Things to do in Toronto

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Toronto, other than very cold weather. Since visiting Vancouver a few years ago, I feel a fondness for the Canadian way of life… outdoorsy and healthy with cool, eclectic cities. Toronto is less of a ‘pretty’ city than I expected, with a sleek business district and a downtown hipster neighbourhood which reminded me of Brooklyn. The casual food scene is thriving, with every cuisine readily available and offered to a high standard. Creativity doesn’t stop at food as there are also plenty of local designers, artists and musicians to inspire you while you explore this city. Here’s my favourite things to do, see and eat from the four days I spent in Toronto.


To stay

Fairmont Royal York – For convenience and location you can’t beat this hotel. Dating back to 1929 with over 1000 bedrooms, this luxury hotel is a popular choice for business travellers, though it also satisfies those travelling for leisure with plentiful spa and dining options.


To eat

Buca – There are several branches of this upmarket Italian eatery, most say the Yorkville restaurant has the best food. The house-made salumi di mare is very popular, though I preferred the comforting homemade pastas and can particularly recommend the Bigoli duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, venetian spices, mascarpone and basil.

Alo – For me Alo was without a doubt the most special eating experience in Toronto. Chef Patrick Kriss presents immaculate tasting menus of modern French food with a twist. The service is professional and friendly… and I loved the option of white or navy napkin at the start of the meal. If the full experience is too pricey, head to the bar for equally delicious, more casual dishes.

Oddseoul – Ossington Avenue has plenty of great casual eateries to choose from. We loved the flavoursome Korean small plates at Oddseoul. Highlights included the O.S wings and the moreish Squash Poutine.

Saving Grace – Expect to queue for this lovely neighbourhood brunch spot. We arrived early to secure a table at the tiny eatery that serves tasty sweet and savoury brunch dishes. Our most memorable dish was the tiramisu waffles.

The Drake Hotel – Ask anyone where the coolest place to stay is in Toronto and they will most likely say The Drake. This hipster hang out also boasts a brilliant restaurant which is particularly good for weekend brunch. We feasted on delightful dishes like Shakshuka, Eggplant sandwich, and the most addictive pecorino and truffle fries I’ve ever had.

Dandylion – If I lived in Toronto this is the restaurant I would want to return to time and time again with friends. The minimalist dining room is modern and stylish and the short menu offers simple but delicious recipes highlighting the best seasonal ingredients.

Chabrol – A quaint and cosy restaurant in the Yorkville district serving comforting French cuisine. Try the warming Ttoro fish stew and the irresistably good Apple tart with Calvados Sabayon.

Grand Electric – This shabby chic taco hang-out is always filled with hungry locals. The whole Mexican menu is delicious but I particularly loved the super cheesy Quesadillas.

Nugateau – Nugateau is Toronto’s first eclair shop, offering a range of beautiful pastries in an array of creative flavours. Located on Queen Street West, the patisserie is perfectly located for a mid-afternoon shopping break.

Rosen’s Cinnamon Buns – This bright bakery is on a mission to perfect the humble cinnamon bun. The cafe has no seating but drop in for a soft and delicious takeaway bun whilst in the neighbourhood, you won’t regret it.


To drink

Sam James – Without a doubt my favourite coffee in Toronto, the Sam James brand serves deliciously smooth and creamy coffee from their pared back and hip cafes.

Bar Ravel – This Gaudi inspired bar is worth visiting just to admire the amazing design and decor. The kitchen serves a short menu of delicious Spanish tapas whilst the experienced barmen can help you choose a refined cocktail to suit your palate. Sister establishment Bar Isabel should also be on your to do list.

Early Bird Espresso – The ideal Sunday brunch spot, Early Bird Espresso is found on Queen Street West and serves simple, classic breakfast dishes like avocado on toast, accompanied by their delicious strong coffee.

Sorry Coffee – This cute, marble clad coffee shop is found in the Kit & Ace store in Yorkville, and is a great place to stop for coffee and cake after shopping in the area.


To do 

Distillery Quarter – Located east of downtown Toronto, the Distillery Quarter contains numerous cafés, restaurants, and shops housed within heritage buildings of the former Gooderham and Worts Distillery. It is a lovely part of town to spend a morning wandering round.

