Travel Roundup: Hong Kong & Macau 2019

Public art is showcased at PMQ

I thought I’d write a post about my latest trip to Hong Kong and Macau (we returned home about a month ago). It’d been about two and a half years since my previous visit, and this time I had my parents and Kirk in tow with me.

While we still did some of the usual things a tourist would do (it was Kirk’s first time there, after all), the primary reason for our vacation was to see my extended family, especially my grandparents who are both in their nineties. We wanted to have a big reunion ahead of our upcoming wedding in the fall as it’d allow us a chance to celebrate with them in case they couldn’t make it to Edmonton for the real deal.

From the standpoint of culture shock, I’d say that Kirk did better than me with aspects like the crazy crowds while I fared better when it came to heights; three of the world’s 50 tallest buildings reside in this territory and being the fourth most densely populated region on the globe, you can image that everything is built up, not out. What’s great about Hong Kong, though, is it’s quite easy to navigate. English and Chinese signage is everywhere, and a large portion of the residents speak English, too.

I’ll try to do a short recap of each day of our trip here. If there’s anything that was covered in detail in my past write up, I’ll refer you to that. Hopefully, for the restaurants that we had a chance to try, I’ll be doing separate posts at a later date.

Day 1 – Hong Kong

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We arrived in Hong Kong around supper time. Once my parents had gotten their suitcases from the luggage carousel (Kirk and I only packed carry on for the two week vacation), we picked up Airport Express passes and made our way on the train to Hong Kong Station. From there, my uncle and aunt picked us up. Being around rush hour — many people work from about 10:00am to 6:00 or 7:00pm daily — we hit some traffic. However, it didn’t take too long, and next thing you know, we were in the super convenient area of Causeway Bay being dropped off at the Holiday Inn Express (my cousins were very kind to treat us to our stay there).

Once we’d checked into our room, put away our bags, and freshened up, we walked across the street to Times Square to meet up with the four of them for dinner. On the tenth floor of the mall was Greenhouse, a Southeast Asian restaurant. Honestly, we stuffed our faces here with roast chicken, pizza, salads, and steak. When we finished our meal, Kirk and I decided to walk off the food by perusing some of the shops, including a very cool whiskey store with lots of limited edition bottles, and a business that only sold Totoro items.

After twenty hours or so of travel, we were exhausted. We settled in and went to bed. Best of all, it was late in the evening in Hong Kong, so we got into a good rhythm right away. Thankfully, we didn’t experience much, if any, jet lag during our time there.

Day 2 – Hong Kong

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We took it pretty easy on our first full day in Hong Kong. Once we’d gotten ready to go, we actually went to visit with my grandma in Wanchai before doing anything else. It was so great to see her again and she finally got to meet Kirk. Language barrier aside, they were pretty adorable.

For lunch, we headed back to Causeway Bay where we ate at Din Tai Fung. While it’s not a local restaurant, it’s famous for their Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). My mom wasn’t overly impressed with them because the dumplings weren’t hot enough. Although I agreed with her on that point, I still love their too expensive (over $30 CDN for six) black truffle and pork variety. Their wontons are pretty delicious as well.

After that, we explored Causeway Bay, giving Kirk a chance to get a lay of the land. We stopped in SOGO, a fancy department store in the middle of the area. My mom wanted to show Kirk the basement-level grocery store with the pricey imported fruits. Honestly, they’re beautifully packaged, looking pristine and at peak ripeness, but I still can’t fathom why any of them cost as much as they do.

As we walked around that area, we found a kiosk for BAKE Cheese Tart (actually a Japanese chain). They’re famous for their pastries and they literally sell only one item. These bright yellow rays of sunshine look sort of like an egg tart, but they’re a little more savoury because of the cheese and the consistency of the crust is more like a cookie than a pie.

