This changed this year.
I can't recall a time where I've counted down to the start of a new year with anyone other than those in my immediate and extended family. This also means that I've never watched New Year's fireworks besides through an LCD screen whilst clad in cozy attire in the comfort of my own home.
This changed this year.
The aim of attending the chaotic celebration was to set up camp in a prime location to practice long exposure photography. Prior to this, we headed to Man Doo Hyang for hearty Korean food. (It was my mainly my decision, but the KBBQ-lovers obtained a decent share of meat in their dishes all the same.)
< Pictured above: Jjajangmyeon, Soondae, Bulgogi, Ox Knee Soup, and various side dishes. >
Simply stating that I like cafés would be an understatement.
I enjoy the laidback atmosphere and soothing vibes emitted from within. I become giddy at the sight of food offerings bearing intense visual appeal. I revel in their high-comfort, Wi-Fi-enabled environment.
However, some days demand a wider span of dietary options, as well as a small hideaway setting for intimate, prolonged conversations to take place between close friends. This is where tea rooms come into play.
Please be aware that the term is not referring to the typical bubble tea joint serving up Taiwanese finger food (though Green Grotto is lovely too), but rather those possessing a particularly classic English aura reminiscent of 18th century Great Britain.
The Tea Room at Robinson-Bray House is one of the exceedingly few tea rooms of its kind in Mississauga. Tucked away in the heart of Streetsville, the location utilizes one and a half rooms for dining (the other half is allocated for kitschy tea-themed merchandise and their own varieties of loose leaf teas) from the once-residential complex.
On a rather overcast day, we pulled into one of the designated street parking locations outside of the house. The spots were very roomy, unlike the ones in the Gong Cha plaza, though the never-ending flow of traffic made straightening out the vehicle a tad more time-consuming than the process should have been. (Or perhaps it was merely a lack of parallel parking practice on my part.) Not a single meter was spotted as we made our way to Robinson-Bray, so it was safe to assume that parking was free unless otherwise stated.
"Reservations recommended" had read their website, but I had been too preoccupied the day before to phone in. Thankfully, their reservation-only period had ceased a few days prior, and we were permitted to choose our desired dining coordinates upon entering.
Majority of the tables were allotted for small groups consisting of no more than four people, while two to three were specifically arranged to seat up to six customers. I personally found the high number of tables to overwhelm the size of the room: with winter coats and medium-sized crossbodies in tow, I could only hope that I would not be invading the space of other customers, and vice versa.
I selected the sole table with access to window light, though the overall lighting of the interior still remained mediocre at best. Half of the table was gently lit with the very little sunshine able to permeate the white curtain, while the other half was, sadly, shrouded in darkness. After several feeble attempts to make do with the current situation without the use of additional lighting, I succumbed to hunger and decided to enjoy the experience as opposed to obsess over whether my images would reproduce correctly.
From within the depths of the kitchen emerged a uniform-clad waitress, fresh-faced and hair neatly secured in a low ponytail. She informed us of the tea room's daily offerings, including specialty desserts and the like, before allowing us to spend several more minutes with the menu.
Her timing was impeccable, as she re-emerged at our table as soon as we had each agreed to order the Robinson-Bray Afternoon Tea Set. With the outstanding array of tea names presented before us, it took us another few minutes to decide upon our pot of choice. After hearing the waitress's recommendations, we ultimately selected Oolong Ginger Lemon and Buckingham Palace.
Both pots arrived shortly and were accompanied with filters of different sieve sizes. Buckingham Palace was a very unique blend of black teas, featuring the ever-popular Assam, Kenya, and Nepal, mixed with a small amount of Jasmine for a slight floral touch.
Oolong blends are unarguably my preferred tea type (The Skinny and Vanilla Orchid are both great brewed solo or enjoyed with milk and sugar!), and Oolong Ginger Lemon really enhanced the flavours to unfathomably new heights. Bursting with exuberant citrus scents yet grounded with classic Oolong, the tea was the most fragrant blend my olfactory senses have ever had the opportunity to engage contact with. The additional touch of ginger also added a subtly spicy kick and did wonders for soothing a sore throat.
Much to our delight, our three-tiered Afternoon Tea Set was delivered in the following few minutes. But instead of the resting upon vertically-aligned white ceramic dishes, the bite-sized delicacies were served on a three-way scallop-hemmed stainless steel contraption.
