The Royal (Toronto)

Location: Scarborough, Canada
Address: 3587 Sheppard Avenue East
Type of Meal: Dinner

The Royal is the old school style Chinese restaurant with minimal décor, tightly packed tables and brightly lit neon signs proudly showcasing what customers can expect to eat – fresh seafood. At the very least, be thankful they kept their walls white so all the colours don’t become too overwhelming.

Following the traditional family style restaurants, The Royal also posts bright hand written dishes along the walls. Some of these items are on their menu, with the paper acting to further entice customers, while others added later so are left off the printed menu. Unfortunately, for some dishes we ordered that night it was the later so not all pricing is include below.

A big bowl of complementary pork bone soup is brought out and served. Having been boiled for hours the broth is flavourful but could be hotter.

Afterwards, dishes are presented in quick succession. The sweet and sour pork ($8.95) was delicious containing big chunks of juicy pork, fried crispy and encased in a nice strong sauce.

You really can’t visit this place without having some seafood. Since we had a larger table we ordered their big lobster which was on special for $11.99 a pound; we asked for a smaller one but it was still five pounds. The Royal can prepare it a number of ways – stir fried with green onions & ginger, steamed with garlic or deep fried with chili and salt. We opted for the “bay fung tong” style which is deep fried and then stir fried with a spicy ground beef mixture. All in all, the dish had good flavours and the lobster was plump and sweet.

With the tomalley, the flavourful gooey mixture found in the lobster’s head, a second dish was made by steaming it with egg. This is great for mixing into steamed rice to give it a silky richness. I only wish there was less ginger as the Chef went a bit overboard with it causing me to have to pick some out before eating.

The XO-sauce stir fried fish fillet with vegetables ($9.95) appeared to be a popular dish. The fish may have been frozen as I found the texture a tad soft and not the best quality, but the XO flavours was pronounced and had a great heat to it. Tossed with it were crispy snow peas and celery. A decent dish but for the price I’d suggest going with the seafood bird’s nest instead.

There is more seafood within the bird’s nest ($15.95) - shrimp, squid and scallop. All were in fairly big pieces simply stir fried with more of the customary snow pea and celery. Thankfully, at Royal they still make their bird’s nest with slivers of taro (some restaurants are taking the easy way out and using wonton wrappers instead). But, the taro needs to be shredded thinner as the nest was a tad hard.

For greens we ordered the baby bok choy with enoki mushrooms ($7.45). In the saucy mixture on top there were also slices of Chinese black mushrooms and grated carrots. In all, it was good but could benefit from more salt.

Although arriving piping hot, the deep fried pork chop with chili and salt ($8.95) was only average as the spice mixture didn’t stick to the meat. So, the dish became somewhat lackluster unless you made the effort to spoon some of the spices back on.

Not being a huge fan of the next dish, I skipped with deep fried oyster with green onions in hot pot, but it was happily enjoyed but the rest of the table.

To end, the complementary dessert. Sometimes you’ll get a sweet red bean soup but during our visit it was a plate of sliced oranges – I guess a boost of vitamin C never hurts in the winter time.

The Royal isn’t very big; so, if you don’t make a reservation or arrive early expect a queue. During our Sunday dinner there was a fair amount of patrons waiting for a table. However, food comes out quickly and service is friendly and efficient so no one seemed to have waited long.

In my opinion, it’s by no means the best Chinese restaurant you can go to. So, if you’re going to travel a long distance to eat here save yourself the time and effort. But, it’s a great family friendly location with affordable prices. When in the area, it doesn’t hurt to check it out.

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!

Royal Chinese on Urbanspoon

St Andrew Poultry Foodie Bar Tasting (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 17 St. Andrew Street

You may have visited St Andrew Poultry in the past while walking around Kensington Market. It’s been in business  since 1962, first a processing plant while later expanding into a retail store specializing in raw meats. In 2012, Dr. Jerry Jesin, son of the former owners, took over the place and completely revamped the business. In September, it was re-designed to add a gleaming take-out and eat-in bar area for those who want to indulge in fresh meat but not prepare it themselves.

Of course, you can still get every cut of chicken imaginable. But, they also offer a wide variety of other meats like beautifully aged steaks – the bone-in ribeye, my favourite cut, grabbed my attention. Josh, the person who curates this section, explains they only use triple AAA Alberta meat which has been wet aged for 29 days. Its then dry aged for at least a week before they're sold. During my visit, the ribeye was $14.99/lb a steal when non-aged versions can easily cost the same at grocery stores. St. Andrew simply doesn't want their customers paying extra for being able to enjoy a nicely aged product.