If you haven’t guessed yet, a lot of our time in Hong Kong consisted of eating. That night was no different. We met up with another uncle and two of my aunts for dinner inside the Conrad Hotel at Brassarie on the Eighth. To my family’s dismay, they had sold out of the Tomahawk steaks that they had their eyes on. But, in the end, everything that we had (minus the undercooked souffles) were wonderfully prepared. I quite enjoyed my indulgent four-course meal.

Day 3 – Hong Kong

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The smog cleared up a bit on our third day in the city, so we decided it’d be an opportune time to take Kirk to Victoria Peak. From there, you can see expansive vistas of the valley. My dad insisted that we walk along Victoria Peak Loop (from what I could find online, I believe it’s 4.5 kilometers in length) as he wanted to reminisce about his childhood days when he and his brothers would adventure nearby. He kept saying that there were great views. Initially, I didn’t believe him because all I could see were trees along the edge, but eventually, they opened up to reveal those postcard images.

Even though the path was even and paved, it was a slower walk than we’d hoped. No one had really prepared for the distance (because we didn’t know we’d be walking this trail) and the creeping heat. So, it was nice when we made it to the end and sustenance was in sight. My relatives had told us about the new Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay on the Peak, and I had my heart set on going there for lunch.

The restaurant serves elevated pub-style dishes. Both my dad and Kirk went for the Dry Aged British Beef Burgers. My mom ate the Fried Buffalo Chicken Burger. Me being me, I had to sample a few different things, including Mushroom Arancini, Mixed Grain Salad, and Smoked Steak Tartare. Nothing disappointed. Everything was prepared well with ample flavour.

When we finished our meal, we caught the bus back down the mountain (double decker buses driving along the narrow winding roads with very short barriers are always a little hard to get used to). We rode it all the way to Central Station. That’s where you can catch a Star Ferry boat over to the Kowloon side. Fun fact: the reliable ferries have been in use since 1888 and many still retain their original wooden seats.

On the Kowloon side, we stopped into the famous Peninsula Hotel. Our original plan was to have high tea there, but at a minimum of $350 HKD (approximately $70 CDN) per person, we opted not to stay. Instead, we walked around the Avenue of the Stars and 1881 Heritage — the past Old Marine Police Headquarters now reestablished as a luxury shopping landmark — before heading back over to the island. It was our intention to stay on the Kowloon side longer, so that we could see the nightly light show across the water, but it would have meant killing quite a bit of time, and everyone was rather tired, especially my father.

Day 4 – Hong Kong

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One thing I can never recall doing during all of my past trips to Hong Kong is riding the tram. Yet, I’d highly recommend this affordable transportation now. Each of these cars have two stories on them and if you can snag the topside seats at the front (or even the back), you’ll have fantastic views of the streets that you pass by. It’s definitely a more leisurely ride, so don’t expect to get anywhere as quickly as you would compared to the subway or the bus. We rode all the way from one end of the line at Happy Valley to the very end at Sheung Wan.

In Sheung Wan, we stopped to check out the views of the harbour and then we sought out a place for lunch. Gioia caught our attention with their lunch special: purchase three meals and the fourth was free. Plus, the set lunch menu of three-courses and a beverage for about $20 each was already a steal.

Once we completed our meal, we explored the area on foot, passing through wet markets and stopping to look at real estate listings. We also noticed that there were more elderly milling about. It seemed like they had regular routines and most were still going about their days on their own even though they were probably in their eighties or nineties. Lots of props to them for keeping up with an active lifestyle.

That night, we took it easy with dinner at my grandma’s. Her helpers prepared such wonderful Indonesian-style dishes for us. They pulled out all of the stops, and we were stuffed silly.

Day 5 – Hong Kong

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On this day, we ventured to the Diamond Hill district where we paused for lunch at Genki Sushi. They’ve revamped these restaurants to utilize online phone ordering and the trains that come right to your table to drop off each plate (similar to what you might find in Japan). While my cousin has stated that the sushi from here is next to inedible, it’s still pretty decent to me. Coming from landlocked Edmonton (where, don’t get me wrong, we do have some good sushi available), anything we can get in Hong Kong, due to it’s closer proximity to water, is going to be fresher than home. Also, sear the seafood and toss some sauce on it, and it will be good.

