As part of my unexpected foodie year this year, I’ve been visiting different cafes, chocolate shops, ice cream shops, bakeries, and pretty much anything else that serves treats. While I’m trying places all over the Lower Mainland, downtown does have a lot of options. One of them is Thierry café and chocolate shop (website), pretty much right in the main hub of downtown Vancouver, on Alberni Street between Thurlow and Burrard. Their website says they are recognized as one of the best coffee houses by Vancouver Magazine. I can’t confirm or deny that seeing as I don’t do coffee or tea but I can tell you I enjoyed every delicious edible treat I tried and every chocolate drink I drank.
You can enjoy taking a break to treat yourself with either one of their indoor tables or one of their year-round heated patio tables. Word of warning though, this is a very busy place and every time I have been there, it’s been busy. Like busy enough if can be a bit of a wait for a table.
Thankfully for us chocolate lovers, Thierry café and chocolate shop has a few choices of hot chocolate drinks to choose from, and in several different flavours. They also have a cold chocolate drink for cooling down in the heat.
Caramel Liquid Chocolate
The caramel flavoured house blend liquid chocolate was delicious, and a real treat. It wasn’t as thick or rich as Minks’ (see below for that one) but instead it was a wonderful, sweet, hot chocolate drink with a hint of caramel. I loved that it had the additional flavour of caramel. I also really enjoyed it not being overly rich and thick, it made it easier to drink. They also have coconut, hazelnut, basque chili, and kayambe flavoured liquid chocolate. I have no idea what those last two are but I don’t like spicy chocolate drinks so I for sure won’t be trying the chili one.
Hot Chocolate – Milk
I found their regular hot chocolate to be sweet and creamy. Not overly chocolatey but that could be because I had tried their liquid chocolate first and my taste buds were a bit thrown off. I tried it again another day and creamy definitely wins as the strongest flavour but it’s still chocolatey without being overly sweet. Just know that if you decide to grab a hot chocolate for take-away, it is only available in medium size for that.
Iced Chocolate – Milk
I made a trip into Thierry café and chocolate shop on a really nice hot summer day so I tried their cold chocolate drink offering. Their Iced Chocolate drink in milk chocolate is made with only mocha powder, milk, ice, vanilla, and then sprinkled with cocoa powder on top. It makes for a refreshing cold chocolate drink that is not overly rich, chocolatey, or sweet. I’ve added vanilla to my own homemade chocolate drinks so I know it cuts the rich, bitter chocolate taste to make a mild chocolate drink without it being sweet.
Pink Praline Brioche
I’ve never had a brioche before but I thought it looked like a cinnamon bun just without cinnamon so I’d give it a try. Turns out it is a type of French pastry which I found to be flaky & buttery like a croissant. There were a few nuts pieces inside, maybe walnut, but it wasn’t very sweet and I couldn’t really taste much praline. It was good and the centre is where most of the sweetness, praline, and nuts were but because I had a misunderstanding of what I was eating, I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t sweeter with more praline flavour.
Chocolate Marquise Cake Slice
I really enjoyed this light chocolate mousse cake. It had a crunchy base layer, and it was just light and delicious. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot to say because I ended up eating it really fast. Oooopps! It was so good though.
Theirry café and chocolate shop has a pretty good selection of traditional and less traditional flavours of macarons. It’s probably me, but I haven’t been able to tell the difference between macarons made at different shops. I find they taste the same. I think this means I have to keep trying more so that I can become more of a connoisseur. But for now, I’ll continue enjoying them everywhere I try them, including Theirry’s.
Chocolate Trio Cake Slice
Uummmm, I unknowingly keep choosing mousse cakes when I visit Thierry. The chocolate trio cake slice consists of a thin layer of cake, a slightly thicker layer of dark chocolate mousse, another thin layer of chocolate cake, before a slightly thicker layer of each milk chocolate and white chocolate mousse. It is such a great mix of flavours and textures. A real light cake treat but with a sugary sweet mix of chocolates. I loved it!
A Seasonal Treat:
Beignets with Chocolate and Caramel Sauces (offered only for a few weeks during Mardi Gras time)
Another thing I had never even heard of before, the beignet is like a square doughnut but lighter and less greasy. The six pieces were served warm, sprinkled with powdered sugar, and came with two of three sauces. We chose chocolate and caramel sauce (sorry I can’t remember the other sauce offered, I was too excited with the caramel). These were absolutely delicious and very welcome on a cold March day, but six pieces was also a bit too much for two people to share. Maybe Thierry café and chocolate shop could offer them as four pieces or I guess I could bring two friends to share with me next time.
As you can see, I have enjoyed everything I’ve tried at Thierry cafe and chocolate shop so far and I can’t wait to try more of their delicious treats.
London is a massive city with so much to offer, it is impossible to list everything. But what I can do is list a few of the places where I have spent time shopping and eating in London. I can also try to share a bit of information on what is available and what you can look forward to. The options for shopping and eating in London range from incredibly cheap to incredibly expensive. You can also find something from every corner of the world. It really is amazing.
Eating in London
You can choose to eat at a pub that is several hundred years old, or an expensive hotel restaurant that is also several hundred years old. How about eating food from a country you have never visited, or maybe just stick to eating something more within your comfort zone. Try the London invention of afternoon tea for the first time, or enjoy a kabob at the end of a night of drinking just like the locals. Maybe you would prefer to just shop for groceries at Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. Like these Urban Fruit (website) treats that are healthy, chewy, and basically candy-like. They are 100% fruit with no added sugar or sulphites, just baked fruit. I ate them every day and brought a huge amount home with me. To say I loved them is a bit of an understatement so I highly recommend them.
Some of the Urban Fruit treats I brought home from London.
