Restaurant & Hotel Reviews

Mama Toucan's, Dominical, Costa RicaRestaurants

Posted by Dave Wise Tue, January 29, 2019 09:16PM

Mama Toucan's is a fresh produce market, grocery and deli all in one space, just off the main north-south highway in the small Costa Rican Pacific Coast town of Dominical. It's unusual to find a store of this high quality and usefulness anyplace, anywhere in the world, in my experience, so we were completely surprised to come across it in a sleepy town of less than 400 people that only got it's main street paved late in 2018!
Blog imageAs well as selling organic fruit and veg the shop also carries vegan staples (nutritional yeast, Braggs ACV and aminos, TVP, etc.) for self catering at your hostel or apartment, a great many locally produced items such as kombucha, wine and cheese, and also a deli serving well priced snacks that we took for a picnic on the nearby beach. And on top of that, they also make their own vegan ice cream.
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Blog imageTo give you a fuller idea of what's waiting for you at Mama Toucan's, here's a couple of videos we shot there. The first gives you a look at the shop and deli...
...and the second video was shot as we sampled some of the food from the deli.
We've heard it said by those living in the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, that they want a Mama Toucan's there too as they've currently nothing like it (and neither does any other Costa Rican town we've visited). We echo their sentiments, as we haven't got anything like it in Toronto, either!
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Blog imageFirst up in the list of reasons why we think it's great; the service is excellent. It's as if the owner, Christopher, looked at what the service industry in North America is supposed to be like (and very rarely is, in my experience), and decided to live up to the ideal. The staff are confident, knowledgeable and skilled, much as they are at the café next door and restaurant over the road (Mono Congo and Phat Noodle, more about these 2 gems in later blog posts), they had all the answers and were a joy to deal with.

Second, the grocery is intelligently stocked with product from over 450 suppliers, there's every basic that a health food chef, vegan or conscientious shopper could want. Much of the fresh produce is organic, and when it isn't it's sourced from farms producing to organic standards, all of it free of 'artificial flavors, colours, preservatives, chemicals and bad vibes.'
Blog imageChristopher talks good sense about the need for eating organic food in Costa Rica. The country has an international reputation of being something of a natural paradise so most tourists automatically think this means the locally grown fruit and veg are going to be of a high standard, and as good for your body as seeing a beautiful animal in the wild is for the soul. From our previous trips we'd discovered that this is far from the truth, though, and in fact Costa Rica is the number 1 user of pesticides in the world which means the fruit and veg you buy locally may taste better than the versions of it you have at home (because it's not traveling so far it doesn't have to be picked weeks before it's ripe, hence the enhanced taste) but it's certainly no less soaked in chemicals.

"Add to this the fact that much of the fresh produce people buy here comes from roadside stalls that take the brunt of traffic pollution, and it makes sense to eat organic," said Christopher. "There are some farmers, of course, who can't afford to get the organic certification. That's ok, as long as their fields are a certain distance from neighboring farms that use pesticides, and from the pollution that hangs around the roadside areas, then we'll consider selling what they grow."

I really appreciated hearing somebody talking the truth about this matter, for once. In my experience, vegan and health business owners are obsessed with being overly reasonable about just about any other businesses in their realm, regardless of how much damage that business is doing. Which is lovely for their own karma, but what about customers who are looking to them for advice and direction?!

Of course, I'm sad for those who are involved in the pesticide riddled, big-fruit trade, but unless we start an honest conversation about what it really costs to farm in huge plantations as companies like Del Monte and Dole do (poisoned workers, destroyed landscapes and much more) then I don't think we're going to make things any better. So to hear Christopher say what we already knew, that even in Costa Rica you need to eat organic, made me happy. Here's a young person operating an admirable business, and not forgetting to tell the truth along the way. Inspiring.

We needed to quench a big thirst (we'd just been for a 3-hour rainforest hike at the nearby Hacienda Baru and it was a clear, hot day) so started with a cold apple juice...
Blog image...and then grabbed a pizza, some spring rolls and a salad for our lunch, all vegan, well presented and tasty with a decent range of textures and flavours.
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Blog imageMeals from the deli goods are well priced, about the same as the regular mid range restaurants on the Costa Rican coast but of a higher quality in my opinion. This is probably partly due to the varying influences that Christopher and his mentors were exposed to whilst working at top-end restaurants and hotels around the world. I often find this, the best restaurants I've been too are rarely the most expensive, instead it's the places where the managers and chefs have world experience that stand out.

An added bonus of deli food is that you can eat it wherever you want. We snacked straight away outside the shop...
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Blog image...and then finished it off on the beach, 10 minutes walk away. It's worth showing you a couple of photos of the route to the beach, and the beach itself, as it'll give you a bigger idea of just what an amazing experience it is to eat such high quality food in one of the best beach locations, anywhere.
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Blog imageSome guide books say Dominical is a chilled surfer hangout by day but a dangerous, druggy sort of place by night. We stayed in the area for 8 days recently and would say that whilst that may have been true years ago, it's certainly not now. The surfers are still there but it's always chilled, always calm and friendly, and the beach is every bit as unspoilt and peaceful as my photos make it look.
Blog imageAs of January 2019, Mama Toucan's have started serving vegan desserts as well as ice cream, another tasty reason to pay them a visit!
Blog imagePlease consider checking Mama Toucan's out if you're in the Dominical area. I want you to have a great trip in this most beautiful of areas, and getting your picnics or self catering supplies here will go some way to making that happen!