For dessert, there was a Mamma Mia Gelato kiosk right outside the doors of Genki Sushi. I couldn’t pass up some scoops of the black sesame, matcha, and pistachio flavours.

We followed lunch up with a trek across the street to the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery. I’ve gone to this spot every single time on each of the last few trips I’ve taken to Hong Kong. It’s because it’s one of the most tranquil locations in the city. Whenever you step into the fenced garden, it’s like quiet envelops the entire area, making it a respite from all of the hustle and bustle.

In the evening, we had our big family dinner with all of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and nieces on my mom’s side. This was Kirk’s opportunity to meet everyone (before they all jetted off on their own holidays or work trips). We had a traditional multi-course Chinese meal and we passed out our wedding invitations in person.

To cap off the night, we stayed at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Clubhouse bar for drinks and snacks. The bartender really knew his stuff when it came to whiskeys and cocktails, and there was live music, which my dad loved.

Day 6 – Hong Kong

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We spent most of this morning and afternoon visiting with my cousin and her family. They made us brunch (delicious Australian wagyu burgers) and gave Kirk whiskeys to taste while we held and played with their baby girls.

When it came to supper, my aunt, uncle, and cousin took us to the iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Reaching the marina, we then hopped on a boat that brought us across the water to the entrance of the building. The restaurant has so many ornate details to it, and I get why it’s become such a landmark. The Queen of England has dined there, and my grandparents even celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Jumbo when I was just in my early teens. I hadn’t been back since.

The food was incredible and they really put on a show for their customers with certain dishes like our drunken prawns prepared tableside. It’s certainly a spot that’s unforgettable.

Day 7 – Hong Kong

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We head back to Kowloon to meet with my dad’s side of the family over dim sum and roast pigeon. They even bought us a personalized cake to celebrate our engagement. It was a really nice get together.

Since we were at Olympia Plaza, we decided to do some shopping. Hong Kong is littered with shops along every street and corner. There are malls all over the place, too. However, if you find yourself there, you’ll likely notice that most of the stores are high end brands that the average tourist probably can’t afford to shop at. Olympia Plaza is a great mall with a variety of businesses that sell goods at much more reasonable price points. They even had a Muji! In the vein of IKEA, but born out of Japan, their food section sells ample matcha flavoured snacks. I filled up a basket with every single matcha item I could find.

More relatives of ours wanted to meet up, so we arranged dinner with them at Fini’s. An Italian American restaurant, we were served burrata, eggplant parm, a huge pizza, and pasta galore. It was such a filling, yet satisfying meal.

When we finished supper, my cousin wanted to show us the SoHo area where most of the nightlife can be found, particularly around Lan Kwai Fong. We found some of the staff at the busier bars to be quite aggressive as they attempted to lure customers in as we walked by. Rather than go to any of those places, though, my cousin treated us to customized drinks at the hidden J.Boroski. We also popped into Iron Fairies next door to see the hanging butterflies prior to catching a cab back to the hotel for the night.

Day 8 – Macau

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In the morning, once we were out and about, I started noticing weird red welts on my left foot. I’m not sure what happened and when exactly, but I must have been bitten by one vicious bug. I mean, no trip of mine is ever complete without me having some sort of reaction to a bug bite and a potential infection, right?

Anyway, I tried not to think about it too much. We got to the ferry terminal to take us to Macau. TIP: Don’t forget your passport as they are required (Kirk had to hilariously crouch down for the camera after he scanned his documents to get through the customs area). Our tickets were for the regular class on the TurboJET ferry. It takes about an hour on the hydrofoil boats to get from Hong Kong to Macau, so we arrived well before noon. From the Macau ferry terminal, we caught a shuttle bus to The Venetian. Kirk wanted to try his hand at the roulette tables at the casino there. However, with a gaming industry that is seven times larger than that of Las Vegas, required bets were high, and our small amount of money didn’t last very long.