Royal Ontario Museum – This striking museum has got something to entertain and interest everyone with a diverse art, world culture and natural history collection. Wildlife Photographer of the Year is currently on show at the museum.

Toronto Bicycle Tours – I usually shy away from active experiences when travelling, but discovering a new city by bike is a wonderful way of learning about your surroundings. Toronto Bicycle Tours is a dynamic company which offers brilliant tours of Toronto. We had a three hour ride in the downtown district, stopping off at notable buildings and parks, while company owner Terrence enlightened us with interesting facts and stories.

Art Gallery of Ontario – This art museum has an impressive collection including more than 80,000 works spanning the first century to the present day. I loved looking round the permanent collection, whilst also admiring the amazing architecture of the museum building… look out for the wooden spiral staircase.


To Shop

Mjolk – It is worth venturing out to the Junction neighbourhood to visit this design haven. Mjolk was started in 2009 by husband-and-wife team John and Juli Baker as a lifestyle shop and gallery, representing work with an emphasis on functionality and craftsmanship. The shop stocks beautiful items for everyday life from Scandinavia and Japan. I left with serious pangs of home envy.

Drake General Store – Just across the road from the effortlessly cool Drake Hotel, this shop stocks great products from homeware to jewellery and foodie luxuries. Pick up a Toronto souvenir to take home.

Souvenir – I returned to this shop twice during my short time in Toronto. The beautiful boutique is home to design products from emerging artists, all hand-picked by owner Danielle Suppa. I loved the soy scented candles by Brennen Michael and unisex fragrances from Libertine.

Brandon Olsen Chocolates – This immaculate shop is more like a museum, displaying and selling the most beautiful chocolates. Owned and operated by chef and chocolatier Brandon Olsen and artist Sarah Keenlyside, this confectionery company is an expression of their shared love of food and art. The splattered chocolate designs reminded me of Jackson Pollock paintings and are available in intriguing but tasty flavours like orange blossom and honey, or cinnamon and brown butter.

Outclass – a stylish Toronto menswear company on College Street, dedicated to made in Canada products.


To Escape

Niagara Parks – I had always heard fellow travellers comment that if you are going to see Niagara Falls it is more spectacular from the Canadian side. This great waterfall runs between America and Canada, with views from either country. Just a 90 minute drive from Toronto, this day trip is a must and a lovely escape from the city. At the parks there are plenty of activities to keep families or solo travellers entertained for the entire day: wander round the beautiful Butterfly Conservatory or take a tour of the historic McFarland House. The waterfall is best experienced with the ‘Journey Behind the Falls‘ which gives you a spectacular insight into this magical world wonder.

Many thanks to Tourism Toronto for assisting with this trip.

Things to do in Tokyo

Japan has been at the very top of my destinations list for a few years. I knew a country that excels in food, design (and stationery) would suit me perfectly. When I arrived in Tokyo I found myself completely transfixed with the fascinating culture and customs that are in stark contrast to the rush of mad modernism and futuristic fun. If you are brave enough to try strange cuisine and get involved in local traditions you will unravel a magical and memorable world beyond all imagination. 

To Stay

Mandarin Oriental Tokyo – From the ground floor, Mandarin Oriental Tokyo is just like any other high-end luxury hotel. But the real experience begins at floor 38 where the panoramic city views will leave you lost for words. If you are lucky Mount Fuji will be glinting majestically in the distance too. The rooms are divinely luxurious and there are numerous fine food options within the hotel.

The Peninsula Hotel Tokyo – The ornate glittering lobby welcomes you in style to the Peninsula Tokyo. The hotel is a favourite with business and leisure guests thanks to its impeccable attention to detail and thoughtful luxury. Don’t miss trying the legendary Kobe beef at Peter restaurant.

Zabutton Hostel – This hip hostel in Azabu, central Tokyo, opened in 2015. There is a coffee shop on the ground floor, and dorms and private rooms on the floors above. We enjoyed the experience of sleeping on traditional tatami beds.

To Eat

Birdland – There are two branches of this popular yakitori restaurant. The Michelin-starred Ginza branch has a U-shaped bar surrounding the dramatic open kitchen. The little skewers of chicken are absolutely delicious and the poultry is so fresh that you can even try chicken sashimi.

