Fresh Burger is opening and giving out free burgers! (Toronto)

Address: 542 Church Street
Website: http://www.fresh-burger.com/

Unless you live or work in Richmond Hill, you've likely never encountered Fresh Burger. Certainly, they have many satisfied customers, so much so that it was declared Yelp's 2014 Best Burger Restaurant. 


They are now bringing their "honest burger experience" to downtown at their new Church and Wellesley location. And Torontonians you're in for a treat as they will be giving out free burgers from 6 - 7:30pm on Friday, November 28th during their grand opening event. If you're looking for a later dinner, there will be a 2-for-1 special after 7:30 until 11pm. 


Although I've never tried Fresh Burger myself, I'm aiming to drop by that evening to indulge in their freshly ground burger. The menu is simple - they offer "fresh" (4 oz) and "prime" (6 oz) sizes and should you want a meat overload feel free to double any of the pattys. They are classically adorned with lettuce, tomato, cheese (no upgrade required) and their secret sauce. But, you can add onions and pickles as well along with other supplementary toppings.

There's also a poutine that should help to complete the meal. You didn't hear it from me, but a little birdie told me they also have a secret menu consisting of an Aloha burger, bacon mushroom melt and California fries (these in particular intrigue me). 

Since they're opening in November their patio won't be of any use, but would be a great place to eat during the summer months. So, if I've wet your appetite, visit Fresh Burger on November 28th to try a free burger on them!


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Han Ba Tang (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 4862 Yonge Street
Website: http://m.mainstreethub.com/hanbatang
Type of Meal: Dinner




Han Ba Tang isn’t the easiest name to remember, unless you’re Korean perhaps, so look for a light green sign amongst the strip of ethnic restaurants along Yonge and Sheppard (you’re close when you’re at the Frog). It’s a jovial atmosphere attracting younger patrons and is more reminiscent of downtown than the suburbs of North York. 

As a warning, you may not want to visit if you’re planning to go out afterwards as ventilation is poor and your clothes and hair will reek of food.

The taco fad continues on their menu. Since Estrella Taqueria closed across the street, North York may support another restaurant trying their hand at it. Han Ba Tang has five flavours available (kalbi, chicken breast, spicy pork, chilli shrimp and asparagus) in single ($4-$5) or trio formats ($10-$11).

If you want to try more than one flavour (and get the trio deal) there is the HBT Tacos deal for $10 including the kalbi, chicken breast and asparagus. The restaurant should just considering charging $11 (the most you’d pay for three of the kalbi tacos) and allow patrons to customize to their liking as the sound of asparagus tacos just doesn’t appeal to the carnivore in me.

My friend and I ended up sharing the kalbi ($5) and chili shrimp ($4) tacos. For me, the kalbi was the highlight with tender strips of beef in a sweet flavourful sauce. The crunch of the coleslaw and sharpness of the raw onions went well with it. The chili shrimp was too over battered for my taste and lacked the spiciness I’d expect from its title.


The kimchi fries ($10 for the small size shown below) is a starred and circled dish on their menu. Presumably, this means it’s the chef’s recommendation as a “must-have” item. Regrettably, this shouldn’t be the case. If you want saucy fries, then sure try out the dish. There’s plenty of gravy, mayo, mild kimchi and green onions on it. But, it’s a far cry from the sour spicy fermented cabbage taste I was expecting.


My favourite dish (and the sole one I’d consider ordering again) was the spicy seafood soup ($10 for a small with an extra $2 for adding instant noodles). Of course, there's nothing fusion-like about it but sometimes tradition wins. The broth was filled with a deep seafood essence and had just the right amount of heat to cause you to sweat a little. Filled with a generous portion of mussels, shrimp, blue crab and vegetables everything tasted fresh and made-to-order. Who knows, I may come back and just order a bowl of this to myself – a satisfying and comforting meal on a cold winter’s night.


I' also glad there’s now a place nearby that offers inventive cocktails rather than bottles of beer or soju and ginger ale. We watched as the bartender intensely crafted the HBT old fashioned ($10) by cutting up fresh citrus, heating up the peel and swiping it across the lip of the cup.

But, what caught our eyes more was the canisters of soaking soju. What a beautiful display in front. So, we decided on the soju flight ($15) giving us a choice of three of the six flavours (pineapple, strawberry, apple cinnamon, cucumber, citrus and ginger). 


Our waiter suggested the pineapple, strawberry and apple cinnamon. These babies are dangerous as they’re so easy drinking! The apple cinnamon was surprisingly good and would be such a great after dinner drink over the holiday season – wonder if Han Ba Tang could legally sell me a bottle?


Service is friendly but disheveled despite being opened for months now. Getting seated was a bit chaotic. No one seemed to know where to sit guests – at least three people became involved before someone finally decided how to sit three tables of two.

