Review: Aberdeen Tavern

Aberdeen Tavern
432 Aberdeen Avenue
Parking: Street
Reservations: Yes

Ah, Aberdeen Tavern. I remember when they first opened and I couldn’t get reservations for a table for 2 on a Wednesday evening having called several days in advance. Even now, with more upscale dining options available in Hamilton, you will still see a decent crowd there any night of the week. There is a reason for that since this place is AMAZING. I do not use all caps lightly (bold faced lie), this place deserves it.

I have been to Aberdeen Tavern many times. They have a weekend brunch, lunch and dinner menu. One of my favourite things is that they have a separate vegetarian menu. I have a ton of veg family members and friends and I like knowing they have more than one measly option to choose from. Also, the vegetarian menu is actually good. It is not just one token entree, they have clearly put a lot of thought and effort into it. This review is for dinner mainly because that is my preferred meal here. Their brunch and lunch menu is very good, but I have found the service, timing (more on this later) and drinks to be inconsistent at those times. They seem to be the best with regards to service, quality and timing on Fri-Sun evenings.

We started off the meal with the breads and dips appetizer. They grill the bread and drizzle it with olive oil. Who would have thought simple grilled bread could be so delicious? All of us carb lovers out there that’s who. I pity you low carbers out there. You are starving your brain, but also your body of so much amazingness! It’s served with a trio of dips including smoked hummus, olive tapenade and an herb ricotta. The olive tapenade was a favourite, but that could also be because there were three Punjabis at the table and we enjoy some flavour. The (oh so not Punjabi) husband liked the whipped ricotta the best. It was fine, but it didn’t hold a candle to the tapenade. Needless to say, the bread was demolished fairly quickly.

The husband got two cocktails; the Purple Rain and West End Spritz. They were…fine. We (as I was sneaking sips when he wasn’t looking) were pretty disappointed with the cocktails mainly because of the very high expectations we had from previous visits. This visit was on a Thursday night and they did not have a staffed bartender making cocktails. It was just our very sweet, very young and very inexperienced in cocktail making, server who was making the cocktails. Later on in the night we caught a glimpse of him fighting with the espresso machine. Bless his heart. It almost drove the husband to tears, he cannot stand to see espresso machines misused and abused. He did an OK job, but they just did not have the complex test profile you get from Aberdeen cocktails on a weekend dinner service.

After this, things got a bit messy timing wise. We were having a pretty good time talking and didn’t realize it initially, but eventually saw it had been about an hour since we ordered our mains. The manager came over to each table and apologized personally, which I very much appreciated. Apparently the kitchen had stopped receiving orders due to a technical glitch so they had not made anything for the last 45 minutes. That seems highly unusual to me, but I haven’t worked at a restaurant and will refrain from making a judgement. I do think though, that they should have done something to make up for the fact that it was such a significant wait. Previously when I had been to Aberdeen for brunch, the exact same situation happened where our meals did not arrive for about 1.5 hours. That time they sent out some free scones, pastries and coffee. This time, nothing. By the time the food came, I was starving- my pre dinner snack and the appetizer were a distant memory.

As I am a shortsighted fool, I ate a snack right before we went to Aberdeen Tavern. This turned out to be a great thing though at the time the husband made all sorts of faces and comments about my inability to be hungry for 10 minutes. Since I wasn’t feeling too hungry when I ordered (how I would regret this later), I got the tuna tartare app as my main. The rest of the table got: the veal meatball marinara, braised beef and roasted chicken supreme. I had a taste (OK several tastes) from everyone’s mains and I think my favourite was the braised beef. It was unbelievably tender and melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The potato rosti it is served on is absolutely divine, crispy, but not overly greasy. My least favourite meal was my own. I usually love their tuna tartare, but this time I felt they were a bit skimpy on the tuna and my avocado was pretty bruised underneath it. It wasn’t the prettiest, but it was still delicious. I would have appreciated a bit more tuna though! Honestly though, it is possible it is always served with that much tuna, but I was just starving by the time they finally brought out our mains. They serve the tartare with these wonton chips which I love. They are a very unique and cool twist on the dish and really enhance the flavour and texture profile of the dish.

We were pretty full at this point, but could not resist the siren call of the dessert menu.

Sticky toffee pudding and triple chocolate cake, both with ice cream made in house!