Higashiya – This Ginza boutique sells beautiful Japanese confectionery (wagashi) and also operates as a tea house. It is a great place to pause and recuperate after a busy day’s shopping. Try the famous mocha; pounded sticky rice sweets.

Tsuta (Japanese Soba Noodles) – Getting a seat at the world’s first Michelin-starred ramen restaurant is definitely a challenge. I arrived at 7am to pick up one of the last tickets for lunchtime, then spent the next seven hours exploring the city until it was time for my allocated slot. The understated eatery seats just 9 diners at a time and guests sit in silence while they slurp their flavour-packed bowl of ramen. Tsuta’s signature soy-based broth is aged for 2 years and all noodles are made in-house, a bowl costs just £6. There are a few variations to choose from, I would recommend the most popular variety with four pieces of pork and a boiled egg.

Kanetanaka Sahsya – The original Kantetanaka is one of the city’s most distinguished traditional tourist restaurants. This more casual branch is harder to find, upstairs in an office/retail building near Omote-sando station, and is more popular with locals. There is a large, minimally-designed space has stylish furniture and tableware and a communal table looking out to a small rock garden. I recommend visiting for the reasonable set lunch menu.

Tempura Tsunahachi – This tempura institution has been making amazingly light tempura for 93 years. Sit at the bar and pick a selection of seafood and vegetables, which the chef will cook in front of you before serving with dipping sauce and salt. Don’t get confused with an uninspiring restaurant of the same name on the 13th floor of a tower building nearby.

Fureika – When you need a break from Japanese cuisine visit Fureika, a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant in Azabujuban. Opt for the dim sum set lunch for around £20 and relish the endless courses of miniature treats.

Kyourakutei – Yet another casual Michelin-starred eatery, hidden away in the Tokyo backstreets. Kyourakutei serves comforting soba noodles and delicious tempura. Their noodles are freshly milled on the day so they are wonderfully fresh and bouncy. Order the Kamo Zaru (cold soba with hot duck broth, duck meatball and Japanese leeks).

Libertable – This luxurious cake shop and café serves creations by Kazuyori Morita. We tried the Luxe; a decadent chocolate and truffle masterpiece.


To Drink 

High Five Bar – Cocktail making is a fine art in Tokyo and the best bars are not cheap. High Five is an intimate hideaway, with a few cosy tables and a beautiful bar. There is no menu so speak to Hidetsugu Ueno (the owner and head bartender) about your favourite flavours and he will create you something magical. We tried sake and Nikka whisky based drinks, strong and sensual cocktails that were stylishly presented.

Gen Yamamoto – Serious cocktail drinkers will love this bespoke experience. Gen Yamamoto is the owner and sole member of staff at this incredibly exclusive bar. A flavour connoisseur, Gen offers tasting menus only, all based on seasonal local produce.

About Life Coffee – This small takeaway kiosk opened in May 2014 and is now known as one of the best coffee venues in Tokyo. They use beans from a few hand-picked roasters and host international guest baristas and roasters such as Market Lane Coffee from Australia.

Toranomon Koffee – From the same people as the celebrated (now closed) Omotesando Koffee, this hip outlet is located in the business district in the Mori building. The café is beautifully designed in minimal sleek wood and metal and serves tasty coffee and delectable bites. Don’t miss the addictively good pain perdu.

Golden Gai – There is nowhere quite like the Golden Gai. Found in the Shinjuku district this atmospheric area consists of six narrow alleys with over 200 bars and eateries. Some ramshackle venues only seat one or two guests, most bars have a cover charge, but wherever you end up you are sure to have a memorable night!

To See & Do 

Nezu Museum – Found in the Minato district, this chic museum houses Nezu Kaichiro’s private collection. We saw their exhibition to welcome the New Year called “Pine, Bamboo and Plum”, explaining the symbolic importance of different plants and animals. The impressive new building was designed by renowned Japanese architect, Kuma Kengo, and opened in 2009. I loved walking around the calming garden.

National Art Centre Tokyo – One of the largest exhibition venues in Asia, the NACT has no permanent collection but houses exciting temporary exhibitions and events. The museum is currently showing an Issey Miyake exhibition.