Still, we wandered around to the Parisian (gorgeous marbled building, by the way) where we found a lovely set lunch menu at a French restaurant called Brassarie. With full stomachs, we then took another shuttle bus back over to the Sands where we caught a cab that dropped us within walking distance of the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s was a Catholic church and college that were destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. Only the facade of the church remains standing at the top of the steps. This is one of Macau’s main attractions and, thus, it’s always crowded with tourists. Slightly to the east, you’ll find the Monte Fort (a.k.a. Fortaleza do Monte), which provides 360 degree views overlooking the city.

No trip to Macau would be complete without purchasing some almond cookies from Koi Kei Bakery (and probably some fresh Portugese egg tarts, which we failed to seek out). These are a very popular souvenir to take home. My mom told me that these are currently the favourite, but back in the day, another bakery was actually considered the best until a Chinese soap opera advertised the Koi Kei brand, allowing it to surpass the other in sales.

We returned to Hong Kong right before the dinner rush, so we popped into Genki Sushi at the ferry terminal for a quick meal. The rest of the evening was pretty lax with a run to 7-11 for treats.

Day 9 – Hong Kong

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We spent the day in Stanley where we perused the market stalls, checked out the pier and Murray House, investigated the shops at the plaza, and grabbed burgers for lunch at Beef & Liberty. On the way back to Causeway Bay, we made a pit stop at Repulse Bay, so Kirk could dip his feet into the water at the beach.

Returning to the city center, we made our way to a street market stall to buy socks ($15 CDN for 10 pairs of quality Korean knitwear). Then, we walked to the Fashion Walk food district for dinner at MINH & KOK, a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant.

Day 10 – Hong Kong

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Kirk saw an ad in one of the local papers for a tailor offering a deal on custom made suits, so my mom made him an appointment. Much to my dismay, the weather gods were not our friends, and we ended up leaving the metro station to find it pouring outside. We did more running around than we needed to, but we eventually found the teeny tiny shop. Alas, it was decided that they were not our best option, and we ventured back underground where it was dry and warm.

The metro station led us to K11 Art Mall (also a mall with a variety of stores that are much more affordable and it doubles as an art museum). There, my dad settled on us having lunch at an eatery called BU Healthy Dining & Gathering. The prices were right. I can’t say much for the service as it was pretty shoddy, and the soup was so-so as was my iced milk tea. Nevertheless, I found my Thai curry pasta to be quite good. It hit the spot with its creamy sauce and level of spice.

While we were at the mall, we decided to do some shopping before we headed back to Causeway Bay. We killed some time at Lane Crawford Times Square and then we got ready to go to the horse races.

My aunt and uncle were kind enough to bring us along to a buffet dinner in one of the members only areas of the Happy Valley Racecourse. Throughout our meal, we were able to place bets on the eight races that ran throughout the evening. I think, all in, Kirk and I spent about $50 CDN between six or seven of the races over a four hour period. Considering the amount of time we spent there and the entertainment value, we thought it was worth the money even though we didn’t take home any winnings.

Day 11 – Hong Kong

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It turned out to be another rainy day in Hong Kong, which meant our initial plans of walking around Sheung Wan’s outdoor markets (specifically in search of Chop Alley) were thwarted. We ended up staying indoors at the IFC Mall, using pedways to connect through to LANDMARK and the HSBC Building.

When we got hungry, all of the places in LANDMARK were full for high tea, so my mom took us to a cafe she knew about in a neighbouring mall. The building (2 Chinachem Plaza) that we found ourselves in was pretty run down, but Delifrance was alright. The place was clean and bright, and the food was tasty with the tea served hot. Just don’t ever go into the bathrooms in the building. If Kirk’s not willing to use them, you know it’s bad.