However, it's likely their Foodie Bar that will entice you – certainly it was the reason for my visit. Situated at the store’s front, it'd be hard to leave without picking up something to go. Chef Bernadette Calpito, formerly of Kultura, was brought in to define this area. Her vision: create take-out that's delicious and makes people want to say "yum"! Everything is prepared fresh daily without skimping on ingredients; Chef Calpito wants to redefine how customers view take-out.

Chef describes the menu as soul food ranging from fried chicken ($5.99) to steak frites ($12.99). The joy fried chicken is inspired by Jollibee, a famous chain from the Philippines. The plump pieces catches my eye and appetite, they are nothing like the scraggly pieces you'd find at KFC despite being priced similarly ($5.99 for 2 pieces and fries). 

Indeed, it tastes nothing like it as well. The chicken is juicy and tender with a crispy coating that’s not overly oily. To achieve this they first cook it in chicken stock allowing some fat to melt off and the meat to soak up juices. The batter is also not too salty so you can taste the chicken, if you need more flavour I highly suggest the house made Chef's hot sauce. Generally, I find hot wing sauce too pungent and vinegary acting only to sting the tongue and nose. But, at St Andrew's the vinegar ratio is lowered and the chilies bearable so you actually taste the sauce's flavour while not overpowering the chicken. 

If fried food is not your thing, there's also a lamb ($6.75) and chicken shawarma ($5.75) roasting away. The lamb is more flavourful while the chicken more tender, it'd be a hard choice to choose one over the other. Pictured below are half orders. 

With tons of ingredients to choose from (coleslaw, tabbouleh, corn salad, pickled beets, eggplant, etc.) mine was filled to the brim.  Luckily the soft pita held up and I was able to enjoy every bite. The Chef admits some ingredients such as the corn salad isn't exactly authentic; but, I like the deviation which adds some sweetness and crunch to the wrap. Certainly the delicious bourbon fries sprinkled on top also doesn’t hurt.

If you’re thinking of visiting regularly, consider joining their Supper Club. For $20 you’ll receive a lifetime membership that gets you 20% of prepared food section between 5:00-6:30pm.

If Kensington Market is too far, St. Andrew’s also offers catering to the downtown area. You can order any of their regular take-out items or other specialty catering ones as well. One being the corporate lunch favourite – sandwiches (a platter serving 8-10 costs $55). I know, sandwiches doesn’t normally excite employees but having tried two that evening I’d be happy to have either of them any day. 

The first was a cold grilled chicken sandwich topped with creamy coleslaw and avocado. Generally, I’m not a fan of creamy coleslaw but St. Andrew’s lighter version with ample pieces of vegetables help. I also enjoyed the shaved red onions which added an extra zip to ithe coleslaw without being overwhelming.  

One of my favourite things of the event was their hot baked crispy chicken breast sandwich. A take on an Italian sandwich, it’s slathering with homemade tomato sauce, a mushrooms medley (king oyster and shiitake) and caramelized onions. In between two pieces of soft airy Black Bird French bread it was a satisfying sandwich.

Since St. Andrew offers catering services we had a taste of a canapé as well. How can one bite be filled with so many flavours? The main part of was a stuffed mushroom pasta topped with a sweet pear chutney, truffle paste, a baked cherry tomato and aged cheddar. It was sweet, savoury, fresh and rich all at once.

If you’re feeling lazy this holiday season, you may want to consider picking one of their holiday dinner packages. Each includes soup, turkey and/or ham, trimmings, stuffing and vegetables ranging from $225 for ham or $249 for a medium turkey (feeds 8-10) to $349 for a ham and turkey dinner. Throwing in a few canapés would certainly impress the guestsas well. 

There’s also a retail area offering an extensive selection of items. Below are but a few things that grabbed my attention:

A beautiful array of house-made sauces. I tried the BBQ sauce ($5.99) using it to make a pulled pork sandwich. It's less tangy and more savory reminding me of the cha shu BBQ sauce. 

Salad in a jar ($7.99). Comes with a dressing and once poured out could feed up to two people. Being environmentally friendly, if you bring the jar back, you’ll get $1 towards another purchase. 

An area Chef Calpito calls the “jewelry case”. Instead of earrings and bracelets there’s cooked and raw sections. The cooked section contains items such as maple glazed salmon and garlic shrimp which are inspired by the shrimp trucks from the Chef’s Hawaiian background.  