Shopping in London
If you are a reader, one option is visiting Hatchards on Piccadilly; London’s oldest bookstore at over 200 years old. Next door to it is Fortnum & Mason which for over 300 years has been supplying people with wonderful food and even picnic supplies. How about walking along Regent Street between Piccadilly Circus and Oxford Street. Or walk down Oxford Street. You can spend a day shopping in amazing but also historical shops like Hamleys toy store, as well as Liberty, Debenhams, and Selfridges department stores. And just on the other side of Hyde Park is Harrods.
Those shops are only a few of the big, famous names you might recognize. You could also mix shopping and eating in London with history at the same time and visit one of the many markets. There really are an endless supply of options. With such an overwhelming selection for shopping and eating in London, I’ll share my choices from my last visit.
Shopping and Eating in London Markets
The markets in London range from enclosed shops to covered, tented stalls to just tables. They offer everything from food to clothes, to flowers, to antiques, to even what some might consider junk. There are so many markets for you to choose from to do some shopping and eating in London. Markets have been surviving as a shopping option in England for more than a thousand years so it’s not really a surprise they offer so many different ones to visit.
Some of the more famous ones are Covent Garden, Portobello Road, and Camden Lock, but there are so many more. I’ve been to several but my most recent trip to London had me visiting Borough Market for the first time.
Located across the street from the London Bridge Underground station, Borough Market (website) is an amazing food market that celebrated their 1000-year anniversary a few years ago. Nobody knows exactly when it was first established but the 1014 date has been used because of a story talking about the great market town of Southwark. Which is where Borough Market is located and now part of London. The website calls the market Britain’s renowned food market and from personal experience I can say, this market is like a foodie’s dream. There were food vendors of all types. Produce, spices, cheese, breads, meats, condiments, and almost anything else you can think of. I even bought an amazing vegetarian pate. Oh, and don’t forget the wine and other alcohols.
The busy market is an amazing sight even if you aren’t a foodie. There were vendors selling delicious street foods, some selling candies from other countries, and even shops where you could taste wines before purchasing. It’s a bit of a different place where you can do some shopping and eating in London but you also get to meet the farmers growing the produce, the fisherman who caught the fish, or the person who created one of the many different artisan products because they are the people working many of the stalls. It really is an experience.
There are also several restaurants in Borough Market for you to enjoy but we went to the chocolate one.
Rabot 1745 in Borough Market
Located in Borough Market, Rabot 1745 (website) tantalizes patrons with food, drinks, desserts, and treats to take home, all using cocoa. It was a wonderful, delicious find. It was also the very first time I had a frozen, blended chocolate drink, and now I love them. Rabot 1745 is a chocolate lover’s restaurant where customers are served chocolate products from different locations around the world. Chocolate really does taste different from each country and this restaurant lets you try a lot of it.
Not everything on the menu contains cacao but a lot of it does. Like I said, I really enjoyed my frozen, blended drink but I also enjoyed the chocolate bars I brought home with me. Both the market and the Rabot 1745 restaurant were packed busy. Again, a location where I can do some shopping and eating in London, at the same time.
Rabot 1745 Iced Chocolate drink
Cath Kidston Shop
Cath Kidston (website) carries clothes, handbags, travel bags, wallets, items for the home, kitchen, children, and even babies. They have a huge selection of stuff in their flagship store on Piccadilly. That location is also open for like 10 hours almost every day too so it makes it easy to shop. The styles tend to be floral, animals, and characters. That kind of thing. Which works for me because I seem to have some sort of unconscious obsession where every time I travel to a foreign country, I buy myself something floral.
While Cath Kidston has many locations, none of them are located in North America. Actually, in any of the Americas. I didn’t even know about the brand until this trip. I saw a really cute handbag being carried by someone on the tube and noticed the name. So, it meant I had to go shopping.
I have one complaint with Cath Kidston and part of it is probably related to my country of residence. After using a handbag I bought only a few times over a several days, a piece on one of the handles started to fall apart. I was back in Vancouver by then but I still contacted them regarding a return because I had bought the bag less than a week before and had only used it like two or three times. It grew into an ordeal. Apparently, it costs more than they were expecting to ship something from Canada to the UK. Emails went back and forth and it took quite a while but finally, everything moved forward and they replaced my handbag.
I was happy they were willing to help me with the defective product but I wish it would have been quicker and less of an ordeal. The second bag took months of use before the same problem happened again. It wasn’t anything major enough to complain about a second time though (it was a rubber filler in the seam of the handle) so I’ve been living with it.
I was happy with the product, the selection, and my experience so I will shop there again.
Afternoon Tea at the British Museum
Afternoon Tea in the British Museum
Our first day in London was July 1, 2016. Canada Day. So, we decided being in London for Canada Day was the perfect time to enjoy our very first afternoon tea. And what better place than the British Museum. I’m so happy we did this. While having afternoon tea would have been delicious and a great experience at any of the famous, historical locations normally associated with it, for two museum lovers like us, this was an awesome memory. Also, the afternoon tea at the British Museum was the most affordable option of all the ones we looked into that day.
If shovelling your face with mini sandwiches, scones, desserts, and tea is not your thing, (I’m not saying you’re crazy, but really?) they also serve other foods. The Great Court Restaurant (website) is located under the beautiful glass roof of the Great Court, at the top of the spiral staircase. It has an open kitchen so you can watch the chefs, and it even has a bar. It’s quite a bright location under that glass roof even if it is a bit loud being in the semi-open court. But just eating my first afternoon tea in a large, stunning museum made me happy. Bonus, now I am also slightly addicted to afternoon tea and even found a delicious vegetarian one in Victoria, BC.
Crumbs & Doilies Cupcake Shop
My cousin Megan watched a TV program here in Canada on the Food Network YouTube channel from Crumbs & Doilies Cupcakes (website) in Soho, London. So of course, we had to go to the shop for cupcakes. Located on one of London’s many cobbled walkways, it is between Beak Street & Kingly Court just off Carnaby Street in Soho. They were a bit difficult to find for anyone not knowing the area because it really is a walkway between streets and the GPS on our phones had issues. But it wasn’t the only shop there and it is a cool location. I’m glad we made the effort to find it instead of giving up.
