Akira Back Toronto

Celebrity chef Akira Back's first Canadian namesake restaurant is now open in the Bisha Hotel Toronto.  Located inside of the luxury boutique hotel, the restaurant offers a menu of Japanese cuisine with Korean flavors and Canadian twist. We had the pleasure of attending a media preview at Akira Back Toronto last week, where we were treated to a tasting menu of some of his best dishes. 

I was looking forward to the opening of his restaurant when it was announced earlier this summer. Akira Back has a growing reputation in the hospitality industry for the creativity that he brings to his culinary creations. Back's food is inspired by his passions for adventure, travel and culinary exploration. "Each of his restaurants features inventive menus that embody his life and travel inspirations throughout the world, representing the root of his culture and his culinary background in every dish. Akira Back is one of the most exciting names in the culinary world, growing rapidly across major international". (credit: press release) 

“Toronto is a cultural epicentre with a diverse and multi­cultural food scene, which is why I always hoped to have a restaurant here,” says Chef Akira Back. “The menu will feature a number of my signature dishes along with some new ones that were inspired by my time spent in the city.” - Akira Back
Throughout his career, he has many culinary successes, including being awarded the title of “Rising Star” by Restaurant Hospitality (2008) and has had the distinct honor of hosting the prestigious James Beard House dinners (2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, 2013 & 2014). Besides having restaurants in the USA, he has opened several overseas locations such as Akira Back Restaurants in Singapore, New Delhi and Jakarta.

Walking into the restaurant, I was in awe by the space as it paid homage to traditional Japanese culture with contemporary ornamentation. "Subtle nods to Japanese culture will appear through refined and intimate details which balance the central design feature, a full­-length cove ceiling showcasing a colourful custom graphic". The overall interiors contain several neutral elements with bold wooden decor, which creates an intimate yet classy environment that appeals to a wide range of diners.

The menu at Akira Back Toronto features a number of his signature dishes, along with several new ones that were inspired by his visit to Canada. The tasting menu that night consists of five courses with wine pairings that perfectly complement each specific dish. 

[First Course] 

Tuna & Mushroom Pizza - truffle oil, micro shiso

[Second Course] 

Jeju Domi - orange tobiko, red sorrel, chojang

Salmon Tiradito - roasted peaches, Kizami wasabi, spinach cilantro

[Third Course] 

Eggplant Miso - sweet miso sauce

Rock Shrimp - sriracha ranch

(photo credit: @akirabacktoronto)

[Fourth Course] 

Seared Halibut - mushrooms, soy beurre blanc,

(photo credit: @akirabacktoronto)

48 Hour Wagyu Short Rib - root vegetables, quail egg, braising jus


Black & White Sesame Matcha Cake - salted agave ice cream

Yuzu Citrus - sable crumble, strawberry gelato 

“Akira Back is an extremely talented chef on the cusp of exploding internationally and we’re excited that Bisha will be his first location in Canada. After interviewing many recognized chefs over a three­year period, I felt that Akira Back’s talent and uniqueness would be the perfect match for Bisha Toronto to make it a complete hospitality experience,” says Charles Khabouth, Chairman, ICONINK. (credit: press release) 

Akira Back Toronto is definitely a welcoming addition to the city of Toronto for its visionary dishes that encompasses the combination of Asian and North American cuisine.

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Disclaimer: The food provided in this post was complimentary. However, all of the opinions expressed in this review are of my own.

[Recipe] Pumpkin Spice Latte with Melitta

Makes: 2 servings


2 tablespoons canned pumpkin purée
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice 
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup freshly brewed coffee


1. In a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk together pumpkin purée, pumpkin pie spice, milk, syrup, and vanilla extract. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture starts to steam.

2. Remove from heat and pour mixture into a blender. Cover, hold the lid on tightly, and blend for about 15 seconds, or until frothy.

3. Make the espresso or coffee. If you’d like extra milk foam to top your latte, pour a few tablespoons of milk into a glass jar with a lid while coffee is brewing. Tightly seal the lid and shake for 30-60 seconds. Remove lid and place jar in microwave for 30 seconds.

4. Divide coffee and milk mixture between two mugs. Top with extra milk foam (if using) and a sprinkle of pumpkin pie spice.

Pumpkin Pie Spice

Makes: about 3 1/2 tablespoons


2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


Mix all ingredients together with a fork and store in a clean spice jar with a lid.

Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to the Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery for a 24 hour getaway. A small group of writers and food bloggers were whisked off to Niagara-On-The-Lake, where we enjoyed a tour of the Wayne Gretzky Estates' distillery and restaurant.

The Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery is a great destination for wine and whisky enthusiasts, but is also a fun learning experience for those who are newer to wine and whisky. The 23,000 square feet facility was designed by award-winning architect Gren Weis, who integrated rural context with contemporary designs. Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery includes a winery, distillery, tasting areas, retail store and hospitality spaces, and barrel cellar. Given the amount of available land, it was a very spacious facility. I have been to Niagara-on-the-Lake on several occasions, and I can definitely see why the city was chosen specifically for the permanent home of the Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery. The region has a rich history in wine excellence, the growth in wine tourism in the area and Wayne’s personal connection to Southern Ontario.
The new Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery adds to
s significant investment and commitment to the Niagara-on-
the-Lake wine region. Niagara-on-the-Lake was chosen
specifically for the permanent home of the Wayne Gretzky
Estates Winery and Distillery because of its rich history in
wine excellence, the growth in wine tourism in the area and

s personal connection to Southern Ontario.
Our first stop was to Queen’s Landing, a four-star hotel in Niagara-On-The-Lake, for a one-night stay. The hotel room was spacious with a Queen-sized bed, study table, couch and various amenities. I didn’t get to enjoy the hotel room as much, as after settling into our individual hotel rooms, everyone met in the lobby to board the bus to the Wayne Gretzky Estates to start the afternoon.  

There, we were greeted by resident mixologist, Zachary Kvas, who enthusiastically took us through a cocktail demonstration. His cocktail contained cinnamon, star anais whisky, and pumpkin syrup with Dillon’s Bitters. Afterwards, we followed him into a tasting room where we crafted our own signature cocktail using the provided ingredients and tools. We learned the importance of balancing the strength of the alcohol by adding a variety of different notes to the drink.

Our night continued with a Wine vs. Whisky dinner, which was held in their VIP Club Lounge. The dinner space overlooked the amazing views of the bar and vineyards. We were served a three course meal paired with wine and whisky that complemented each dish.

The first course was the Fall Minestrone Soup - spiced cheese straw, house prosciutto fresh mozzarella paired with Wayne Gretzky Estate Chardonnay 2013 and Indiana Jones and the Fennel of Doom.

Next up was the Ontario Lamb - whisky caramel pecan crusted lamb shank, grilled lamb sirloin, and merguez sausage and wine red cabbage with white bean and chorizo cassoulet, and fall heirloom carrots paired with Wayne Gretzky Estate Red 2015 and My-Mint of the Lambs.

The last course was dessert, which took place outside at the bar patio (near the 99 ice rink). There, we were treated to Gretzky Creamed Whisky Cheesecake Bar - caramel popcorn, dark chocolate, and toffee pear paired with Wayne Gretzky Estate Vidal Icewine 2016 and Wayne Gretzky Creamed Whisky.

The next morning, we headed to Trius, the winery on-site. Split into two teams, we went about checking the facility. The team I was on started off above ground, as we checked out how they ferment the grapes in wooden barrels. The second half of the activity introduced us to Craig McDonald (lead winemaker), who provided us with some of the younger white wines for tasting. The hands-on experience was a lot of fun, as we dwell into the art of wine-marking. Interestingly enough, the Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery's existing production facilities allow for the production of 313,000 cases of wines and 12,000 cases of craft spirits.

After the winery, we went back inside for breakfast. Breakfast was served buffet style, and there was a mixture of different foods such as house baked carrot muffins, granola, cow’s milk yoghurt, fresh strawberries, house made pork sausages, and ice wine cured and smoked salmon.

The day continued, and we jet off to meet up with Joshua Beach, the resident master distiller. Joshua Beach studied at Heriot Watt in Scotland, where he completed his MSc in Brewing and Distilling at one of the best schools in the world. We got a mini tour of the facility, and then it was off to the tasting room, where we got a taste of various flights.

Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery's design celebrates the rural landscape of Niagara with immense glass walls, light metal roof, stained wood siding and a mixture of concrete/stone interventions. Wayne Gretzky wines celebrate excellence in winemaking across our country, and they have great pride in their products. The wines are produced from the finest grapes developed by some of the greatest winemakers in the country.