Eventually, it was time for dinner. We met up with my uncle, aunt, cousin, and my dad back at IFC for a pretty memorable meal at La Rambla by Catalunya. The authentic Spanish dishes were to die for with some pretty succulent seafood. Additionally, meat like the Tomahawk steak and the beef tartare just took things to a whole new level. Kirk was in his happy place before being surprised with cake and a sparkler for his upcoming birthday.

Day 12 – Hong Kong

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After passing by Mother of Pizzas several times during our vacation, we thought it was time to sit down and try it. It costs a pretty penny for food there and the pizza is a tad greasy (at least the one with pepperoni), but it was damn good.

With that satisfying lunch out of the way, we made it to Chop Alley. This narrow street is full of stalls that sell hand carved stone stamps. We were told that they made the best ones, but for the price and the quality, we actually thought that the ones we found in Stanley Market were better.

Talking about hand-crafted items, we then ventured to PMQ (formerly the Police Married Quarters), a building that has been restructured into an arts district. The main courtyard serves as a showcase for work from local artists and the surrounding units are filled with shops that sell their own locally made items and designs. I could have spent hours there.

Lastly, we passed by Ladder Street and the Cat Street Market, specifically known for antiques (I do wonder if they’re legit antiques though). With the rain and the time of day, most of the stalls were beginning to pack up for the evening.

Our final dinner on the trip was back at the Fashion Walk. I’d seen a sign for a place called Little Bao during our previous visit to MINH & KOK, and I sought it out on this night. It’s a contemporary take on those traditional Chinese bao pockets filled with meat. Here, they served their baos like burgers. My favourites were definitely the pork belly and the salted ice cream baos.

The next day, we had several hours left before our flight home. We spent it with my mom’s family at their weekly Saturday lunch gathering and then at my aunt and uncle’s home. After one last visit with my grandma, we took off for the airport.

We were totally spoiled on this trip. My family showed such hospitality to us and Kirk has been having Hong Kong withdrawal ever since we got back to Edmonton. It’s safe to say that Kirk loved it there, and he’s already been asking when we’ll be returning. I’m so lucky to have these opportunities to explore the world and I’m even luckier to have Kirk who’s willing to do so with me.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Vin Room Mission

A petite serving of Hummus and flatbread.

On our recent road trip to Calgary, I opted to try out restaurants that offered Happy Hour menus. Our meals were planned around the mid- to late-afternoon hours or well into the evening to take advantage of the deals. During our first night there, we ended up at Vin Room Mission (2310 4 Street). We were seated on the main floor in a narrower space past the lounge and right near the kitchen. It was cute and cozy as Kirk and I sat side by side.

As we reviewed the options, I was quite tempted by a list of features that they had for the evening. But, we stuck to my plan, and ordered only from the Happy Hour items: Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour ($6), Hummus ($5), Weekly Tacos ($5 each), Spaghetti Pomodoro ($5), and Grilled Chicken Skewers ($2 each).

Bartender’s Choice Beer Pour

For the beer, we were hoping for something on tap and more local. It turned out to be a bottle of Steam Whistle, so nothing all that special and kind of expensive for the price. On the plus side, to start, they provided complimentary popcorn with the beer.

The Hummus was presented in a tiny dish with four triangles of grilled flatbread brushed with olive oil. It was nice that the flatbread was actually warm and still soft. The hummus was garlicky and flavourful. It was so small though. It took just a few minutes for us to crush that plate.

Weekly Tacos

Kirk is the one who chose to have two of the Weekly Tacos. I sampled a bite of it, and I wasn’t impressed. I already tend to dislike pico de gallo because of the frequent inclusion of cilantro, but, on top of that, the corn tortilla was super dry, tasting like thin cardboard. Otherwise, the Valentina hot sauce and chicken was fine.

Spaghetti Pomodoro

The Spaghetti Pomodoro comes meatless with a simple mix of tomato sauce, basil pesto, and shaved Grana Padano. The sauce was light, but tasty. I appreciated the amount of cheese, considering the ratio of the topping to the noodles. I was beginning to understand that Vin Room was able to have such a cheap happy hour by altering the portion sizes significantly. It’s a good thing we weren’t particularly hungry and these “snacks” were enough.