Crumbs & Doillies had quite a selection of regular size and mini cupcakes, as well as cakes. What they have in stock changes daily also so you will always be surprised. I had just started eating sugar again and it was my birthday the next day so I kept it simple and bought an assortment of five different mini cupcakes. Of course there was a caramel option for me cause it is my favourite, but the rainbow one with glittery sparkles looked the most fun, unicorn-like, & pretty. All were a sweet, delicious treat though.
Where else other than the UK are you going to find a Chocolate Guinness flavoured cupcake or a Lavender Caramel one? How about trying a Malteser, Cinnamon Toast, or Buttered Popcorn flavour? You could always go with some more common ones though if you prefer. Like Salted Caramel, Vanilla, Chocolate, or Red Velvet.
You can order from them online to get your specific choice or you can take a chance and be surprised with what they have for sale in their shop when you walk-in. Not only does Soho offer quite the assortment of shopping and eating in London options but it is also located between Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, Regent Street and Leister Square. So it is a wonderful location to visit so many other places.
Jamie’s Italian Restaurant
I’m not sure what I was expecting from this restaurant by Jamie Oliver. I had never eaten at a restaurant owned by a famous chef before, or even someone I watched on TV, so I might have set the bar pretty high. Which could explain why I wasn’t overly impressed. Don’t get me wrong, the restaurant was very nice and the food was good, but it just didn’t jump out at me as anything better than other restaurants I’ve eaten at.
We visited the Jamie’s Italian (website) London Bridge location which is in the Hilton London Tower Bridge hotel. It allows the restaurant to have longer opening hours which means they also serve breakfast. We were there for dinner though and one place the restaurant excelled at was the vegetarian options. I really appreciated the large selection on the menu. Some of the choices even had protein which is not always an option with vegetarian meals in most restaurants.
There are locations in Piccadilly and Covent Garden too.
These are a few of the places I visited for shopping and eating in London on my last visit but this is an enormous city with what feels like endless options. I didn’t even discuss the pubs. Some are new and centered around the tourists while others have been at their location for hundreds of years. London has so many things to see and do but even if you only have a few days you will be able to experience so many things.
Have you also recently been to London? Do you have a few suggestions on where to go for shopping and eating?
So far this summer, soft ice cream appears to be my new favourite treat. Well, that and chocolate. But in all fairness chocolate has been a favourite a bit longer than just this summer. I’m trying to mix the two together now though which is new for me. In my search for ‘unknown to me’ treat sources, I happily found Cacao 70. It’s like a bit of sweet chocolate heaven mixed with food. You know, a happy place to go and possibly receive a sugar coma if you decide to go all out.
Cacao 70 (website) has three different types of shops, in three different locations in Vancouver. There is the Cacao 70 Dip Shop in Gastown, which is about chocolate dipped cones, and waffles. The Cacao 70 Eatery on Denman, which has chocolate treats like fondue, pizza (yup, really), and cake as well as things that come with chocolate like waffles and crepes. And the Cacao 70 Sweet House on Granville Street, which is actually a mix of both the Dip Shop and the Eatery. Plus, there is also a Cacao 70 Dip Shop in Richmond and a Cacao 70 Sweet House in North Vancouver. Each location also has coffee, tea as well as a pretty good hot and cold chocolate drinks selection.
Cacao 70 Dip Shop
The Dip Shop in Gastown was the first Cacao 70 location I visited. It’s a cute, small, shop with only like two or three small tables but you don’t need to stay and sit to enjoy this treat. Oh yah, there are also no public washrooms here. Or recycling.
Because this is the Dip Shop, more emphasis is put on the chocolate dip flavours. You are given 11 wonderfully flavoured, warm, liquid chocolate selections to choose from to mix with either a dipped cone, or a dipped cone and waffle combo. There are also two large mixing containers for you to watch chocolate being stirred, all behind the wall of drool protecting windows.
Cacao 70 Sweet House
The Sweet House on Granville Street, between Robson Street and West Georgia, was newly opened when I visited. This one is a long narrow shop which means it has more seats than the Dip Shop. There are counters and tables in the front, as well as tables along the sides and more in the back. The set-up is pretty much the same as the Dip Shop but on a larger scale and with more menu items being offered. The location is also a much busier one.
It’s a simple thing, but I felt the container of self-serve lemon water was a great addition considering all the sweet chocolate being sold and consumed. When I visited I ordered one of the dipped cone with waffle combos. These are mini masterpieces with several pieces involved and they are created once ordered so I did have to wait. Thankfully because there wasn’t anyone ordering or waiting in front of me, it was only a few minutes. I can see how it would be possible to have a long wait though, depending on how busy it was and how many people ordered the more time consuming items.
Dipped Cone – Praline Chocolate
I went with a small cone dipped in the praline chocolate. It was delicious. With a thicker than I expected layer of creamy, flavourful chocolate to get through before you even get to the sweet soft ice cream, the entire treat is quite sweet. I really enjoyed it.
It’s a pretty simple process from ordering to eating, but thankfully there is a sign explaining it all because it’s not just about picking a size and dipping flavour. Step #4 is really important. Well, the part in the ( ) sure is and I feel like this is probably missed or underestimated, a lot. I underestimated it myself. You see, in the ( ) you are told to wait 1-2 minutes for the chocolate to harden before you start eating. I didn’t wait quite long enough obviously because I spent a lot of time trying to either catch the dripping ice cream or cleaning my hand. It was a bit messy and there was nowhere to wash up.