Meanwhile, on the raw side, there’s pre-marinated meats if the chef in you wants to try your hand at cooking. There’s the Miami ribs (also served at the Foodie Bar), roasted red pepper Cornish hen and chipotle line quail just to name a few items.

To please a sweet tooth, there's a bakery area with scones, pastries and some delicious granola loaded with nuts. We tried the banana bread during the event and some cookies to bring home, both are not overly sweet yet still satisfying. 

Even Fluffy or Fido can get fed with a line of pet food and treat items. I was advised this is just the start and this section is expected to expand over the following months.

Aside from being introduced to St. Andrew’s food at the event, I also had the opportunity to speak to numerous individuals working there. Undeniably, they could have been grouchy, having to stay after closing and prepare even more food for us. But, they were friendly and welcoming, never shying away from answering all our questions. Some even live in the neighbourhood and have experienced the evolution of the store. They were a great group of people who genuinely seem to love St. Andrew’s, its food and each other.

It’s a camaraderie not normally experienced while visiting large chain grocers. Certainly, most employees wouldn’t be as knowledgeable about the products as St. Andrews’ is. If you’re in the neighbourhood (or can grab a group of 8 to order delivery), have a taste of St. Andrews and see how they are putting the “yum” in take-out.

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Fresh Burger Grand Opening Event (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 542 Church Street

Fresh Burger recently opened their second location downtown and to mark the occasion not only threw a media party, but also gave out free burgers to anyone else! I'll admit, I felt guilty sneaking past the long line wound around their building ... but then the promise of warmth and comfort food got the best of me.

They have a simple menu with two sizes of burgers - a "fresh" (4 oz) and a "prime" (6 oz). If that isn't enough meat, patrons can also order double patties as well. Each are dressed with lettuce, tomato, cheese and their special sauce. You're also welcomed to add onions and pickles (free of charge) or caramelized onions, bacon, sautéed jalapeño, mushrooms or other cheeses for an extra $1. 

For my first experience I decided to keep it simple and have their Freshburger combo - a 4oz patty with the classic fixings. Admittedly, it's a little plain, I'd suggest at least adding the pickle and onion to it. The combo normally comes with fries but the smell of their poutine was intoxicating so I had to make one upgrade. 

The patty was tender and beefy thanks to the lean Canadian AAA sirloin they use. The fresh version was a decent amount of meat, but for the bun I think the prime version would be more suitable. I personally enjoyed that they didn't add too much spice mixture on the meat so that its natural flavour was pronounced. The bun was soft and fluffy, unfortunately its delicateness makes it look manhandled after I took it out of the wrapper.

I thoroughly enjoyed the poutine. Piping hot fresh fries, copious amounts of gooey cheese curds and layered gravy so there was plenty on the top and bottom of the container. It's well worth it to add the extra $2.99 to upgrade the fries. Like their burger, the portion size is huge and can easily be shared amongst two. 

Indeed, you can tell their fries are freshly cut in house. If you can't tell from the potato taste, the skid of potatoes by the cash register surely will help.

Although it wasn't available during launch night, Fresh Burger also has a secret menu consisting of an Aloha burger, bacon mushroom melt and California fries. The sound of the fries continue to intrigue me, so I'll have to go back one day to try them! Likely when the weather warms up so I can enjoy their spacious patio out front. 

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Fresh Burger on Urbanspoon

The Beech Tree (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 924 Kingston Road
Type of Meal: Dinner 

When you think of a quaint neighbourhood restaurant, The Beech Tree certainly looks the part. Its cozy dining room is wrapped in dazzling damask wallpaper and bright wainscoting. There’s a sophisticated homey charm to its décor.

But, it’s small size has drawbacks – one being waiting 25 minutes after our reservation time to be seated. It’s unclear whether they have limited dishware, but 10 of the 25 minutes was spent setting the table. Irritatingly it was a slow and inefficient process - three separate individuals bringing out dishware at varying times (one cups, another cutlery and the last napkins?). After each you think it’s done only to find the person go serve another table. The Type A in me cringed making me want to go help. If setting a table is going to take that long, I highly suggest just having a plate and napkin done, seat everyone and worry about the wine goblets and cutlery afterwards.

Alas, once seated I ordered a cocktail to calm the impatience. The Osborne ($10) sounded delicious made with cucumber infused gin, cucumber puree, Thai basil, lemon and lillet. It’s light and refreshing, a good drink to start with.

Thankfully, their food impressed. The pan-seared gaspe scallops ($14) was fantastic and beautifully presented on a platter. The scallops had a nice seared crust and was just cooked through. Even the items accompanying it were great – the tender house-cured ham and what I thought were soft creamy potatoes which turned out to be Jerusalem artichokes.  This is an appetizer that’s great for sharing.