A brief description of each item was provided to us as we snapped away at the beauty of the piece. The two identical sets included finger sandwiches (egg salad, cucumber and cream cheese, and chicken-apricot-cranberry), cranberry and orange scones, and a dessert tier of rectangular German chocolate cake segments, vanilla cupcakes, and shortbread cookies.
I anticipated the worst on Boxing Day. Crowds had swarmed Square One and parking had been scarce at Erin Mills throughout the entire week, so it was only fitting that I have a game plan in place for the day of.
Rolling over to silence my alarm at 7:00 AM wasn't something I was very keen to do, but I was even less keen about having parking troubles or dealing with long lineups. Pulling into the lot around 7:30 AM though, I realized that I had been unnecessarily eager abut the whole ordeal: it was relatively still empty. I slowly backed into the very first spot and collected myself in preparation.
The Face Shop hadn't opened yet - reasonable, seeing as there were still 25 minutes left until opening hours.
No open Wi-Fi networks could be found, so I ended up wandering around the food court and admiring the sunrise in the meantime.
Upon finally witnessing the metal panels slide open, I rushed in and grabbed the items I wanted. It was a much more serene process than I imagined: no lineups and no angsty customers.
Unfortunately, the only member of staff at that time was a half-awake manager who was evidently missing a few screws. Even with my list in hand, a total of twenty minutes were required to manually apply the discounts, forget to provide me with several discounts, forget to delete an item from the list after conducting a price check, and fail to provide me with a price adjustment due to system limitations.
They didn't have shampoo nor loose powder in stock either, but I settled for grabbing all the products I would develop a potential usage for before zipping off to buy breakfast.
Lunch was skipped as a result of friend hangouts, so a late mid-day snack of Pork and Leek Dumplings and QQ Milk Tea followed some several hours after sessions of mahjong and DDR at Playdium.
Markham isn't particularly known for having an abundance of restaurants serving up non-Asian cuisine, but you'll likely find a few hidden gems buried deep within small plazas along the Scarborough/Markham border.
Bamiyan Kabob is one of them.
To be frank, I wasn't the one that suggested this restaurant. But this didn't stop me from enjoying myself during my stay. Accompanied by two individuals seasoned in the ways of consuming Indian, Afghan, and Middle Eastern culinary choices, I stepped back to observe the seemingly foreign menu as our orders were placed.
In contrast to the pale yellow exterior, which is likely a result of weathering, Bamiyan's interio was painted in a vibrant beige-mustard hue and accompanied with dark copper tiled wall art. The grey, somewhat thorny light fixtures bore a slight resemblance to Chandelure.
Among our orders were the Half Chicken Plate, Chaplee Kabob, Kofta Kabob, and a Mango Smoothie. Each plate was served atop a generous portion of Basmati rice and a garlic-y salad. A side of spongy naan with delicately charred edges were also provided in a nifty little straw basket.
It's inevitable: life gets busy. But that's precisely the reason why catch-up sessions are deemed necessary.
After two years of laidback planning, a lunch appointment with a long-time pal finally took place. The setting was rather unexpected: two friends, both hailing from the suburbs, met up at Queen Street Warehouse, a restaurant/pub situated between the Entertainment District and The Grange.
We both agreed in unison when I had suggested El Furny's sister location; "I've been eyeing that place for a while now." came the confession. I had also been contemplating the restaurant for some time, but the intention to visit became more apparent after discovering their all-day $4.95 menu.
With the exception of alcoholic beverages and a few specified items, each and every item on their clipboard-backed paper menu was priced just under five dollars (or $5.59 including tax).
Water was served in two stout, evidently grimy glasses (thank goodness for straws!) by an extremely casually-dressed waitress. She hastily took our orders and whisked the menus away. It was at this moment that I discovered the condiment tubes to be unnecessarily grimy. (Do I want to know the condition of their washroom? Probably not. Not now, not ever.)
Lengthy discussions regarding recent life happenings were exchanged for some times before I started wondering when our dishes would arrive. I recalled many reviewers mentioning that the crew was slow to put out food – it happened to be true after all, even when lunch hour had yet to start.
The Union Street Noodle Salad and Chorizo-Queso dip with chips and baked bread eventually made their way to the table after a painstakingly prolonged duration of time.