Chilled Chocolate Classic – Iced Americocoa
I guess it depends on what you are looking for in your iced chocolate drink. I did not like this one at all. To me it tasted like it was made with powdered cocoa & ice, that’s it. Turns out that pretty much is how it’s made. Their premium chocolate powder is mixed with a bit of water before it is blended with ice. I liked the fact it was more chocolate and less sweet but it was just kind of ruined with the powdered chocolate taste, so the taste buds weren’t impressed.
That being said, I could see how this would taste better in a hot format so the powder can dissolve completely.
Chilled Chocolate Classic – Iced Mexicocoa
I don’t like spicy chocolate so I didn’t try this one. I can tell you it contains a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper though.
Cacao 70 Frappe – Salted Caramel with added Dark Chocolate
Holy crap, this one was a lot sweeter and way better than the powdered taste and granules of the Chilled Chocolate Classic. Besides having the option of milk alternatives, and whether you want to add a scoop of dipping chocolate, you are able to choose a flavour for your Frappe. Obviously the flavoured syrup makes it sweeter but the Frappe is also made quite differently than the Chilled Chocolate Classic.
First, chocolate and cream are heated together and then refrigerated overnight to create a ganache. For the Frappe, a scoop of the ganache is mixed with milk, ice, and a flavoured syrup. You are delivered a much smoother, creamier, and sweeter beverage because of it. If you choose to, you can also add chocolate. This isn’t just any chocolate though, it is a scoop of one of the heated, melted dipping chocolates in either dark, milk, or white. I did it for information the first time but oh the next time, I’m going to do it for enjoyment. Because when the chocolate starts out warm and is added to the cold, it creates these soft chocolate pieces that melt in your mouth.
There are six flavours to choose from for the Frappe. If you add chocolate to them, the suggestion is the first two flavours can be paired with dark chocolate, the next two with milk chocolate, and the last two flavours with white chocolate. But of course, choose whatever combo you want, I did.
Classic Waffle Combo – The Cocobo
Wow! This was a lot of rich, sweet chocolate. It starts with a little mini waffle partially dipped in dark chocolate. Then a mini waffle cone filled with soft serve ice cream and dipped in dark chocolate is placed upside down on the non-dipped portion of the waffle. It is then topped with whipped cream, chocolate drizzle, coconut chips, and little chocolate wafer balls. It is sweet, indulgent, and delicious. The waffle was a bit on the harder side though. It made it difficult to cut with the knife.
Brewed Chocolate – Hot Cocoa
I haven’t tried this yet because the weather has been a bit too warm but I was told it was made with the premium chocolate powder and milk.
Cacao 70 Classic Hot Chocolate
Again, I haven’t tried this yet but I did find out how it was made during the colder months. Milk, cream, and chocolate chips are blended together and kept heated in the hot chocolate stirring dispenser (I don’t know what those things are actually called. Yet.) It’s obviously a creamier hot chocolate with both the milk and cream added.
Between the drive and ferry rides, Victoria is only a few hours away from Vancouver, BC. So it is possible to do for a day trip. If you can though, it makes a wonderful weekend away. I find during the Christmas season places take on a magical feel to them with the special events and the twinkling lights decorating almost everything you see. Victoria is no different. Streets, homes, shops, trees, boats, and even the Parliament Building, are beautifully decorated. While I made the trip specifically for a few appointments, I did fit some fun things in too. Here are a few things to do in Victoria, BC including a few in December that make for a truly special festive experience.
Catching the Ferry
I won’t go into too much detail about the ferry to Victoria, you can read all about it here, but I will give you some additional info for the area around the two ferry docks.
You can decide to pre-book your ferry crossing for an additional cost or you can show up, sit in line, and take your chances like I did. With two different outcomes. I arrived at the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal at about 9:45 am for the 11 am Sunday morning crossing. I made it on. While I waited, I walked around the Tsawwassen Quay Market. Inside you will find quite the assortment of places to shop or eat at, including some big names like Starbucks & Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.
On the return trip to Vancouver, my luck wasn’t as good. I was close to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal just before 4:30 pm for the 5 pm Monday night crossing when the sign on the highway told me it was full. I decided to take the next turn-off, which was for Sydney, to spend time there before the next sailing (7 pm). There are quite a few places to eat and shop at on the main street in Sydney but a lot of them closed at 5. I did pick-up some wonderful Christmas baking at the Sydney Bakery though. Including an amazing Candy Cane Shortbread cookie with icing on top. Unfortunately, I didn’t end up taking any pictures before I shovelled it all in my mouth. Sorry.
Hotel Grand Pacific
Obviously finding things to do in Victoria is important, but you also need a place to stay if you are going for the weekend. While the Hotel Grand Pacific (website) was one of several hotels recommended to me, I chose it because it consistently had some of the best reviews. The most common positive review was its cleanliness and I can tell you, I was impressed with that also. Part of the hotel has been renovated but that’s not the part I stayed in. Even so, the room itself was quite nice, it was clean, and wasn’t in overly bad shape. Except for the balcony, I felt it was in desperate need of some attention. I can only imagine what the renovated rooms looked like.
I booked the most basic room, which I believe was the City View Room, but I was given an upgrade. The hotel’s website has a Hot Deals section that I recommend checking out because they might have something offered that you can use.
Hotel Grand Pacific is wonderfully located on the water front across the street from the ferry to the USA (Port Angeles). Oh, and across from a Starbucks. The Royal BC Museum is also only about one-two blocks down the road too. And the hotel is beside the Parliament Building, which is the view my room had. Well, that and the Empress and the water. The only thing I can say that annoyed me about this hotel and my experience there, is the walk from the lobby elevator to my room. I think I had to walk the entire length of the floor to get to my room when I exited the elevator. The hotel is quite large. Still, not a big deal when I consider the cleanliness of the hotel, the helpful & friendliness of the staff, and how nice the lobby was. Especially all decorated for the Christmas season.