Overall, despite some timing mishaps, still a good dinner at Aberdeen Tavern. Also, I should note that I have been here for dinner many times and this is the first time I have ever had an issue. Even with the timing issue, the food was still phenomenal.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Service 4/5

Food 5/5

Ambience/Decor: 5/5

Book Review or things I do when I am not eating

Lately, I have been having trouble finding time to read. By the time I get home, I am too brain dead from work and studying to try and get my head into a book. Instead it’s mindless Instagram skimming and half reading blog posts. Although I do not have time and energy to read as much, I seem to find ample time and energy to continue purchasing books as though I am still reading at my old pace. When the holidays rolled around this year, I had a stack of thrillers I wanted to get through.

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Synopsis: If you refuse to believe me, I will no longer consider you my son.
Daniel believed that his parents were enjoying a peaceful retirement on a remote farm in Sweden. But with a single phone call, everything changes.
Your mother…she’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things – terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and been committed to a mental hospital.
Before Daniel can board a plane to Sweden, his mother calls: Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad… I need the police… Meet me at Heathrow.
Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.

It was a bit hard for me to get into this one, but once I got past the first two chapters, I could not put it down. The book is set in rural Sweden and I enjoyed learning a bit about some of the popular folklore and a glimpse into how rural communities live. It motivated me to read a bit more about Nordic folklore around trolls. Random fact: apparently trolls are said to have their own king- Dovregubben. That’s a mouthful.

The idea was really unique and I did not see that ending coming AT ALL. I have many feels about it so if you have read it, I would love to know your thoughts. From a psychiatric and especially psychodynamic perspective, I found the end to be fascinating. It does drag on a little in the middle, but the story captures you enough to push on. I didn’t like how he spent all this time analyzing tiny and irrelevant things in the present conversation between the son and mother. I get that he wanted the reader to understand the state of mind each were in and their previous relationship, but it felt forced. I wanted him to just hurry up and get back to the actual story. If you like mystery and are sick of reading “Gone Girl” copycats, this is a good one.

Missing, Presumed: A Novel by Susie Steiner

Synopsis: Mid-December, and Cambridgeshire is blanketed with snow. Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw tries to sleep after yet another soul-destroying Internet date – the low murmuring of her police radio her only solace.

Over the airwaves come reports of a missing woman – door ajar, keys and phone left behind, a spatter of blood on the kitchen floor. Manon knows the first 72 hours are critical: you find her, or you look for a body. And as soon as she sees a picture of Edith Hind, a Cambridge post-graduate from a well-connected family, she knows this case will be big.

Is Edith alive or dead? Was her ‘complex love life’ at the heart of her disappearance, as a senior officer tells the increasingly hungry press? And when a body is found, is it the end or only the beginning?

This was definitely the most disappointing of the bunch. I just could not get into it. I think the biggest issue was that too many different sub stories got opened up and I found the connection at the end poorly executed. I think this is part of a series? Definitely will not be reading any others. It shifted between different characters’ POV and the pace was painfully slow. I was bored and could not bring myself to care about or like any of the characters.

The Hand That Feeds You: A Novel by A.J. Rich

Synopsis:Morgan, thirty, is completing her thesis on victim psychology and newly engaged to Bennett, a man more possessive than those she has dated in the past, but also more chivalrous—and the sex is hot. She returns from class one day to find Bennett brutally mauled to death, and her beloved dogs covered in blood.

When Morgan tries to locate Bennett’s parents to tell them about their son’s hideous death, she discovers that everything he has told her—where he was born, where he lives in Montreal, where he works—was a lie. He is not the man he said he was, and he had several fiancées, all believing the same promises he gave Morgan. And then, one by one, these other women are murdered. Morgan’s research into Bennett has taken on new urgency: in order to stay alive, she must find out how an intelligent woman like herself, who studies predators, becomes a victim.

Devastated and traumatised, Morgan tries to locate Bennett’s parents to tell them about their son’s death. Only then does she begin to discover layer after layer of deceit. Bennett is not the man she thought he was. And she is not the only woman now in immense danger .

This was very promising. It was written by two authors and apparently is based on a relationship their mutual friend had. She passed away and the friends wrote this in her memory.  Although I devoured the book, I found the main character to be so deeply annoying. I get that everyone is flawed, but girl just made one bad decision after the other. Not only are you not a detective, but you have been conned time after time and do not seem to learn from any of your mistakes. I also felt like none of the characters, including Morgan, were well developed and came across as flat. The idea was so interesting and had so much potential, but the execution of it was shoddy and the writing was disappointing.

I have a couple more books to review, but I will save them for another post. If you have any good thrillers to suggest, I would love to hear about them!

Review: FSH & CHP Hamilton

47 King William Street
Parking: Street
Takes Reservations: No

Having always lived in urban parts of Ontario, I never spent much time thinking about fish and chips. I have always loved trying new restaurants and different cuisines, but being so far from water means the seafood is just not as good as it is on our East and West coasts. I always envisioned fish and chips as being more appropriate in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland than Toronto. That is until FSH & CHP came to town. I have been to their restaurant about a half dozen times now so this review is long overdue.

