesday night to Friday afternoon, and — in between meetings — had just enough time to hit a few old favourites. I was staying at the Hôtel Place d’Armes so I was walking distance to both Tommy and Philemon.