Here's why foodies need to head to Toronto – and what to do when you're there
Sipping on a glass of orange wine from the Niagara region, I was bracing myself for more of Toronto’s great tastes.
I had already tried an eclectic mix of the city’s delicious locally sourced produce on a food tour just a few hours earlier and my belly was already full. But judging by all the greatness I had already consumed, I was hungry to feast on whatever starter, main, and dessert on the menu caught my eye.
I was at Richmond Station, a downtown restaurant bursting with life.
This was my first ever trip to Canada and I was excited by the prospect of eating my way around the city and hopping on a bike to marvel at its skyline from its famous islands.
But I also came to appreciate how sustainability is at the heart of the city’s fibre.
For the duration of my weekend away, I stayed at the 1 Hotel Toronto, a relatively new hotel that has fast become one of the city’s most popular venues thanks to its beautifully designed lobby bar, Flora Lounge, and its rooftop, which offers incredible views of the Toronto skyline complete with an infinity pool. I took myself up to the rooftop for sunrise on my first day to soak up the impressive cityscape uninterrupted. It was a pinch-me moment.
The hotel itself is rooted in nature and has been built with sustainability at its heart. The building is adorned with thoughtfully crafted pieces of furniture made from local fallen trees, giving them a second life. Repurposed maple features heavily, be it the clever side tables in the shower that holds the bathroom products, to the numerous tables and chairs. Even the lamps in the foyer are constructed from pieces of repurposed bark.
The hotel also smells incredible. As soon as you walk through its big wooden doors, you’re instantly hit by this delicious musky Le Labo-esque scent.
1 Hotel Toronto’s commitment to being as environmentally conscious as possible is undeniable. No stone has been left unturned. They even have a local charity partner that will come and collect items of clothing should guests want to donate items they might not have room for in their suitcases.
The hotel’s restaurant, 1 Kitchen, is proudly zero-waste and its menu is dedicated to fresh, local, and sustainably sourced dishes. On my first evening, I sipped on an avocado Picante cocktail while munching on the house Caesar salad. The following morning, while it was, admittedly, difficult to drag myself out of the plush king-sized bed, the house maple roasted granola and the sweet potato waffle with buttermilk fried chicken made it all worth it.
But sampling the food at 1 Hotel Toronto was only the beginning of my culinary adventure, my amuse-bouche, if you will.
For my first food tour of the trip, with Taste & Tales, I explored St Lawrence Market. The market is home to 120 vendors with many family-run businesses that have been passed down from generation to generation. Unlike some of the food markets we know and love in London, this particular venue is no frills. Here you can find your butchers, fish markets, and bakeries.
My tour guide, Ian, took us to try an array of delicacies, from a peameal bacon sandwich with honey mustard to perogies and Montreal-style bagels boiled in honey water.
I also sampled some of the finest local artisanal treats of Toronto’s hippiest neighbourhood, Riverside and Leslieville, on Culinary Adventure Co’s food tour. Owner Kevin Durkee took our group under his wing as he walked us around the charming neighbourhood, which has retained its industrial buildings despite being injected with gentrification.
It was on this tour that I ate one of the best sandwiches of my life, a chorizo and pesto number on fresh sourdough, courtesy of Blackbird Baking Company. I haven’t stopped dreaming about it yet.
Ahead of both tours, we were warned to come with empty stomachs, and I can’t stress how important it is to listen to this advice. You will leave full, you will struggle to remember what being hungry feels like, but you will still go on to eat two dinners.
Chefs are also putting locally sourced produce at the front and centre of their restaurants. I spent an evening dining at Richmond Station and my tastebuds danced as I tried out the yellowfin tuna tartare before going on to enjoy a duo of Muscovy duck with creamed Swiss chard and concord grapes. And of course, the dessert of Basque cheesecake also gets a notable mention.
The recently opened W Hotel in Yorkville is also a popular hotspot, with yuppies flocking to the Skylight bar for a fancy weekend tipple. The menu offers up Mediterranean delights with a raw bar and mezze. Toronto’s cuisine is a reflection of its melting pot of cultures, and it really is second to none.
While eating was a mammoth part of my trip, I also explored the Toronto islands by bike. Apart from cruising the apocalyptic streets of London on two wheels during the pandemic, I had never explored a city in this manner before – and I loved every second.
Just minutes away from the effervescent city lies 15 beautifully peaceful interconnected islands.
Our Toronto Bicycle Tours guide, Liam, was full of knowledge and shared with us the rich history of the islands as I soaked up the stunning views of the city from afar.
The sun beamed down on us as we glided across the quiet boardwalks and through quaint parks, before stopping for a break at one of Lake Ontario’s many beaches.
It’s a different way of seeing the city, and certainly one of the highlights of my trip. I couldn’t recommend it enough.
What I found to be clear during my short stay in Toronto, was just how sustainably minded the city is. Taking a walk around the Yorkville Village Shopping Centre, I admired 1000lbs worth of fast fashion sculpted into a 43ft tree. The clothes were headed to landfills, but the artist, Jordan Sook, saved them. Now, passersby are forced to think about their own consumption and its effect on the environment, as well as the lifecycle of consumerism.
There’s also a cultural focus on giving back. Evergreen Brick Works, the country’s first large-scale community environmental centre, is a much-loved public space. The social enterprise is home to Toronto’s largest farmers market and also hosts artisan and vintage fairs. Situated a stone’s throw away from the city, Evergreen Brick Works also has several programmes focussing on long-term ecological sustainability.
It’s undeniable that Toronto is a foodies’ mecca. If you’re planning your next break and want to explore a destination that values sustainability, choose it, and you could soon be sipping on a glass of orange wine from the Niagara region, bracing your stomach for more food.
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