‘It’s actually amazing that a downtown this size has such a varied selection of world-class bakeries,’ Forest City food savant Bryan Lavery remarks while he leads my TOQUE partner Cai and me past a handful of wonderful culinary booths at London’s Covent Garden Market (and, in balmier weather, Outdoor Farmers’ Market) toward our next stop on this culinary tour: the Sehovac family’s ‘Hot Oven’ station. Specializing in fresh-baked hand-rolled phyllo pastries, this Covent Garden booth is like a love letter to Balkan cuisine. Especially the family-owned business’ bureks – spinach and cheese, plain, or meat-stuffed savoury pastries in a buttery, flaky, unleavened phyllo dough – have a reputation for tickling the tongue. 

When we arrive at the ‘Hot Oven’ stall, baker Alexander Prince (who, ironically, is not a member of the Sehovac family but instead a close friend) is filling large sheets of phyllo with spinach and cheese. While I pull out my Nikon and start shooting this satisfying process, and Cai chats with Downtown London Business Development Manager (and tour co-creator) Kathy McLaughlin about London’s rich food scene, Bryan sneaks off to purchase a few bureks for Cai and me. ‘A treat for later,’ he chuckles as he slips the still-warm pastries into our bags, ‘because I think you’ll have enough to eat on the tour.’ A delicious bit of foreshadowing, to be sure. 

It’s a snowy Thursday morning in mid-January, and Cai and I are back in London for yet another food tour. While past trips to Forest City had us experiencing Old East Village neighbourhood tours that focused on dumplings (see TOQUE 20) and beer and spirits (TOQUE 21), today’s food romp has us setting sights firmly on London’s downtown baking culture. Anointed the ‘Scratch Bakery & Patisserie Trail’ and presented by Downtown London, this urban culinary experience includes (inits fullest iteration) a dozen stops – many of which are within a short walking distance from each other. Created and curated by Kathy and Bryan as either a self-guided or escorted tour, the ‘Scratch Bakery & Patisserie Trail’ we are sampling promises loads of good eats no matter which way you tackle it. 

On this particular Thursday morning, Cai and I are lucky enough to be visiting six of the Trail’s dozen stops with Kathy and Bryan – watching made-from- scratch techniques, learning about London’s rich culinary scene, and tasting small-batch baking along the way. Among the places we explore are the aforementioned ‘Hot Oven’, and ‘Jill’s Table’ (a sort of Vincenzo’s-meets-Bradshaw’s), and ‘Rhino Lounge’ (the eatery at Museum London whose cronuts have reached almost-mythical status). Our other stops are ‘London Bicycle’ (a full-fledged bike shop that also features Dutch-inspired baked goods), ‘Saisha’s Patisserie’ (a French-inspired bakery with the most intricate desserts), ‘Happiness Café’ (a coffee and dessert bar that offers everything from scratch donuts to french macarons), and finally Grace Bodega (a hip café-wine bar hybrid whose signature Canelés de Bordeaux are all the rage). 

By the time we’re finished our tour, we’ve been tasting for three-plus hours and our stomachs have been stuffed with homemade goodness – everything from cheesecakes to cronuts to donuts to boterkoek and more. And I’m in complete agreement with Bryan: it truly is remarkable that a downtown in our region offers so many world-class bakeries. 

Come along while we introduce you to a few of the tour’s gems. 

10:07AM – Our first stop along the ‘Scratch Bakery & Patisserie Trail’ is ‘Hot Oven’, a family-owned Covent Garden Market bakery specializing in Balkan fare. Pictured here: baker Alexander Prince crafts a batch of Balkan bureks – delectable savoury pastries in a buttery, flaky, unleavened phyllo dough. 

10:32AM – Next stop: ‘Jill’s Table’, Chef Jill Wilcox’s destination kitchen store. Among the features offered by this award-winning Forest City gem are quality kitchen wares, gourmet foods, and cooking classes.
Hot tip: Chef Jill produces her own line of ‘Jill’s Table’ extra virgin olive oils, chutneys, spice mixes, and more. 

11:15AM – Our third stop along the Trail is the ‘London Bicycle Café’ – a bike shop that also features a café bakery which offers delish breakfast and lunch menus while specializing in locally-sourced, traditional Dutch baking. Some of Chef Alicia Berkelmans’ go-to items: Dutch favourites like poffertjes (tiny yeast pancakes dusted with icing sugar and served with maple syrup), boterkoek (a buttery flat Dutch cake that’s packed with sweet almond flavour), and specculas (a spiced shortcrust biscuit). The bike shop itself – a favourite hangout for the local cycling crowd – specializes in cargo bikes, e-bikes, and other urban bike kit. 

Hot tip: this bike shop/café is located right next to the Thames Valley Parkway (TVP), London’s premier multi-use riverside trail. 

12:12PM – Next up: ‘Rhino Lounge’, a modern bakery and coffee shop located inside the atrium at Museum London. This gem, owned by serial entrepreneur Jess Jazey Spoelstra, is known for its soufflés (available for pre-order at rhinolounge.ca) and cronuts (available Thursdays only). Lucky for us, we’re here on a Thursday, so take full advantage of the day’s cronut features: Chocolate Espresso and Orange Coconut. Delicious. Decadent. Divine. 

Hot tip: When you’re visiting ‘Rhino Lounge’, be sure to hit up the wonderful art exhibits at Museum London, and pop in at Centre at the Forks – a theatre in the Museum that features a massive panoramic window overlooking the Thames River. 

1:06PM – Our fifth stop along the Trail is at ‘Saisha’s Patisserie’, a bakery that specializes in the most decadent cakes, croissants, tarts, and pastries. Oh, and great coffee too. Owned and operated by Chef Brian Sua-an and his wife Jerrah Revilles, Saisha’s (named after the couple’s daughter) features hand-crafted desserts that are delicate, intricate, and life-altering. (Truly.) During our visit to the bakery, Chef Brian had us sample his ‘Lemon Cheesecake’ (cheesecake mousse, raspberry jam, almond sable, fresh fruits), ‘Plaisir Sucre’ (hazelnut dacquoise, praline feuillette, milk chocolate ganache, milk chocolate chantilly, hazelnut glaze), and more. We talk about them to this day. 

Hot tip: Chef Brian’s other establishment, ‘Reverie’ (a tasting menu restaurant serving contemporary Canadian cuisine), is located just a few doors down from ‘Saisha’s’. Fit them both into a visit and call it a day. 

1:55PM – After ‘Saisha’s’, we beeline to colourful (and flavourful) ‘Happiness Café’ where Ukrainian baker Olha Prytkova (along with her husband Anatolii) greets us with plates of scratch macarons, mousse cakes, donuts, and more. 

Hot tip: Try any one of Olha’s mousse cakes. They’re expertly crafted, light, and flavourful. Oh, and colourful too. 

2:35PM – Our last stop on the Trail is at Chef Angela Murphy’s ‘Grace Bodega’ (little sister to ‘Grace Restaurant’ – a top restaurant in London). This café-meets-pantry-meets-wine bar features baked goods made in-house from scratch (including fantastic sourdough loaves, savoury galettes, and more) and is a perfect spot to while away any afternoon. Or wrap up a most marvelous food trail. Cheers.