Grilled Chicken Skewers

Probably my favourite choice of the night were the Grilled Chicken Skewers. I’m pretty certain that the same chicken was used in the tacos (and I doubt they switch up the type of taco every week). Still, the pieces of chicken were plump and tender. I also enjoyed the honey-lemon glaze and fresh herbs. We even ate the petite green salad on the side.

Carrot Cake

We decided to indulge in dessert before we left. It was the Carrot Cake ($9) that caught our eyes. With a Wensleydale cheese frosting, carrot-pineapple jam, and vanilla creme anglaise, it was quite decadent. Our only complaint was that it was clearly prepared in advance and refrigerated as it was chilly on the tongue. It would have been more pleasing to, at least, have it served at room temperature. Regardless, it was a highlight of our meal at Vin Room.

I wouldn’t necessarily go back to Vin Room for happy hour alone. But, the service was attentive, so I’d be interested in checking them out again for their regular menu just to see what the quality is like in comparison to what you get for happy hour. There was certainly a bit of promise with a couple of the items and the place was busy, so it can’t be all that bad, right?

Calgary Restaurant Review: Calcutta Cricket Club

Calcutta Cricket Club

From the second you spot the mint-hued building, you know you’re in for a treat at Calcutta Cricket Club in Calgary. Located on 17 Avenue, this restaurant, designed by local artist Maya Gohill, is described by her as a “1960’s Indian social club meets The Golden Girls.”

Stepping into the space, I totally understand the latter idea. It’s got that sort of gaudy quality reminiscent of the crazy, colourful clothing the women on that show used to wear and there’s a very ’80s to ’90s vibe (à la Miami Vice). Sunny pinks and blues are offset by a large-scale checkered floor, wicker bar stools, and a prominent leaping jaguar behind the bar.

A reservation had been made in advance using OpenTable, and, upon arriving for brunch (available Saturday and Sunday from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm), we were promptly seated by a friendly server at a table for two.

Mango Lassi

We took a few minutes to review the menu. It’s not extensive, but there are several options, including a Slow Brunch consisting of three courses for $25 per person. While it looked wonderful, both of us decided to select individual dishes. Kirk went with his usual standard-style English-ish Breakfast ($15) with a side of Bacon ($5). I chose the Tandoori Fried Chicken ($18), and, because I had to have it, I also ordered a Single Chai-Ovaltine Pancake ($6.50) as well as a Mango Lassi ($4.50) to drink.

The Mimosa Cart

The Mango Lassi was served in a short glass, but, due to the thicker, creamy consistency, it was sufficient enough to go with my meal. Made with yogurt, mango, and cardamom, the slightly spicy and fruity mix was sweet without being cloying as the yogurt mitigated the natural sugars. It’s the perfect non-alcoholic beverage to pair with Indian cuisine. On a side note, I saw the mimosa cart go by a few times while we dined and it was super tempting. They use fresh squeezed juice — grapefruit, orange, or spiced pineapple — to make their cocktails ($8 each), which makes all the difference.

English-ish Breakfast

Kirk’s English-ish Breakfast came with Empire Provisions spiced sausage, sunny-side eggs, tomato, masala potatoes, and sourdough. Visually, at first glance, it was a little boring. However, digging in, the seasoned potatoes were delicious and the curry over the eggs added a new dimension. The additional bacon was generous and crispy. The star of the plate was certainly those spiced sausages though. They packed a ton of flavour and some heat on the palate. Not overwhelmingly spicy by any means, but enough to be warm, comforting, and a change from the norm.

When my Tandoori Fried Chicken was placed in front of me, I was shocked at the size of the dish. The two pieces of deep-fried yogurt marinated chicken were huge! I commented on that, and the server who had dropped our plates off stated that many guests even opt to add extra chicken. After taking an initial bite, I could see why. The meat was succulent and tasty — nutty, zesty, spicy, pungent — with a crisp breaded exterior and a balance of sugar from the coconut and honey. Laid beneath was a large slab of cornbread (maybe a tad dry) and a refreshing green salad. Since I still had “dessert” to work through, I ate only half the food, packing up the rest to go.