For those that have been following this space long enough, my complex appreciation for Halo Halo should not come as a surprise. Having only begun to take effect this past summer, it's only reasonable that I would extend my search for the best variation of the Filipino shaved ice into our presently very mild winter.
It should be mentioned that I'm gradually making my way through insauga's Top 5. Between Happy Birthday Cakes' chewy seasonal offering, Quiapo Quiapo's enormous, vividly-coloured portion, and B's awkward, sugar-laden version, I finally found myself trying out Somethin' Sweet 4 U.
The Filipino chain has four locations: three distributed throughout Mississauga and one in Brampton, bordering Mississauga and Toronto Pearson.
Ever since my failed attempt at attempting their version of the crushed ice dessert at the smaller shop on Rathburn, it was only fitting to visit their Heartland location to verify their making 3rd place on the list. Pulling up just shortly after 1 PM on a quiet, but blindingly bright Sunday afternoon allowed me to grasp a better understanding of their popularity in the area.
Approximately six times larger than their grab-and-go spot, the thoroughly purple restaurant comprised of a high ceiling, about 30 tables for dine-in customers, an ordering counter, and a vast selection of rotating sweets and baked goods.
I was definitely taken back that the lunch hour lineup spanned the combined length of the display counters. Nonetheless, the queue did not faze me; I stepped into line and took advantage of freshii's Wi-Fi (they were located next door, as was Bubble Tease).
Having had plenty of time to analyze their extensive menu options. I arrived at the cashier with a very clear idea of what I wished to order: Fresh Lumpia, Fish Balls, and, of course, Halo Halo.
The wait time was quite extensive, and understandably so; the kitchen had been thrown into a frenzy to accommodate the preparation of food for both takeout and dine-in customers, as well as plating and delivering meals for the customers that were already seated.
I probably exhibit my most un-Canadian ways when subzero temperatures hit; thick scarves, knit beanies, earmuffs, and touchscreen gloves gradually begin to emerge from my closet with each drop in mercury.
However, there does happen to be one thing that the frigid winds can't shake from my system: having brain freeze-inducing frozen yogurt as an afternoon snack.
From what I am able to recall, the last time I stepped into a Menchies was probably prior to even starting this blog.
Not that this mattered, of course, as Menchies hadn't evolved one bit. The classic vanilla and chocolate flavours still remained available, as did the original Tart flavour and at least one non-dairy alternative. Neither of us opted for a waffle bowl - bowl? shield? - and instead simply filled our cups with swirls of Pineapple Sorbet atop other flavours before decking them out with candy bits and fresh fruit slices.
Perhaps extrinsic weather conditions played a part in this, but I found that the frozen yogurt melted at a much less rapid rate than in the summer. I had devoured my creations inside the store each time, but always thought that it melted much too quickly on previous occasions. (It's possible that the naturally watery formula of some of the flavours may have contributed to this though.)
A brother-and-sister duo entered the shop as we chatted away; the younger carried an epic-looking concoction of chocolatey gooeyness as he strolled by our table. As the sister slowly pulled out her phone to snap a quick shot, I couldn't help but also ask if I could capture the moment. "Do you even know how many calories is in that thing?" I heard the sister exclaim as I retreated back to our cozy corner.
The remainder of the day flew by rather quickly.
Within an hour of leaving the frozen yogurt franchise, the sky had quickly darkened. My next destination was downtown Brampton, which required a longer amount of time on the highway than anticipated; my unfamiliarity with the area did not assist me in this journey either.
Significantly chillier than in the afternoon, the walk around Gage Park and City Hall was cut as short as I could possibly withstand.
As opposed to the breathtaking long exposure image I had viewed not even two weeks ago of the park, the bulk of my photographic visions were abruptly shattered upon entering the reality of the dimly-lit, depressing-looking space. It appeared as if only 20% of the lights were actually in operation, leaving the remainder of the area gloomy and, arguably, a tad eerie.
Marching over to the other side of the road was a much more rewarding experience, as the leafless trees and shrubs had all been decked out in colourful Christmas bulbs. The most stunning part of the display was undoubtedly the gazeebo-like structure adjacent to the road: it was illuminated by coils of multi-coloured lights whose luminescence bounced off the white paint to produce an even more appealing exhibit.