Prior to our departure from the Niagara-On-The-Lake region, we were generously gifted with a gift box containing a bunch of Wayne Gretzky wines products including their newest product, Wayne Gretzky No 99 ‘Red Cask’ Canadian Whisky. It’s a whisky finished in red wine casks from the Gretzky winery. I had an amazing 24 hours, and thank you so much to Lori and Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery and Distillery for hosting. 

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Disclaimer: The event provided in this post was complimentary. However, all of the opinions expressed in this review are of my own.

2nd Annual Nosh Food Tour with #HamOntFT

In recent years, Hamilton has become known for its booming culinary scene. To celebrate its emergence, the City of Hamilton introduced NOSH to the community late last year in 2016. NOSH stands for North Hamilton, Outlying communities, and South Hamilton, coincides with Small Business Week. It was created to showcase Hamilton's booming culinary scene. 
"Hamilton's emergence on a national scale is in part attributable to the rising food scene we have in the city," said Councillor Merulla, NOSH Honourary Chair. "From the restauranteurs, to the chefs, to the diners who are flocking to the various restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries, these great efforts are attracting more positive attention for Hamilton on a national scale, and I believed it was certainly time for the entire city to celebrate and support their efforts." - Councillor Sam Merulla
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to attend the 2nd Annual Nosh Food Tour with #HamOntFT where I was introduced to several local businesses in Hamilton.

The Beverly On Locke

Our first stop was The Beverly On Locke, one of the newest brunch additions on Locket Street in Hamilton.

Beverly Benedict ($14) - cheddar scallion biscuit, pemeal, tomato jam and grilled lemon hollandaise with side hashbrown

Bev's Classic ($14) - sausage, bacon, easy egg with American cheddar on a buttered egg bun

PB & J Big Pancake ($14) - bumbleberry jam, peanut brittle and peanut butter whip

Dundurn Castle Historic Kitchen Garden

It's a 19th century estate, which includes a working kitchen garden and historic kitchen. Produce grown on site is used for daily tours, workshops, and special events.


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 Pokeh is the first restaurant in Canada specializing in Hawaiian and Californian inspired poke bowls.

Green Bowl - tamari pickled shiitake, tofu, tamari/sesame oil, green/white onions, cucumbers, black/white sesame seeds, carrots, kale, edamame

 Spicy Poke - ocean wise certified ahi tuna, spicy Kewpie mayo, house pickled jalapenos, spicy sesame seeds, cucumber, onions, black and white sesame seeds, soy sauce and sesame oil

Henry Browns

Henry Brown's small batch ice-cream was established in the Hamilton Farmers' Market in 2015 to serve high quality, seasonal "from scratch" real dairy ice-cream and vegan sorbets made with organic, fair trade and local ingredients.

Cake and Loaf

It's a from scratch neighborhood bakery focused on using local ingredients to create delicious seasonal baked goods.


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 Hambrgr was born with a commitment to its city and a promise for all - to make the best damn burgers you've ever eaten.

 Elk Crossing Burger - coffee rubbed Lakeland Farms elk, Dr. Pepper BBQ glaze, house whisky pickles, crispy smoked bacon, 2 year white cheddar, onion ring, butter toasted brioche bun and served with shoestring fries.

 Local Boar Pogos

Berkeley North

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Featuring seasonally inspired international dishes, creative cocktails and an enticing West Coast inspired restaurant atmosphere.

Slow Braised Lamb - lightly covered in a crispy panko and served on a roasted red pepper romesco sauce and finished with garlic sauce

The French

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 The French is located on the rejuvenated and vibrant street of King William in Hamilton. The French is a mix of classic and modern French cuisine.

Duck Yolk and Goat Cheese Ravioli - with porchetta di testa, chives, mustard and manchego cheese

Cappuccino ($4.50)

Merit Brewing

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Merit Brewing is Hamilton's only brewpub serving a rotating menu of progressive beer and house-made sausage.

Sausage Platter - each platter includes a link of each of our sausage, and 2 orders of fries, garlic pickles, and seasonal pickles


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Nique is a not just a restaurant. It's a family of young, passionate individuals eager to provide our customers with a dynamic and welcoming experience. Our approach to food and drink is inherently Canadian as it is reflective of the cultural mosaic that is Hamilton.

Sushi Nacho - Japanese inspired nachos with diced tuna on top of deep fried wonton wrappers, and finished with sushi fixings like pickled ginger, avocados, chilies and spicy mayo

Disclaimer: The event provided in this post was complimentary. However, all of the opinions expressed in this review are of my own.