Tsukiji Fish Market – Often voted the number one thing to do in Tokyo, Tsukiji Fish Market is an unmissable experience. If you don’t mind (very) early starts queue for the famous Tuna auction which only allows 120 tourists per day. Many head to the market at breakfast time to try the freshest sushi from Sushi Dai.

Scai The Bathhouse – This former Bathhouse has been transformed into an intimate private gallery that displays Japanese contemporary art. Be sure to pop into nearby Kayaba Coffee and their new bakery, both just a few minutes’ walk away.

Yushima Tenjin – The shrines in Japan are serene and stunning. This Shinto shrine is dedicated to the God of Learning and was founded in the year 458. Around exam time many students hang a small wooden plaque (called an Ema) with their prayers and wishes on it for good luck.

Sumo – Sumo tournaments take place three times a year at Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo’s National Sumo Hall. The afternoon and evening matches are the most important and the ringside seats are the most sought after and expensive. Each ‘bout’ (fight) lasts only a few seconds but is surrounded by an extended period of stretching and ritualistic ceremony.

Imperial Palace East Gardens – This is the only part of the palace that is open to the public. It is all calming and peaceful, but my favourite part was the Ninomaru Garden that features a tree to symbolise each prefecture of Japan.

Museum of Contemporary Art – Located in Kiba Park, east of central Tokyo, the iconic MoT shows both local and international contemporary art. When I visited they had an amazingly comprehensive Yoko Ono exhibition.

To Shop

Itoya – this stationery supermarket is a mecca for pen and paper addicts like me. Stock up on stylish Japanese staplers and rulers before visiting the Paper Concierge for a bespoke experience.

Uniqlo – I couldn’t resist visiting the flagship Ginza store whilst in Tokyo. This 12 floor clothes shop stocks a vast range of cheap tailored garments that you won’t find in the UK stores. I particularly loved their selection of dark blue jeans.

Spiral Market – Found on the second floor of the Spiral Building, this carefully curated shop stocks a wide range of design-focused homeware and stationery. I wanted it all.

Bloom & Branch – This Aoyama lifestyle concept store stocks beautiful tailored clothes from their house brands as well as international designers. After perusing the garments enjoy a coffee at the instore Cobi café or perfect your look at the shoe-polishing bar by Brift H.

Maison Koichiro Kimura – Lacquerware legend Koichiro Kimura has a tiny psychedelic shop stocking his bold and brilliant creations. He combines 400 year-old family techniques with ‘high technology’ to create avant-garde items.

Stalogy Laboratory – A small aesthetically pleasing boutique in Daikan-yama selling colorful stickers, simple stylish diaries and functional pens.

Okura – The best place to buy authentic Indigo garments in Tokyo. Browse the beautiful blue clothes whilst chatting to friendly staff (who speak very good English). Fashionable tourists will find the perfect souvenir here.

Our Favourite Shop – this little shop is not easy to find, hidden in a suburban area of town. Offering a carefully curated selection of inspiring and creative local designers, like pottery from Marushi Porcelain and Kikof tableware.

Kappabashi – Known as ‘Kitchen Town’ Kappabashi is the catering street of Tokyo. The shops here are a mecca for keen chefs, with world-class knives and weird and wonderful cooking utensils.

To Escape

Hakone – this beautiful destination is just 100km from Tokyo so makes a perfect escape from the fast-paced city. Overlooking Lake Ashinoko with views of snow-capped Mount Fuji in the distance, it offers postcard picturesque views all year round. The town is most famous for hot spring onsen bathhouses. We visited the lovely Narukawa Art Museum and the educational Tokaido Museum, which explains the history of the area. Nadaman Garden at The Prince Hotel serves a delectable traditional Kaiseki lunch.

Best Food in Sydney

Sydney lives in the shadow of Melbourne when it comes to food and coffee. Though recently with the Noma stint, there is much more to talk about when it comes to eating and drinking in Australia’s most iconic city. With a warm climate and surrounded by the plentiful sea, Sydney’s restaurants range from casual seaside hang-outs to fine dining inside the magnificent Opera House.

Master – One of the hottest openings of 2015 this Surrey Hills eatery is run by John Javier (former intern at Noma). He creates modern Chinese dishes with flair and finesse. Try the jowl peking pork with pancakes and cucumber and a side of special cabbage with fish butter.