The restaurant is on a fairly busy road with other gems like The French, The Mule and FSH & CHP’s sister restaurant, HAMBRGR. You can usually find street parking in front of the restaurant or not far down the road. The restaurant is small with window and wall bar seating and tables which they will reorganize depending on the size of the groups. There is usually a wait in the evenings, but the line tends to move quickly. One downside of the small space is there isn’t anywhere to wait which can be hard in the winter months.

The atmosphere is quaint, pretty and feels spacious even though it is a fairly small dining room. They have really embraced the nautical theme, but it doesn’t come across as cheesy or overdone. It is a great design and has a cozy and familiar, but still modern feel to it. The clientele is so diverse as well. It seems to be a hit with everyone from the university crowd to young professionals, middle aged couples and even parents with young kids. Personally, I would be wary of going with very young children because the space issue makes it hard to navigate a carseat, stroller and the other million things that you have to carry when you travel with kids. They also don’t have much space to wriggle around and explore if they get bored or frustrated.

Photo credit: FSH & CHP Google Images

They revamped their menu shortly after my first visit there which had been during their soft opening. We had already tried their salmon burger, beer battered cod, lobster mac & cheese and chowders. The beer battered cod is our favourite, but I have never had a bad or even just average meal here. This time we decided to try the Fry box for two. We did not think this decision through very well. It was simultaneously great, but also a very bad, no good, terrible idea. It was great because the food is fresh, well made and delicious. It was terrible because once our order arrived, we realized we had just ordered an entire wooden crate of fried food.

Disclaimer: I have nothing against fried food, how could I when so many of the best things in life are fried. However, I never grew up eating fast food or having fried food served to me at home so my tolerance is low for the quantity I can eat of it. Thank you immigrant parents for offering us mushy black bananas and dented oranges from your bag when we said we were hungry near a McDonald’s. The Fry Box is not for the faint of heart. We did not come close to finishing (although we tried!) and I left fairly certain that my body was now at least 40% oil.

Before we faced the fry box, we ordered the kale chop salad to share. This was also revamped and they have done a great job with it. When I first tried it months ago, it was a bit bland and uninteresting. This salad was bomb though. Perfectly massaged kale with dates, pecorino, nuts, fried chickpeas and apples. Soooo good. I liked that they didn’t overwhelm it with dressing either, all the individual flavours from the ingredients came through and complemented each other.

The husband tried the Bavarian Wheat beer and loved it. We have tried their cocktails before, but honestly we can be a bit picky about how our cocktails are made and they weren’t that great last time. Anyway, fish and chips are begging to be served with beer.

After the salad we got our fry box. The picture does not do justice. They usually serve it with corn, but were out that night so we got more delicious fried goodness. There was the fried beer battered haddock, fried shrimp in batter, hush puppies and chips (fries for us simple non British folk) served with coleslaw, tartar sauce and curry mayo.

We usually get the beer battered cod and this was our first time trying the haddock. Although the batter was just as perfectly spiced, airy but still crispy as it always is, I was not a fan of the haddock. It was chewy and fell a bit flat for me. That did not stop me from peeling all the batter off and eating it….then eating my husband’s batter off his piece as well. The shrimp was delicious as were the fries. Their fries are a perfect example of how fries should be done. Thick cut, crispy, hot and salty outside, but a rich and soft potato inside. My only criticism would be that I find the fries a tad bit on the salty side, but the husband disagrees and finds them perfect. The only disappointing item for both of us were the hushpuppies. I just find them bland, even with the sauce options. Neither of us particularly liked them and we found them boring. Still, there was so much food that it didn’t matter if you weren’t a fan of one part because there were so many other things. I would have liked to have tried their corn, but it will have to be next time.

Overall, FSH&CHP is a great and unique addition to the restaurant scene. It provides an upscale version of a classic dish. Service was friendly, helpful and attentive. If you haven’t been there, definitely go give it a try.

Overall rating: 4.5/5

Service 5/5

Ambience/Decor: 4/5

Review: Durand Coffee

Review: Durand Coffee

Durand Coffee
142 Charlton Avenue W
Wifi: Yes

Photo credit: Durand Coffee Google Images

I love coffee. Since the day I picked up my first cup as a bleary sleep deprived second year medical student, I knew it was meant to be. We have had a rocky past, like the month I spent on Ob/Gyn drinking 8 cups a day to stay awake for deliveries. I like to think things are more settled now with just one morning cup and the occasional midday latte (or two). Lucky for me, Hamilton’s coffee scene has exploded in the last few years and there have been so many new places to try.