There isn’t any street parking or free parking for that matter but for a fee you can park in the parking lot under the hotel (accessible from the road behind the hotel). There is a restaurant located on the ground floor which I unfortunately didn’t have a chance to eat in, but it looked very nice. As a guest, you also receive complimentary access to the Victoria Athletic Club located right in the hotel. You might have a few more people swimming or working out with you than other hotels but it means they offer other features not available at those other hotels.
I really enjoyed my stay at the Hotel Grand Pacific and I will be staying there again.
One of the popular things to do in Victoria is afternoon tea. I had my first afternoon tea in London in 2016 and I now love it. It’s kind of like eating an assortment of tapas. Depending on the place you eat it at, you can be served an assortment of mini sandwiches, scones, mini pastries, mini desserts, mini treats, and even chocolates. I never drink the tea but I love having all these little offerings to eat instead of eating an entire meal of one thing. Of course, I always love the selection of sweet items.
The one downside to afternoon tea is they aren’t always vegetarian friendly. This means I give-up items or whoever is with me will compromise so we trade and both give-up items. Obviously, when I found out Venus Sophia (website) had a Vegetarian afternoon tea I was super excited. Also, for the month of December they offer a special Christmas afternoon tea. So of course I went with the Christmas one. It definitely was not vegan though because there was a lot of cheese or cream cheese in the sandwiches.
Venus Sophia is a large, cute tea room conveniently located in Chinatown. It is also a winner of Trip Advisor’s Certificate of Excellence for the last three years. I loved my afternoon tea there and will be visiting again to try their regular one offered throughout the rest of the year. The other bonus, Venus Sophia is like half the price of the Empress’s afternoon tea. So, for half the price I was able to eat all the food served.
Gingerbread House Display
Besides all the beautifully lite up things to see, there are also festive things to do in Victoria. For example, the annual Gingerbread House Display. The people competing in this are very serious. I thought I was going to walk around, see gingerbread houses, and by the end I was going to be trying to steal pieces off the houses. Of course that would have lead to me running out the door trying to escape security but I was excited to see anyway. In reality, some of these displays were so intricate and extravagant, I forgot they were made out of gingerbread.
Honestly the work and attention these creators did was amazing. I was in awe while also feeling a little sorry for myself and my lack of abilities. Bravo to everyone who competed though, those displays (I can’t even call them houses) were impressive. It’s a lovely way to spend some time in December and enjoy the holiday spirit. Plus, it is free.
Christmas Tree Festival
Another one of the free things to do in Victoria in December is the Christmas Tree Festival (website) that takes place in The Bay Centre shopping mall. The trees are spread out over several floors and they are decorated by different shops and companies with different themes. Honestly, I had time between an appointment which is the only reason I decided to check this. So, I went in without really having any expectation. I’m so happy I checked it out though. The trees were amazing. So much thought was put into decorating them. It was a joy to see and it really helped with the Christmas spirit. You can visit just to see the trees or you can also get some Christmas shopping done while you are there. Either way it’s a lovely way to spend some time and get festive.
When I visited in December one of the things to do in Victoria for me, was to find hot chocolate. I like to think I am something of a hot chocolate connoisseur. I don’t drink coffee or tea, so I look around and try different places and their hot chocolate offerings. Several of the Hotel Grand Pacific employees kindly recommended I try Chocolats Favoris (website). The shop turned out to be a chocolate lovers treat.
I walked in and was overwhelmed with the abundance of selection. I don’t even feel I’m a huge chocolate fan. There was the seating area of course but after that, the rest of the one wall was chocolate bars and treats for sale to take home. On another wall was the fine chocolates and fondue counter. And the third wall? Well that contained the desserts, drinks, soft serve ice cream, and chocolate dips. It was wonderful. It all felt a little Willy Wonka actually.
All About The Treats
I was offered tasting samples of dips and I can honestly say, I want to go back and eat lots of ice cream cones dipped in those gloriously tasting flavoured dips. I especially loved the amazing cookie dough flavour. Normally I don’t eat cookie dough flavoured items, or cookie dough itself but this was so, so good. I also don’t usually eat dipped cones but for those dips, I can make an exception.
The regular hot chocolate was chocolatey & rich without being overly sweet. I enjoyed it even if it doesn’t equal my favourite hot chocolate. Chocolats Favoris also has drinkable desserts that are made with the soft serve ice cream. Think milk shake but with treats added to them.
My favourite item though, and the reason I would head over to Victoria just to visit Chocolats Favoris again, was the Salted Caramel chocolate bar. It has to be the best salted caramel chocolate bar I have ever tasted. I would seriously make a trip to Victoria just to buy more. Of course, then I would also have to have a dipped cone but it’s just a bonus at that point.
Okay before I found the best salted caramel chocolate bar and the vegetarian afternoon tea, one of my favourite things to do in Victoria was visit Craigdarroch Castle (website). I love history and architecture so this place has always impressed me.
Built between 1887 and 1890 for the Scottish immigrant Robert Dunsmuir who made his wealth during the industrial age, this massive house, called a ‘bonanza castle’, is stunning with it’s beautiful stain glass windows and amazing woodwork.
Robert and his sons were involved and had companies in several industries, owned large plots of land, and even had positions in the government. Unfortunately, Robert died before the house was finished but his wife Joan, three of their daughters, and two orphaned grandchildren, lived in it until her death in 1908. The address is even 1050 Joan Crescent. I like to believe the stone posts at the end of the street were once part of the gate to the entire property. The castle was on 29 acres of land that included a tennis court, other buildings, orchards, streams, and even a man-made lake.
One year after Joan Dunsmuir died, Craigdarroch was sold and all the contents were auctioned off. The property was also sectioned off and sold. It then housed several institutions before becoming a museum in 1969.