Moreover, promised sitting times don’t appear to be communicated amongst staff – the gentlemen who seated us noted they’d need the table back after two hours but the women (who appeared to be the owner) came over after just over one hour to pressure us to get the bill. Luckily, we had received and finished our food by that time; but, my friend who just received another beer had to finish it hurriedly. To avoid all the confusion, I strongly suggest making a reservation before heading to the restaurant.

Other than the seating fiasco, everyone was pleasant throughout the evening. Food and service came at a good pace and individuals frequently checked on us to ensure needs were met. In the end, I’m glad Han Ba Tang opened up in the neighbourhood and wish more non-chain, not completely ethnic restaurants will join suit. 

Unlike downtown, you won’t pay $15+ for a cocktail or be subjected to ridiculously small portions. But, there also won’t be the fancy phone charging stations seen at Speakeasy 21. I say who needs something that fancy when an outlet, plug and hand drawn sign works just fine?


Overall mark - 7 out of 10

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

Han Ba Tang on Urbanspoon


1 Love Kitchen (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 247 Queen Street West
Website: http://www.1lovekitchen.com/
Type of Meal: Dinner


Situated amongst all the stores on bustling Queen West, 1 Love Kitchen is a warm low-key place where you'll get a full meal for less than $15. Although take-out is available, I suggest you dine-in and relax. Take in the bright green surroundings, hum along to the background music and best of all enjoy your food hot!


The slow braised oxtail ($11) was flavourful and tender. I love the gummy texture of the cartilage between the bone and meat which softens as it’s cooked. We were told that at in order to keep the calories down in the dish, excess fat is removed and the oxtail is cooked longer to ensure it's still just as tender. Mixed with potatoes, carrots and peppers the sauce that accompanies it is delicious and hearty.



Despite being categorized as a one chili dish on the menu, personally I found the oxtail spicier than the jerk chicken (listed with three chilies). But, it wasn’t overwhelming and was just flavourful enough to not require any additional hot sauce.


My husband ordered the char-grilled jerk chicken ($9.45) and it was moist with a nice smoky taste. Due to 1 Love’s healthier take on food, there's less salt on the chicken. I would have preferred a bit more seasoning but the addition of some scotch bonnet hot sauce did help add more flavour to the meat.



All meals are accompanied with rice & beans and a choice of coleslaw or salad. You can substitute the rice for quinoa for $1.75 and/or add baked plantain for $1.25. We had tried the rice and quinoa; both grains were good and went equally well with the protein so it’s really a matter of personal taste which to order. In either case, I’d suggest asking for some of the oxtail’s sauce on top as it complements the grains so well.



We both decided on the coleslaw which was crisp and fresh. Although it was dressed in a creamy looking sauce it wasn’t heavy. In the end, it was fairly neutral tasting and helped to cool our tongues when we went a little gung-ho with the hot sauce.

1 Love Kitchen also offers rotis, salads, soup and side add-ons if what accompanies your meal isn’t enough. All in all, we were both very satisfied with our meals. The food was more than enough to fill us but we didn’t leave feeling stuffed and sluggish. In the end, although 1 Love Kitchen offers healthier Caribbean fare, have no fear the flavours are still pronounced - your heart and stomach will just thank you for your choice later.


Overall mark - 7* out of 10

* I should note my husband disagrees with my ranking and he thinks it deserves an 8.5.


Disclaimer: The above meal was complimentary but the thoughts are still my honest opinion.


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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System
  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!

1 Love Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Mark Greenaway (Edinburgh)

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Address: 69 North Castle Street
Website: www.markgreenaway.com
Type of Meal: Dinner 



Mark Greenaway’s surroundings were simple but comfortable and the dining room held a surprising number of tables for the small location.  My only suggestion, for the next revamp, is to change the chairs. They are simply not practical for anyone with a purse with its holes in the back and rounded backing (nothing to hang your purse from); alas, mine had to sit on the ground.  Additionally, they were not that comfortable which may be a downfall for patrons ordering the 8-course tasting menu whom would need to sit for a while.  Luckily, we were just popping by for a quick dinner so they were good enough for us.

Soon after ordering we were brought an amuse bouche of sage and pumpkin foam with toasted pumpkin seeds.  I find pure foam starters to be a hit and miss, but Mark Greenaway's version was delicious with the fragrant warm foam set against the nuttiness of the pumpkin seeds.  The dish had a richness to it making it taste like lobster bisque (I know a bit strange for pumpkin) and proved to be a great start.

After the amuse bouche, I was expecting bread to be brought out as a large disk of butter sat on the white linens.  Surprisingly, it did not and instead my appetizer arrived first. Rather, the bread is served between the appetizer and main which is certainly unconventional, but perhaps saves you from filling up?  