Nothing screams #TGIF more than a post-work bubble tea run followed by checking out/indulging in Canada's first Nutella Café!
We ventured out along Queen St., with the original mindset of trying out a toasty version of Nohohon's Lavenderbrew (well, I did anyway). But that later changed as I caught sight of the new menu items: Japanese Candy Cane Cocoa and Nohohon Gingerbrew.
Given that the next stop was bound to be filled with chocolatey goodness, I skipped the first option and decided to go for a hot Gingerbrew with chewy tapioca pearls. A Green Haze (matcha latte with a gentle touch of hazelnut) with tapioca was also ordered.
Skim milk is a fairly new substitution option on Nohohon's menu, and I honestly couldn't be more fond of it! Upon delivery of my drink, I was informed that the drink might fall onto the watery side due to the low fat content of the milk. As someone accustomed to drinking skim, this didn't prove to be an issue to me - in fact, the tea and gingerbread-y flavours were further enhanced because of it! However, it was a good reminder to customers as bubble teas and lattes are commonly composed of 3.25% cream (homo milk), 2% milk, and sometimes whole milk.
Of course, Nohohon proved to be as awesome as always! The tapioca was chewy, but not overcooked; the sweet, syrupy fragrance had filled the tea room when we first entered and made the ordering process feel even cozier. While I didn't try the Green Haze, it is definitely on my list for when warmer weather arrives. Until then, though, I think I'll stick with their wonderfully toasty Japanese-inspired beverages. (If only they were located in closer proximity, I'd be dropping by for every single coffee run, even during subzero temperatures.)
Cold and hot drinks in hand, we then proceeded to Spadina and Bremner/Fort York. The Nutella Café is located within a rather compact Sobeys, just to the right (east) of the entranceway on Fort York Blvd.
The insane number of Nutella jars is quite a sight to take in - medium- and large-sized jars lined the shelves while smaller Nutella to-go packets were stacked near the cashier.
In the display case lay several Nutella-filled pastries, including danishes and powdered sugar-dusted donuts ("Bombes"); loafs and Pizzelle biscuits covered/drizzled in the chocolate hazelnut spread were items also part of the menu.
View the full album HERE !
After a brief look at the menu, we opted for two Nutella crepes - one with banana slices and another with strawberries, as per the cashier's recommendation. The line behind me grew as I veered off the the side to watch the chefs ladle batches of thick, pale yellow batter onto the griddle and distribute the formula uniformly using what seemed to be a metal crepe wand.
The existence of backlog is a stressful thing, thus I spent majority of my weekend past study room doors - open, since I'm claustrophobic after all - relieving myself of the major pileup.
Resulting from this relief was, as you can probably predict, the urge to take even more photographs for the sake of experimentation.
Conducting nighttime long exposure shots was a technique that I had wanted to dabble in for quite some time, but the occasion never arose. Towards the end of the weekend, though, I finally decided that it was time.
With the assistance of a very nice friend, I set up my camera over the 403, making slight dial adjustments after every fleet of cars zoomed by beneath us. The results are as shown above and below: an intriguing mix of red and blue streaks, complimented with either a warm haze from freeway streetlights or bluish, starry spots from ones at street level.
All in all, it was a very fulfilling experience, and I can only hope to further develop upon this method to produce images of greater visual interest and higher quality. And with, Christmas just around the corner, there really is no better time capture the smooth flow of multi-coloured LEDs on residential streets.
No weekly visuals post could ever be complete without food snaps!
Somehow, I found myself wandering into Pearl King as company for a late lunch.
It hadn't been my first time experiencing the restaurant's North American-ized Chinese food, though it was the first opportunity I had at taking in their bistro-like decor and unseemly presence of a marble-topped bar area in the very centre.
The lunch rush had passed, enabling the restaurant to have a moment of peace.
Several dim sum dishes were ordered, including the Hockey Pucks (Pan-Fried Chive and Shrimp Patties), Wonton Soup, Spring Rolls, and a bowl of Steamed White Rice.
Who Am I?
Formerly an avid owner of several interest-based portals, Random Thoughts of a Quirky Blogger presents precisely the elements expected. From experiments in the kitchen to miscellaneous musings, from IGOT7 reflections to developments in transportation infrastructure, it's all consolidated here. Welcome to the raw, unfiltered side of Quirky Aesthetics.