Single Chai-Ovaltine Pancake

I’m so glad that I didn’t miss out on the Chai-Ovaltine Pancake either. It was incredible. The single portion was perfect for me and it’s still prepared the same way as a full-size order, meaning it is presented with the daily fruit compote, saffron chantilly, and garam spiced granola. You get the best of everything without the possibility of overeating. I loved all of the textures from the thick, fluffy pancake to the crunchy granola and the floral-infused chantilly cream.

As our final meal during our short visit to Calgary, this was definitely a memorable one. It’s sad to think that Calcutta Cricket Club is hours away from home and it’ll be a while before I can go back. Then again, it just gives me something else to look forward to (like maybe happy hour next time) whenever I have a chance to return to Calgary.

Calgary Restaurant Review: Bread & Circus

Art made for Bread & Circus

For my birthday weekend in Calgary, I had planned several meals based around available happy hour menus. One of the places that popped up during my search was Bread & Circus. It’s tucked away on 17 Avenue — a favourite area whenever Kirk and I visit the city — behind Una Takeaway on 6 Street.

The interior of Bread & Circus keeps your eyes moving.

I mean, anyone who walks into Una Takeaway will see the restaurant entrance right there, but it still kind of retains an in-the-know hideaway feeling when you show up for your reservation (booked through Resy). Prior to being seated, our winter coats were taken and hung up for us. We were then led to a table for two that was tucked into a small nook across from the chef’s bar.

As it turns out, only select items from the antipasti and pasta options were included as part of happy hour, but it was enough to satisfy us. NOTE: It seems that happy hour has changed since our visit as they now offer a daily $5 menu of house wine, specific cocktails and food items between 5:00pm to 6:00pm.

When we were at Bread & Circus, cocktails were on special for $6 each and certain marked plates were half off (costs listed here are regular price, unless otherwise indicated). That included their Garlic Bread ($7), Amatriciana ($19), Carbonara ($20), and Beef Carpaccio ($14).

The Pomme Pomme

The Pomme Pomme ($10) was a tall cocktail mix of Calvados, Gifford’s Ginger Liqueur, and lime juice, making for a refreshingly tart beverage with a hint of spice at the back of the throat. Very smooth and easy drinking.

The Beef Carpaccio was presented first, and it was superb. The paper thin, circular slices of bright red meat were generously covered with broccolini salsa verde, shaved mimolette cheese, and puffed farro. The salsa was creamy and cooling on the palate. The hard orange-hued cheese was nutty and slightly salty, pairing well with the florets of broccolini, and the puffed farro added a little bit of crunch. So many textures and distinct flavours came together to make one fantastic dish. Even Kirk, who does not like raw meat, ate his fair share of this one (citing the beef actually looked fresh and appetizing to him because of the colouring), and we ended up ordering a second plate.

Amatriciana pasta in the forefront with the Garlic Bread in the back.

Before we even got our first order of Garlic Bread, Kirk decided that we should get two, so again, another was requested. There’s a reason why this is charged at $7 each though. It’s because it’s a whole loaf of freshly baked, warm pull-apart bread. The outer crust was a tad dry in spots and sort of subtly flavoured throughout. That is, until you get to the portion where they stuffed it with the garlic butter. Then it turns into a potently garlic treat. I devoured almost my entire loaf, careful to eat all of the parts doused in that butter and leaving behind the drier bits.