The spelt risotto (£7) was beautifully presented with a deep yellow sauce set against the brown grains of spelt.  If you like cheese, this would be a great option as there’s plenty of it – a layer on the bottom of the plate, four croquettes of fried cheese included and a generous shaving of parmesan on top.  Indeed, the croquettes were crispy, hot and delicious an unexpected treat on an already rich dish. But, the risotto itself was a bit hard for my taste. Of course, I realize the barley and spelt based risottos generally have a harder shell so has more of a bite, but these grains hadn't split at all so it just tasted like I was eating kernels of grain in a cheese sauce. Perhaps if they were cooked a bit more or mixed in some rice the dish would have been better as the flavours were certainly there.

My main of halibut (£24) was cooked well and another colourful presentation.  Although it was good, I found the protein to be overshadowed by the pickled vegetable garnishes accompanying the main which were so vibrant in flavour.  Every time I had a taste of the vegetables and then went back to the fish, the halibut tasted really bland.  Now, this isn’t necessarily bad as there is some contrast, but just seems to be a shame that the main part of the dish gets lost. It was served with a lemongrass foam but found this didn't add much in terms of flavour. 

The black rectangle on the fish is actually a piece of squid ink pasta; a bit mushy and not flavourful at all which is strange as squid ink tends to offer such a distinct aroma.  The highlight of the dish, for me, was two slices of carrots which were wrapped around chopped up pieces of either fish or scallop with micro dices of pickled radish.  These garnishes were such a great combination of tartness and silkiness of seafood that I wish there was more of them.

The pan roasted hake fillet (£21) that my husband ordered was definitely the better dish of the two and exhibited a fusion of Asian and French flavours. It had the flavourful crispy skin, which I adore with a piece of plain fish, surrounded by a fragrant sesame ginger broth.  A side of purple mash included was smooth and had an interesting potato flavour mixed with what seemed like black sesame and red bean.  Topping the fish was a lobster tagliatelle made into a dumpling form - sadly my husband polished this before I had a taste.

Normally, I am not a big dessert fan but heard about their peanut butter cheesecake (£7.50) and had to try it.  The dessert consisted of layers of pressed peanut butter and smooth cheese cake piped between peanut butter sheets.  A large piece of dark chocolate peanut bark topped everything and had a hint of saltiness giving the cake a sweet and savoury aspect to it but not overwhelmingly so.  

As if this were not enough a warm syrupy caramel sauce is brought to the table and poured around the cake itself adding such a delicious buttery toffee taste to everything.  Thankfully, the sauce wasn't too sweet and was just enough to complement the already decadent dessert.  A white log decorates the cake and at first we put it to the side thinking it was a regular run of the milk while chocolate cylinder.  When we finally tasted it we were delighted to find it ice cold and creamy in texture going so well with the warm sauce.  I believe it might have been a frozen white chocolate gouache?  This dessert was absolutely delicious and worth all the hype it receives.  During our visit, it wasn't on the regular menu and only offered as part of the market menu.  Thankfully, the chef was accommodating and made it for us anyways.  Mr. Greenaway, put it back on your menu!

Perhaps it was due to our late seating and there were no other diners around, but the staff were extremely friendly and helpful, not only taking the time to chat with us but explain some facts of Scotland to us.  Overall, the experience was a great one and Mark Greenaway is worth a visit. They also offer a great deal with the special market menu, available from 5:30-6:45 offering 2 courses for £16.50 or 3 courses for £20.

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!



Restaurant Mark Greenaway on Urbanspoon

Castle Terrace (Edinburgh)

Location: Edinburgh, Scotland
Address: 33/35 Castle Terrace
Website: http://castleterracerestaurant.com
Type of Meal: Dinner


When we visited on a Friday evening, it was a packed house at Castle Terrace; with its laid back atmosphere (for a Michelin restaurant) the dining room was humming with conversation and laughter. Unfortunately, tables are placed fairly close together so you wouldn't want to speak too loudly or risk disrupting your neighbours, but does offer the opportunity to check out what everyone else is ordering.


The amuse bouche for the evening followed a comfort food theme.  The trio consisted of a crab meat ravioli, miniature slider and a liquid Caesar salad.  The crispy ravioli and slider were pretty looking and tasted good, but the most inventive and delicious of the three was the small Caesar salad capsule, which we were instructed to eat in one bite.  As soon as you bite into the half dome, your taste buds are greeted with a blast of garlic sauce.  When paired with the smooth jelly dome and crispy crouton on the bottom, you can certainly see why the chef describes this as a Caesar salad.

Next, arrived an espresso cup filled with the chef's take on a baked potato - smooth cheesy mashed potatoes top with disc of more potatoes (?) and a hint of bacon dust.  As tasty as creamy mashed potatoes can be, but we were still reminiscing about the liquid salad.