What makes this castle, or home, different from other historical places I have visited is you are able to see the servant’s areas. The castle is four floors of amazing workmanship, beautiful antiques and a view into the lives of prominent people with money during the Victorian era in Victoria. It is also a peak into the parts of the house where the staff lived and worked. That isn’t some place you normally get to see in other castles and mansions. It really shows the difference between the classes. Plus, because you are shown this normally hidden part, you get to see historic bathrooms. Having spent more than 13 years in the plumbing industry and having a lifelong weird obsession with bathrooms, I thoroughly enjoy seeing them.
The Castle is open daily from 10am to 4:30pm with longer hours during the summer months from June 15th to September 6th. It is closed for December 25th, 26th and January 1st though. If you decide it is the perfect location for your wedding or other event, you can even rent it .
These are a just few of the things to do in Victoria but I will definitely be visiting again. I’ll do and visit other things to share. Victoria might not be a very large city but it has so much history. It also has such an, almost British, feel to it. There are so many things to see and do and it is also quite beautiful.
I have to admit the reason I tried Soft Peaks soft ice cream in Burnaby (conveniently located across the street from Metrotown) was because I saw they created a sundae style treat using Tim Tams as a topping. Tim Tams (two chocolate biscuits with chocolate cream icing between them and the entire thing is coated in chocolate) have been known to rule my life since my trip to Australia, so of course I had to visit. I wasn’t disappointed either. Here is the Tim Tam (website) but don’t get too crazy excited about the flavour options. I’ve only found original, dark, and caramel here in the lower mainland at Superstore and London Drugs.
Anyway, enough about my Tim Tams addiction, let’s get back to the delicious ice cream. Soft Peaks soft ice cream (website) is made in store, using organic milk from local Avalon Dairy (website). It is seriously cool that they are using organic milk from a processor located in Burnaby, that started in 1906. The only independently owned dairy processor left in BC.
The ice cream is also only lightly sweetened using dextrose instead of a GMO sugar like high fructose corn syrup. Not only is it lower in calories and fat than other ice creams but it isn’t as sweet either. It’s just a really nice creamy, light soft serve ice cream.
Soft Peaks soft ice cream has some very different and interesting flavours, sauces, and toppings too. Other than the Tim Tams, other toppings include Okanagan & Fraser Valley honeycomb, Himalayan pink salt, toasted coconut, Yuzu marmalade, cornflakes, Matcha powder, sweet red beans, espresso, tiramisu, and seasonal fruit. There are also two ice cream flavours, the original classic milk and the kinako (explained to me as a bit of a nutty flavour). The standard chocolate and caramel syrup flavours are offered as well as the slightly different maple syrup, liquid honey, condensed milk, espresso, and matcha condensed milk. Not to be outdone by those flavours though, are the blueberry and strawberry purees. I’m not kidding when I say that Soft Peaks soft ice cream really stands out with their flavour options. This is a company that is trying to treat your taste buds with the extra care and attention they rightfully deserve.
I have tried both flavours of ice cream, with the unknown kinako being a wonderful surprise. It was both subtle and delicious, not outright nutty but there is a hint of it. Here is everything I tried.
This delicious, wonderful, amazing treat is made with chocolate sauce and yup, you guessed it, Tim Tams. When it is served in a cup you get sauce streaked down the sides, Soft Peaks original milk ice cream, and broken Tim Tam. That’s it. Simple but with some tasty results.
Oh Wow, I loved this. You get to choose your sauce for this one so I went with caramel. It created a wonderful salted caramel ice cream sundae; being the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and ice cream. The caramel and salt went so well together.
This one really made me step out of my comfort zone, which is why I chose it. The sundae was full of flavours I have never had before. And textures I had never mixed with ice cream before. There is a matcha sauce, matcha powder, condensed milk, sweet red beans, and I chose the delicious kinako flavoured ice cream to go with it all. I thought the matcha powder on top was a bit too overwhelming cause I kept accidentally inhaling it. Even though I found it to be too much, with too many new flavours for me at once, I will try this again. Each of the flavours were good and it blended well together. It was just a bit too much different for me in one sitting. That’s just me though. I found the kinako ice cream was a really good choice for this sundae.
Frissant Ice Cream Sandwich
The Frissant is a flaky, buttery cross between a croissant and a doughnut. It is cut in half with the sauce of your choice on one half and the ice cream placed on the other half, before being put together. The frissant makes a great partner to the soft ice cream for the ice cream sandwich because it has a soft texture as opposed to the normal harder cookie. I chose caramel sauce and it was subtle enough that all the flavours blended well together.
The Soft Peaks Soft Ice Cream Burnaby location is only a little over a month old but the service is great, the food is wonderful, and I’ve enjoyed every item and every visit. I like that they have so many compostable items too, including the spoons. My taste buds have been surprised, treated and they keep trying to get me to go eat more ice cream.
The original location is in Gastown and they do have different ice cream flavours but I haven’t been there yet so I still have to head over. I’ve heard they are busy but that won’t deter me. I just have to give it a bit of time. Between the ice cream, the Cookie Challenge, and finding my favourite hot chocolate, I’ve been eating a lot of treats lately.
Over the years I have heard of different food and drink challenges taking place around the lower mainland but I never looked into them let alone participated. Until this year when I checked out the Vancouver Foodster website to see what he had going for 2018. There are a lot of different challenges offered throughout the year but one of the many that jumped out at me was the #cookiechallengeYVR. The cookie challenge of 2018 seemed like a wonderful first to try. I not only enjoyed all the cookies offered for the challenge but I found some great new bakeries and eateries around the Vancouver area.
I have driven past this bakery in New Westminster for years but unfortunately never took the time to stop and see what they made. Fratelli’s offers a great selection of different breads, cookies, squares, cakes and other wonderful products to enjoy.
Their cookie challenge participant is an Almond Apricot Empire Cookie. The cookie is crunchy with sliced almonds, sweet apricot jam and an additional mini cookie with chocolate. I hate apricots so I wasn’t sure about this cookie but everything mixed together so well I enjoyed it.