Carbonara

The two of us split the Amatriciana and Carbonara pastas. Both were delicious. Yet, they were also kind of similar. The only difference was the type of sauce that each came with. Their Amatriciana is technically made with bigoli noodles — still a thick, round pasta that I couldn’t really tell apart from the spaghetti used in the Carbonara — tossed in a traditional tomato sauce, chilies, and pecorino romano. The Carbonara is prepared with a creamy white sauce made using a farm egg and cracked pepper before being topped with more pecorino romano. Each of the plates was elevated with the same protein of crispy pancetta. Either way, I’d order both again. Incredibly simple in execution, but perfectly al dente noodles and deep, rich flavours in the sauces.

Caramelized popcorn as a parting snack.

By the time we finished all of that food, we were so full. I would have loved to try dessert, but I just couldn’t fathom eating anything else. Thankfully, a tiny dish of caramelized popcorn was dropped off with our bill, so I got a little taste of sweetness to cap our meal.

From the fun, secretive nature of Bread & Circus and the eclectic decor to the friendly service and the wonderful food, I’d say that this is definitely a spot to visit if you live in Calgary or find yourself there for work or play. In a heartbeat, I’d recommend it, especially for that stellar beef carpaccio.

Calgary Restaurant Review: WURST (Brunch)

WURST is modern from the outside.

Flashing back to the beginning of December, Kirk and I were on our weekend getaway to Calgary. While we were visiting, I had planned several food outings. This included a Saturday morning brunch at WURST, available on weekends and holidays from ten o’clock in the morning to 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Located in the Mission district at 2437 4 Street, it was easy for us to get to by car (about a five minute drive) from Hotel Arts where we were staying.

I’d seen photographs of the place online, but, I have to say that the photographs don’t really do the place justice. The size of the interior is immense and I love the whimsical live trees growing in the center of the street-level room. We showed up for our OpenTable reservation and we were actually seated under one of the canopy of leaves (admittedly, somewhat dusty), which were decorated with string lights and Christmas ornaments. The bar stretches lengthwise across the room parallel to a handful of booths on the opposite side.

The bar is a nice focal point of WURST.

Towards the back of the eatery in a somewhat more private area, a large group of moms and their tots were having a gathering. Despite the occasional loud crying and shrieks from the children who ran rather rampant throughout the space, we managed to have a fairly enjoyable meal. The ambiance, through no fault of the restaurant, left a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the service and the food saved our morning.

Belgian Breakfast

Kirk went with the Belgian Breakfast ($19), which is a pretty typical plate of three eggs cooked to your liking with bacon, bratwurst, back bacon, house cut hash browns, Belgian waffle, and maple syrup. I mean, protein galore! The over easy eggs were perfectly prepared with hints of the yellow yolks emanating from behind thin layers of whites. The bratwurst and crispy bacon were delicious, too.

 

I always like to go for something classic with a twist. In this case, WURST makes their bennies using fresh baked cheese biscuits as the base rather than the usual English muffin. That made all the difference in the world with my Smokehouse Beef Eggs Benedict ($17) because I’m not a fan of English muffins. When broken, the soft poached eggs were beautifully runny, coating the shaved smoked beef brisket sitting beneath it. Super smoky and flavourful, the balsamic onion jam provided a touch of sweetness and the roasted mushrooms added an extra layer of texture and earthiness. Classic hollandaise finished it off. It also came with a side of the house cut hash browns and mixed greens. Overall, this was an excellent value and example of what their kitchen is capable of.

In addition to the food, we also took advantage of their $5 beverages. Kirk got a Caesar and I indulged with an orange Mimosa. Kirk commented that the Caesar, presented in a short glass, tasted like it didn’t have any alcohol in it, so I’m not sure if that will be for everyone. Nevertheless, I thought the mimosa was standard and acceptable for the price.

When we finished our meal, we wandered into the basement to take a look around. It’s set up exactly like a few of the German beer halls that we frequented on our trip to Munich last year, so it brought back some fond memories for us. Downstairs, they also have lockers that regular patrons can rent as storage space for their beer steins, which is a fun element.

WURST Brunch Menu

In the future, if we find ourselves back in Calgary, we wouldn’t hesitate to return to WURST for another meal. We’d happily do brunch again or maybe check it out for dinner next time.