Ms G’s – an amusing play on words (MSG) this lively thai eatery serves vibrant and moreish dishes in a reimagined multi-story building. Order mini banh mi bites to start and intensely flavoured lamb ribs.

Reuben Hills – a hip brunch spot in the trendy Surrey Hills area serving delicious coffee and tasty South American recipes.

Sake – a glamorous contemporary Japanese chain serving great seafood and high quality meat. Visit the popular branch on The Rocks.

10 Williams Street – this cute wine bar is a great place to meet friends and enjoy a glass of organic, orange Australian wine. If you are hungry the succinct menu offers a range of tempting Italian dishes and nibbles.

Bennelong – a smart new restaurant in the iconic Sydney Opera House this eatery is already garnering a lot of attention. Favourites from the Cured and Cultured menu include the suckling pig sausage roll with black garlic and the decadent cheese and truffle toastie.

Cho Cho San – a chic and minimalist modern Japanese restaurant with delicious small plates and inventive cocktails. I loved the addictive chicken karaage and the refreshing lychee & pineapple slushie.

The Shop – After an early morning surf on Bondi beach head to this tiny café for coffee and a hearty breakfast. Try the ‘breakfast bowl’, a lovely combination of quinoa, halloumi, avocado, poached egg, pickled cabbage and sunflower seeds.

A Tavola – Get your pasta fix at A Tavola, where they make all the pasta fresh in house each day. There are two branches, with regularly changing seasonal additions to the standard menu.

Ester – A creative contemporary restaurant in a dressed-down industrial space. Much of the menu is cooked in the wood-fired oven and features some quirky clever recipes by chef Mat Lindsay. The roast duck with burnt honey sauce is a must.

Acme – The name comes from the initials of the four friends who opened up this fantastic little restaurant. Reasonably priced with a great vibe, it was one of my favourite restaurants in Australia. Don’t miss the pig’s head and egg yolk macaroni and coconut rice cream with white chocolate for dessert.

Edition Coffee Roasters – There is always a queue for brunch at this Nordic – Japanese fusion café. Enjoy their premium artisanal coffee and matcha hot cakes with mascarpone and passionfruit.

Farmhouse – It’s almost impossible to get a space at this rustic communal dining experience. With just 20 seats the intimate restaurant is always full. Try to book in advance for Sunday lunch and let the knowledgeable team feed your stomach and soul with delicious homely fare.

Chat Thai – Cheap and cheerful this Thai institution now has many branches around Sydney. Head to the original eatery and choose from the vibrant and lengthy menu of Asian classics.

Bourke Street Bakery – this neighbourhood bakery first opened in 2004 and has since expanded all over the city. The unique ginger crème brûlée tart is unmissable.

Fratelli Paradiso – a lunch favourite with locals, this friendly Italian restaurant serves classic Mediterranean dishes in a convivial environment. Always full, the eatery often spills out onto the street. Order the lasagnetta bolognaise for a comforting lunch.

Aqua S – Visit this instagrammable ice-cream parlour for their bright blue sea salt flavoured soft serve topped with fairy floss and caramel popcorn.

Billy Kwong – This long-running venue is a favourite with locals and tourists. Combining Chinese recipes with unusual Australian ingredients the food is a hit and the service is very attentive. The signature crispy duck with citrus sauce stands up to its famous reputation.

Da Orazio – For a brilliant Bondi lunch option head to this Italian bistro for their huge focaccia con porchetta sandwich (marinated pork from the rotisserie, grilled eggplant, lettuce, mayonnaise and served in pizza bread). Share one between two, or maybe even three!

N2 Extreme Gelato – Dramatic and delicious this daring ice-cream café offers indulgent and extra creamy flavours.

Mr Wong – A great place to eat in the CBD, Mr Wong serves great dim sum and cantonese favourites, served in a lavish French colonial setting. Most memorable was the aubergine with fish fragrant sauce.

Spice Alley – A new street eat sensation offering all kinds of Asian cuisine. Cheap and authentic this outdoor market is a great place to go with a group of foodie friends.

Automata – Part of the sophisticated Old Clare Hotel this modern eatery is the first solo restaurant from talented chef Clayton Wells. The tasting menu showcases the kitchen’s imagination and creativity. It is well worth adding the optional wine pairing, as sommelier Tim Watkins really knows his stuff.