I also tried and enjoyed their Triple Chocolate Cake. It kind of speaks for itself with that name.
Laura’s Coffee Corner
I don’t go to White Rock often, maybe a little more now since I found my favourite hot chocolate ever, but I’m happy to also have a great new place to go, eat, and take some baked products home with me with Laura’s. I went there on a sunny Thursday in the middle of the afternoon and it was super busy. So, I guess I’m not the only one that liked this place.
Laura’s went tradition for the cookie challenge and offered a Dulce De Leche Shortbread Cookie. It was probably the best shortbread cookie I can remember trying that wasn’t homemade. The chunky cookie wasn’t overly buttery and had the added benefit of the dollop of sweet dulce de leche on top. It created a nice treat.
I also tried, and very much enjoyed, their Hot Chocolate Cookie (soft, chewy, chocolatey and even had melted mini marshmallows on top), as well as this square I can’t remember the name of. It was a perfect mix of flavours and textures with a shortbread base, a layer of dulce de leche, and then topped with chocolate ganache.
Tartine Bread and Pies
I went to the Davie Street location of Tartine on a Friday at lunch time, they were very busy. Another place I never would have visited before, mostly because I’m not downtown often, but will now be visiting again.
Going out of any, and almost every, comfort zone, Tartine shared a Mystery Cookie for the cookie challenge. It was sweet, salty, crunchy, and soft, with such a wonderful assortment of textures and flavours. Not lying, I ate that big cookie and it is still a mystery as to what I exactly ate. Here are items I know were in it as well as some of my guesses. Nuts, chocolate, potato chips, cereal?, coconut?, coffee?, black pepper?. I might not know all the ingredients used but I do know it was a constant, surprising treat for my taste buds.
While I was there it was Pie Day so I decided to take part. I went out of my comfort zone to try the Raspberry & Lavender Pie. It looked so amazing that even though I only eat apple pie and don’t like cream pies, I went for it. I’m happy I did, the flavours worked so well together. The lavender was subtle and the raspberries gave great shots of tart sweetness.
Small Victory Bread & Coffee
This eatery looked great and I will have to go back to try more of their food. It had such a warm feeling with its trendy look and open style ceiling.
Small Victory also went kind of traditional for the cookie challenge with their Coconut White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookie. The cookie was crunchy on the outside with a soft texture inside and it had a nice subtle mix of ingredients. I don’t remember the coconut and the chocolate was minimal but the nuts were more obvious. It was a subtle but nice mix that made the cookie less sweet than others.
Panidor Bakery Café
Panidor is new but I’m glad they took part in the challenge so I could find them. I was only able to pick-up their cookie (two different ones actually) that day but I want to go back for more treats as well as one of their sandwiches. The sandwiches looked delicious and the baked products looked like works of art.
The Ladybug Bite is the work of art Panidor created for the cookie challenge. It looks amazing and tastes just as good with its cookie base, layer of sweet jam, and topped with white chocolate ganache decorated to look like grass. Oh yah, and a cute white chocolate ladybug. There were two different options though. I’m not quite sure what the difference was in words but you can see in my pictures that one has a thicker topping. Even though they both tasted good, I preferred the one with the thin layer on top of the jam.
Half Baked Cookie Co.
I would have to use words like different, decadent and addictive to describe the Half Baked Cookie Co products. I was even a bit overwhelmed with the products and forgot to take pictures of the bakery. They call themselves a micro-bakery and their shop is a small space. It means you can see all the ingredients and watch them work while you are enjoying everything.
A really interesting product is the assortment of different flavoured shortbread cookies in individual glass jars on the counter. I tried both the cheddar cheese as well as the rosemary & brown sugar cookies. My brain was so confused. My taste buds were so confused. But all in a good way. The shortbread expectations of my mind mixed with the reality of the savoury flavours was an amazing experience. They had shortbread that was sweet, savoury, and also a matcha one.
The cookie concoction offered by Half Baked Cookie Co for the cookie challenge is the Malaysian Malted Cookie. It is crunchy, soft, chocolatey, buttery, thin but a large diameter, and even contains Milo.
I decided to also try the Chocolate Chip Cookie (soft, chewy, and chocolatey) and the Snickers Brownie (so super rich and chocolatey, it almost melts in the mouth).
Italia Bakery also offers more traditional Italian baked treats, which other than trying my first cannoli last year from their Cannoli King Food Truck, are new to me. It’s a large, busy bakery that surprise, also makes a lot of cannoli’s.
So, it’s not too much of a surprise that Italia Bakery made a Cannoli Macaron for the cookie challenge. I found it to be soft, sweet and very flavourful with the two cannoli flavoured sides and a centre of mascarpone and cream cheese. Apparently, there are also almonds and chocolate chips in the filling but they did an amazing job of grinding those up enough that I didn’t even feel them or separate those flavours.
I chose to also try a small Jam Filled Cookie (I didn’t really enjoy the thin layer of jam that was actually chewy) and a Chocolate Strawberry Monster Cookie (two soft cake like cookies with a strawberry icing filling that wasn’t overly sweet and a melted white chocolate coating on half the entire cookie).
This is a really cute little, pastel coloured, shop that serves food, baked products, chocolates and artisanal coffee. I didn’t stay to eat but I did bring home a few other baked products to try. I made a special trip to visit them and while I really wanted to try the fresh lemonade, I forgot by the time I got there. Next time!
Sweet Somethings went with something they know with a twist, for their cookie challenge offering. The Cinnamon Bun Cookie is based on their most popular baked product. The cookie looks like a pinwheel style cookie. To me it tastes like a sweet, crunchy, shortbread cookie base with twisted strips of a cinnamon filling and topped with soft cream cheese piped on top. The flavours all blend really well together to create a good cookie.