I have been coffee shop hopping the last few months as I study for my Royal College exams. When are the exams you ask? Not until May, but that doesn’t mean we all haven’t been studying* since August. It simultaneously feels like an infinite amount of time but at the same time not nearly enough time. The only thing that makes it slightly more bearable is having a delicious caffeinated beverage and sitting in the sunshine with people whose lives have not been blighted by choosing a career in medicine.
*Studying = carting around a million textbooks and binders and staring at them bleakly for 10 minutes before opening Facebook. You will then browse Facebook for 45 minutes looking at all your high school friends who have real lives, houses and children instead of an MD and unspeakable amounts of debt.

A fellow prisoner…resident… mentioned she had been studying at Durand, so I thought I would give it a try. I am very particular about where I spend my study time, so the first time I went with my husband to scope the place out. I have been there twice again since, so I feel pretty set about my feelings on the place now.

Located on a mostly residential street, Durand Coffee is easy to miss. Looks are deceiving though because once you walk in, you are greeted by a large space with plenty of seating. The lighting is perfect and there is a good mix of customers. If you are studying, just be aware it is pretty busy and they get a good number of parents with young children coming in. Regardless of what time I have gone it has always been busy, but you can usually still snag a table or comfy chair in the back area.

On my first two visits, I tried their almond milk latte. The next time I tried the matcha tea latte also with almond milk. I appreciate it’s hard to work with almond milk. It’s watery and can be annoying to work with, but such are the options for the lactose intolerant. It can be hard to find a good almond milk latte, but these were great. Creamy and beautiful to look at. The matcha tea latte which is a new feature was a definite highlight.

As much as I would like to give Durand Coffee a wholehearted 5 stars, there is something that holds me back. Although the service was ‘fine’ all three times I went, I did find the staff (same people working each time) a bit stand offish and not particularly friendly. They seemed much warmer with regulars, but this could just be the particular staff I encountered on my visits.

Overall: 4/5

Drinks: 5/5

Service: 3/5

Review: The French: Sunday Brunch

The French
37 King William St, Hamilton

Takes Reservations: Yes
Parking: Street
As a big fan of Aberdeen Tavern, I was excited to hear about the new addition to their restaurant family. The French opened back in December and I finally got the chance to try it out last week. We headed over on a very chilly Sunday morning to have brunch.

Brunch is one of my favourite weekend (or weekday!) activities, but I was a bit apprehensive going in. Aberdeen Tavern has a killer dinner service with perfectly constructed dishes, but I have always found their brunch a bit disappointing. I know that opinion leaves me in the minority, but the service, coffee and food at brunch just can’t compete with their lunch and dinner service. All that said, I was unsure of how The French would compare.

Let’s start with the atmosphere because if you have not been there yet, this space is gorgeous. They have exposed stone walls including a separating wall for two dining areas. Although very striking, the stone walls are a bit of a liability in the winter. We were seated at the window right by the wall and the wall was very cold. Even the husband, who in his entire life has never felt cold, remarked it was chilly.

We started with lattes, regular milk for him and almond milk for me. They were both decent, not great. Next up was an Elderflower Kir which I absolutely loved, but I am a sucker for elderflower cocktails.

We ordered a fresh scone which we had intended to have with our lattes and then the Englishman and Croque Madame for our mains. Within less than 10 minutes of ordering we received our scone, both lattes, the cocktail and both meals all at the same time. On the one hand, timely service and hot food are great. On the other hand, the disappointing one, brunch is a leisurely meal and I felt rushed. We ended up only spending 35 minutes total from seating to exit which does not make for a relaxed Sunday brunch feel.

The timing of the food was unfortunate, but the food itself definitely made up for it. The Englishman included 2 eggs, sausage, bacon, crispy potatoes, braised beans, tomato and braised beans. Can we please talk about those crispy potatoes? I am still thinking about them. My husband ate his and then helped himself to some of mine. The bacon was the perfect level of crispy and this is from someone who does not like bacon (I know, I know). I loved my meal, but the star of the show was the Croque Madame. With ham and Handeck cheese, it was topped with a perfectly fried egg which met #yolkporngoals. I missed a picture of the scone in the flurry of plates arriving, but it was raspberry served with butter and preserves. Warm and fresh, it was a nice addition to the meal.

Overall, I thought it was a great meal. Service was friendly and attentive although timing from the kitchen was off and it ended up feeling rushed. That’s something that I think can easily be worked out with time. I will definitely be returning to try out their dinner menu!

Overall rating: 4/5

Service: 3.5/5

Ambience/Decor: 4/5 (only because of the cold)