As soon as the seared scallops (£19) were placed in front of me, I knew I was in for a good meal. They were a fair size with a beautiful crust that even Mr. Ramsey would be proud of and just cooked so that the middle held a bit of the translucence.  I wouldn’t have imagined making scallops Indian style, but Castle Terrace topped theirs with a light curry sauce (poured table side), placed it on a bed of fragrant curried basmati rice and placed a small disc of naan bread beside each.  

There was just so much to try on the dish! The small pieces dotting the left side of the plate were dried pineapple and raisins, not something I like but thankfully they didn't mix it into the rice. I did enjoy the slivers of fresh coconut topping each scallop adding a light crunchy slaw to each delicate Orkney scallop.  This is certainly as dish you have to try if you like flavourful seafood.

On the other hand, my main of seared hampe of beef (£25) was back to a more traditional offering. Yet, it was presented in an extraordinary fashion and made me sit back for a moment and just take it in before diving into taste it.  From left to right on the plate, a piece of roasted carrot & spring onion, slices of the beef sitting on top of a phyllo pastry filled with crispy ox tongue and lastly a sweet potato mash rectangle filled with bordelaise sauce, mini carrots and a ravioli filled with beef jus (?).

At first, I found the beef to be a bit tough, only to realize when searching "hampe" later for this blog that it was a synonym for skirt steak.  In this case, the beef was actually cooked wonderfully as it was quite tender for this cut of meat and the dish provided a good portion of it. The pastilla (phyllo wrapped ox tongue) was also fairly large and quite delicious. For anyone who has ever had the Chinese pork floss (often found wrapped in glutinous rice or topping congee) the ox tongue had that texture but was moistened with sauce.  Although the flavour was fairly condensed, it didn't have a hint of offal to it and just resembled a gamier beef like bison.

Meanwhile, my husband ordered off of their seasonal menu starting with the crab (£17) which arrived cannelloni style piped into thin shavings of avocado. It was a refreshing dish, much lighter than my scallops, with diced mango and roasted red pepper mixed into the crab filling.  Certainly delicious and beautiful but I did not have order’s remorse.

Being adventurous, he ordered the special of the night, grouse (£33; a type of wild fowl), for his main.  You could tell that these weren't raised on a farm as the menu even warned that the game based dishes "could have traces of shot" in it.  Generally, I'm a fan of gamier tasting meats but even I could not warm up to this dish - breast or leg.  It was either the bird or the bread sauce but there was an unappetizing bitter taste in the dish.  

The only bearable part was the pan fried gnocchi sitting under the legs, served separately, but even these were slightly tainted with a gross aftertaste. My husband ate it and enjoyed it as an "experience" but agreed my beef was the better choice.

Luckily, the meal for him ended off on a sweet note when we ordered the caramel soufflé (£11) to share. Made to order, it arrived at the table towering over the ramekin.  Castle Terrace takes the cake for the most beautiful soufflé I’ve seen. Our server scored the soufflé and then poured a warm dark chocolate sauce on top so that it soaked into the middle.  A generous portion of honeycomb (or what you may know as sponge - the crunchy sweet candy in the middle of a Crunchie bar) and scoop of vanilla bean ice cream topped everything.

The dessert was positively decadent and made to be shared as we couldn't nearly have eaten it to ourselves.  The soufflé was airy and moist and undoubtedly the best sweet version I've ever had. Normally, I prefer my soufflés on the drier side, but even with the addition of the dark chocolate syrup and melting ice cream the structure still remained intact.  The honeycomb was also a smart choice adding a crunchy contrast to the smooth soufflé.
It appears that both of the Michelin restaurants in Edinburgh we visited have some sort of table side cart.  When my husband ordered a scotch (some year of Lagavulin for £11.50) the waiter wheeled over an entire whisky cart and poured it table side - perhaps to entice the other patrons and a great conversation starter.


 Coffee or tea, served with petit fours, will set you back £4.95. During our visit, the selection consisted of a pistachio cream cookie sandwich, a coconut chocolate macaroon and a chocolate filled with pineapple jam.  After such a delicious soufflé all were a bit of a disappointment and a bit sweet.

Castle Terrace did have their service down pat.  Despite being more laid back and casual than Martin Wishart, the servers just had a bit more polish. For example, they remembered my water preference (ice) compared to my other dinner companions (sparkling at £4.50/bottle) without having to be reminded.  It’s these little things that make all the difference.

I did notice a random £1 "charity" charge added onto the bill.  It's unclear what this is exactly for, but after shelling out so much for a meal what's another £1? And perhaps it's a way of having diners look back at the meal without guilt... sure I've splurged and ingested quite a number of calories from the decadent dishes, but in the end I helped someone out so surely all that would be negated right?

Overall mark - 8.5 out of 10

Like the post? Go to my Main Page for a complete listing by country.

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____________________________
Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • 6 - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!


Castle Terrace Restaurant on Urbanspoon