I decided to try one of their cute little scones and went with the White Chocolate and Lavender Scone (The lavender is quite obvious – almost overwhelming – in contrast to the white chocolate which is almost hidden its so subtle. The scone itself is a really nice buttery, soft texture). Plus I had the Vanilla Bean Chocolate Chip Cookie (crunchy on the outside but soft on the inside, this cookie contains lots of very rich dark chocolate).
I never would have found or tried any of these places and I would have forever missed out on the great food and desserts they make. I’ll also now be taking part in more of the Vancouver Foodster challenges after having such a wonderful experience with the cookie challenge.
The Cookie Challenge of 2018 runs until May 12th so you still have time to enjoy these baked treats and vote for your favourite. Enjoy!
Note: I will apologize for not having enough photos of treats as well as all the shops but I won’t apologize for eating the wonderful items before I could take a picture. Sometimes my sugar fix took over and the drool as well as the fuzzy, obsessive brain made me forget to take pictures. I hope to work on that and do better in the future. I can’t make promises though.
I don’t know what to tell you. Maybe it was the way the sun was shining that first time I visited. Or, it was the way the wet, cold snow pelted my face on my second visit. It could have been the way the rich, dark chocolate attacked my senses and my taste buds before it slowly slid down my throat. Whatever it was, Mink Chocolates owns me. I’m now it’s bitch.
It all happened so suddenly. One day, I decided I wanted to go somewhere new and try their hot chocolate, so I Googled. Mink Chocolates (website here) came up and I remember people I met when I was enjoying the hot chocolate festival, gushing about how great the place was. I decided a 25-minute drive was worth trying out a new hot chocolate place. On that very first visit, I went to their South Surrey location. It was late in the afternoon on a bright, cold, Sunday in February. I had the large milk chocolate hot chocolate with a gluten-free, vegan oreo sandwich.
I knew I was in trouble when one of the super, friendly, helpful ladies working, explained that the hot chocolates are made with milk and chocolate ganache. Yah. I know. Right? I took the first sip and the taste buds in my mouth screamed out their joy from that mouthful of chocolate orgasm. I can’t tell you for sure if I moaned or not, but I do know I closed my eyes. Also, the really good looking guy sitting at a table across from me did start to look very uncomfortable so the moaning is a possibility.
The second time I visited was only three days later. I left an appointment in Burnaby and decided the short drive to the downtown Vancouver location was necessary. At that moment, the sky decided to give-up any sort of personal restraint, instead deciding to share. It was cold, and it started snowing. Oh, look, a valid reason to go downtown, find parking, and enjoy some amazing hot chocolate beverages.
They call themselves a chocolate cafe but the best way I can describe Mink Chocolates is that it is set-up like a coffee shop but instead of coffee, it is all based on chocolate. The two locations are slightly different though and that is because of the difference in clientele. The South Surrey location is in The Shops at Morgan Crossing. The downtown Vancouver location is surrounded by upscale shops and businesses. Where South Surrey had that amazing oreo sandwich, a chocolate cake, and a wonderful selection of squares, cookies, and other treats, the downtown location had fresh fruit, healthy cookies, and almond rolls.
Mink Chocolates didn’t gain my praise for having the best hot chocolate I have ever tasted by being the same as everyone else. The chocolate hot drinks at Mink Chocolates all start with a warm chocolate ganache before having different amounts of milk added. The delicious concoction is then steamed to provide a warm, wonderful, treat. And with each drink you order, you receive an individually wrapped, small square of dark chocolate.
Drinks & Treats
Milk Chocolate Hot Chocolate – The milk hot chocolate is sweet, smooth, chocolatey, and amazingly delicious.
Dark Chocolate Hot Chocolate – The dark hot chocolate is rich, chocolatey goodness. Not overly sweet, just really, really, rich chocolate.
Mixed Hot Chocolate – I decided to try something new on another visit to Mink Chocolates. I chose half milk chocolate and half dark chocolate. Whereas the milk chocolate hot chocolate is quite sweet and the dark chocolate hot chocolate is very rich, the mixed half and half is a wonderful, delicious blend of the two.
Dark Sipping Chocolate – Oh my gosh! This was my first time trying drinking chocolate and I am in love with it. It was the dark chocolate ganache mixed with less milk than a hot chocolate therefore basically being a little more liquidy than pure melted chocolate. It wasn’t sweet but it was so incredibly rich. So much so that it is even served with a glass of cold, fizzy, SodaStream water. I wasn’t expecting that glass of water and I thought it was a nice addition but once I started drinking that thick, liquid gold, I realized it was actually a necessity.
Blended Iced Chocolate review updated at the bottom of the page.
Oreo Sandwich – This gluten-free, vegan cookie was amazing. It was delicious. Glorious, sweet icing sandwiched between two hard dark chocolate cookies, what wasn’t there to enjoy. My only complaint was that every time I bit into it, the icing would smoosh out the edges. Yah, so basically nothing to complain about. A friend asked me after, “Why didn’t you just pull them apart and eat them like two separate icing covered cookies? Just like the original store bought oreo cookies.”. You can also think of it this way. If it’s gluten free and vegan, it’s healthy, right?
Almond Roll – I’ve never had an almond roll before and I didn’t know what to expect. I like sweet cinnamon rolls but I’m not usually a fan of healthier options when I have a treat. Unfortunately, there was an ingredient I didn’t like the flavour of, I think it might have been marzipan. This is only my taste buds though because even I could grasp how other than that one flavour, this roll was a really tasty treat.
Chocolate Chip Cookie – Mmmmmm this cookie was…..a giant, thick, soft, chewy, buttery, sweet, chocolatey piece of heaven. A mix of large chips and chunks, in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate, allowed me to make quick work of eating it all while basically living the dream enjoying it. In all honesty, I’m shoving this cookie in my mouth as I write this.