The arctic char ($25) was cooked perfectly with a very crispy skin. The fattiness of the fish (less than salmon but more than halibut) went well with the heavier accompaniments – a thick butternut squash puree and a sweet curry corn patty. I also enjoyed the hit of chilies that was thrown in somewhere. Topping everything was a refreshing vinegary slaw that worked well to balance the sweet squash.

I was looking forward to the roast breast and fried leg of chicken ($22). Sadly the breast was overdone and dry. I salvaged it with the sauce verte drizzled around the artic char, using the oil to rehydrate the meat. The leg was much better with a crispy cornflake coating, which was well drained so wasn’t greasy at all. On the side were parsnip, brown butter, quinoa and a great smoked swiss chard (I would have loved more of the greens).

My other friends at the table decided to go with beef and that evening they had two options to choose from. On their regular menu was the grilled sirloin steak ($24). It arrived cooked well and beautifully presented with fingerling potatoes dusted with kale powder, mushrooms and a vegetable fritter.

Beech Tree was also offering a bone-in ribeye special for two ($60). Essentially a huge hunk tender meat rustically served with thick wedges of large mushrooms, potato gratin and creamed spinach. The steak looked fantastic and so did the sides – but the portion of sides given could be upped since it was meant to feed two.

The Beech Tree’s food is delightful and the surroundings cozy and comfortable. I’d hope our experience at being seated with an anomaly, but to be safe grab a smaller group or opt for an earlier sitting so the table is already set upon your arrival.

Overall mark - 7.5* out of 10

* Food wise it would have gotten an 8. But, the pitiful table set-up at the beginning lost them half a point.

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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!

The Beech Tree on Urbanspoon

Announcing Kanpai Snack Bar an upcoming restaurant in Toronto!

Taiwanese street food is gaining international attention with more travel sites declaring Taipei a food mecca and its street food the thing to try. Luckily for Torontonians, Kanpai Snack Bar is bringing a taste of Taiwan to us and thankfully it’ll be indoors – I don’t care how good something tastes, I won’t be standing outside to eat it during the winter.

Set to open at 252 Carlton Street, Kanpai will serve lunch, dinner and late night eats. It aims to be an approachable place where patrons will be welcomed and can get a satisfying meal without paying a fortune. Dishes will of course follow the street food theme being served in single or double portions allowing tables to customize orders to their tastes. While the menu is still being finalized, Kanpai will have a traditional Taiwanese yakitori grill creating delicious skewers.

Fried rice (1)

Other offerings include cold and hot dishes, wok prepared specialties and nose-to-tail delights (for all you ear, tail and cheek lovers). There will be no official stinky tofu yet. But, Kanpai is experimenting with a recipe that is more approachable to the western palate yet keeping the integrity of having authentically Taiwanese components

Taiwanese tofu (1)

Patrons will also be treated to reasonably priced drinks along with happy hour and beer/spirit promotional specials. There will be multiple craft beers, house wines and pre-mixed artisan cocktails all offered on tap. You heard right – there will be pressurized cocktail on tap. Trevor Lui, one of the owners of Kanpai, notes these cocktails have an interesting flavour profile that changes as it’s kept in the keg.

So, if you’re intrigued about trying Taiwanese food and would rather not travel north to Markham and Richmond Hill, then Kanpai Snack Bar is the place for you. It’ll open this winter and could be as early December 2014. Stay tuned for updates by following Kanpai’s social media accounts on Twitter and Instagram.

Rest assured the partners at Kanpai have experience with the Toronto food scene. They’re also running La Brea Food, which has served Mexican and Asian mash ups for over a year. They’ve frequented food festivals (the latest being a week long gig at the Royal Horse Show) serving fusion creations such as Japanese shoyu pulled pork tacos and Tijuana sushi rolls. I’m intrigued to try their guacamame one day a guacamole made with edamame!

Sadly, La Brea doesn’t have a permanent location yet, but they do offer private catering.  Trevor teases that a restaurant is under consideration should all the stars align.  For now, the attention will be focused on Kanpai Snack Bar, but I say it wouldn’t hurt if a yakitori taco topped with guacamame makes it way on the menu. Secret menu item perhaps?

To stay up to date with Kanpai Snack Bar and La Brea Food, check out their Twitter accounts - @KanpaiSnackBar and @LaBreaFoodTO

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Photo Sources:
  1. All photos are courtesy of Kanpai Snack Bar. From their Instagram account (