Check out Mama Toucans on Facebook!

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Travelodge Abingdon Road, Oxford, UKAccommodation

Posted by Dave Wise Thu, January 17, 2019 01:06PM

The Travelodge on Abingdon Road is about 2 miles out of the city centre and easily reached by car or bus.
Blog imageFirst of all, we must say that the vegan breakfast we had at this Travelodge was the best ever! I'm English, have had a full English all over my fair homeland and nothing touches this one. You can also eat vegetarian/omnivore here, too.
Blog imageEvery component was just right, from the non greasy Linda McCartney vegan sausages, tomatoes and mushrooms to the perfectly seasoned baked beans. Add to the fact that it's buffet style and that there are plenty of side choices (cereals, pastries, fruits) and you have a real feast that'll set you up for a day of sightseeing. You have to pay a little extra for it on top of the room rate but believe me, it's worth every penny, and it's served in a pleasant, airy downstairs area that we really enjoyed starting our day in.
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Blog imageThe hotel itself is about 2 miles out of the city centre and easily reached by bus. We got off the airport bus in the centre of Oxford, then bought a bus ticket on a local bus that allowed us unlimited 24 hour travel on Oxford public transport (you buy these tickets on any bus) so this meant our journey from town to hotel cost around GBP1 each way. The bus dropped us at the park and ride, a 3 minute walk up the road from the hotel.

Our room was comfy, clean, modern and although it looked out on a main road it wasn't noisy at all, the window insulation was excellent.
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Blog imageEarly check in/late check out is offered for a small extra fee, there is strong wifi and there are cheaper deals to be had if you book well in advance.

And if you enjoy running, there's a path leading all the way into Oxford; jogging around Christchurch College in the early morning when there were few people around was one of the highlights of my trip.
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Blog imageIt's also a convenient location for visiting the outstanding Blenheim Palace, which can be easily reached using a bus from the city centre.
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Blog imageTravelodge Abingdon Road

Manna, London, UKRestaurants

Posted by Dave Wise Thu, January 17, 2019 12:59PM

Manna restaurant, one of Europe’s finest and oldest gourmet vegetarian establishments, in Primrose Hill (just north of Camden) celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2018.
Blog imageIt's been fully vegan for over 10 years and be you vegetarian, vegan or omnivore you're going to be impressed by the quality and inventive nature of the food on offer, the service, atmosphere and the fair prices.

We visited for lunch and had the maki (made using quinoa instead of rice)…
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Blog almond and leak tart with a polenta base to share...
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Blog image...and to finish a sticky toffee pudding and a orange chocolate mousse with 'vice' cream. With 2 drinks that all came to under GBP50, not bad at all.
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Blog imageA prime motive for the owners has always been to provide fine dining in the international tradition but with meatless recipes and vegan alternatives rarely available in restaurants, anywhere.

They travel the world compiling recipes and use only the highest quality, ecologically and socially responsible ingredients — fair trade products when available and organic and local products whenever fresh and viable – and they say that to the best of their awareness all their food is GM free.

The food is superb and it's fair to call it fine dining, served in an informal setting. The chairs aren't the sort you relax into, it's a functional space with competent staff serving excellent meals. We've visited on this occasion for lunch but we've also been for dinner and loved it.

We advise you reserve a table, Manna is invariably busy!


Roux at the Landau, London, UKRestaurants

Posted by Dave Wise Thu, January 17, 2019 12:42PM

Roux at the Landau was the finest of the fine dining restaurants we enjoyed in London, which was really no surprise to us bearing in mind that father and son Albert and Michel Roux Jr are at the helm!

Note; Roux isn't a vegan restaurant but you can eat vegetarian (very well!) here.

Located in the West End, opposite All Souls Church (that can be seen from the restaurant through grand arched windows), we dined here before heading to the theatre, which did mean we had to cut our experience tragically short as we got our timings mixed up. And tragic is the correct word given the heavenly service, food presentation, taste and overall feel of being there; this was a dining experience of a high quality.

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Blog imageDon't make our mistake, allow 2 hours at least for your meal here, it's not just the food and wine you need time for but the spaces in between, the reflecting, the savouring, the wallowing in sheer enjoyment.
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Blog imageOne dish I shall never forget is the artichokes "à la Barigoule" with bulgur and a turmeric emulsion. So light, so pleasing on the eye as well as the tongue, and for the pleasure it gave me I'd say it was superb value, too.
Blog imageI dream of the day when restauranteurs of the Roux's calibre focus on vegan dining, I'm certain they'll have much to offer the plant based style. Until then, I'll recommend you visit Roux at the Landau, please, if you wish to eat vegetarian. Your evening will be sublime, your expectations met, you fine dining bar forever raised.

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Blog imageRoux at the Landau