My life as a food blogger can be quite delightful. This is especially true when I get invited to wine tastings.
A few months back, I attended a wine tasting at Provence/TWB in Yaletown (which, BTW, is probably my favourite happy hour in the city), and it was there that I met the crew from Blue Grouse.
So, of course these guys have been on my radar. I like to support local wineries. But my “local” radar, if I’m being honest, is more centred on the Okanagan than anywhere else in BC.
I met the winemaker, Bailey, I tried some wines, and when I realized that they were located in the Cowichan Valley and the I was going to be going through there in a few weeks, asked if I could come by the winery for a look.
Here’s a wee video I made of my visit, so you can get a sense of what it’s like there:
So, on a beautiful, hot, sunny August day, I drove up to the winery on Vancouver Island.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was completely blown away.
The facility rivals anything I’ve seen in the Okanagan, and even in Napa. It’s big, modern, open, and airy, overlooking acres of grapevines.
Although the winery has been around for 30 years (the first planting was in 1886, officially making it “estate”), it has just been the last 5 or so years, since being purchased by the Brunner family, where they have really upped their game.
There is also a guest house here, which I was lucky enough to get a tour of, and let me tell you, if I had a someone special and a reason to get out of town for a romantic getaway, this would be the place I’d choose.
They’re working towards becoming an organic winery in the next few years, and quite a few of their wines are vegan.
So, yeah. You can colour me impressed.
As it turns out, the Cowichan Valley is a great place to grow grapes. The soil is volcanic in origin, and they get around 1,100 growing days here, which is roughly equivalent to New Zealand. The weather is similar to the Mediterranean, with, on average, only an 11 degree fluctuation in temps from day to night. This temperature fluctuation creates the nice balance of sugar versus acid in the grapes. Who knew???
They now grow and make a wide variety of wines, but my favourites, from a (more) recent tasting include the 2017 Ortega, which is a slightly sweeter white that would be a great summer patio sipper (and excellent with oysters), and the Quill Rosé, which is made of 100% Cowichan Valley grapes, from both gamay and pinot noir.
So, if you find yourself driving up the Malahat from Victoria to Nanaimo, I’d encourage you to take a few minutes and get off the beaten path. Check out Blue Grouse, sample some wines, and discover some more of what our beautiful province has to offer.
Last summer, I was in Paris. Le sigh. Sadly, I cannot go to Paris every summer. This seems wrong, but nevertheless….
While I was there, my goal was obviously to do the cool Paris things that one does; museums, architecture, food. You can read all about my adventures here.
I also wanted to take a cooking class in Paris, if for no other reason than I could say “remember that time I learned how to make croissants in Paris?” My class was at Le Cuisine de Paris, an english-language cooking school that caters to culinary tourists.
It was a three-hour class, and whoa nelly! Making croissants is hard and incredibly precise. They also require a ton of butter. Like, I mean an entire pound of butter per batch. And French butter is much higher in fat content than our butter here in Canada.
It was a great experience. Beyond learning to make them, I also ate them every day. In Paris, every corner patisserie has them, and they are relatively inexpensive, usually just a little over one euro. They are made fresh every morning, along with the baguettes.
The French attitude towards bread in general is that it should be made and consumed, if possible, on the same day. I heartily endorse this.
So, when I came home, I started to compile a list of the best patisseries in the city. Who had the most French-like croissant?
It has taken me months to write this post, because I can’t eat that many croissants. But I did it! And here are Vancouver’s best croissants.
But first! What makes a good croissant?
Well, it needs to be light. Croissants are made with flour, yeast, water, salt, butter and milk. Both the yeast and the technique of folding contribute to the lightness of the pastry. The folding also makes the layers. You want to be able to see those. Your croissant should be flaky. Good croissants kind of shatter when you pull them apart–crumbs everywhere. Finally, they should be crispy and toasted on the top.
All right. So, in full disclosure, this list was made by crowdsourcing from Facebook. I then attempted to eat and rate as many of the croissants from the list as possible. Some of them are from memory (meaning I have had them in the past, but not in the past 3 or so months since I started this project). I will continue to chip away at ones I’ve not yet tried, and update this post. You’ll know I’ve tried something if there’s a photo of it.
Let me be clear: the barrier for entry on this list is pretty high. Everything listed here is good, meaning it’s artisan-made, in-house, and it’s made using traditional French methods. So basically you can pick anything on this list and know you’re going to get an authentic croissant. My very difficult task was sourcing who was the best of the best.
I have organized into neighbourhoods for ease.
Baugette & Co. I’ve been buying croissants from this place for years. It’s in the Davie Village, which is about a 2 km walk or ride from my house. I figure that 4km round-trip cancels out any calories from the croissant, right??? Right???
Small Victory. This cute, marble-lined coffee shop on the edge of Yaletown is not my favourite. It probably should be… it’s lovely inside, with lots of natural wood touches, and marble countertops lining the open kitchen. But there’s something about it that doesn’t feel quite right to me. Like a very pretty girl with a mean personality. Parking is a challenge. Coffee’s pretty good, though, as are the baked goods. It’s always crowded.
Angus T. brand spanking new Yaletown coffee shop/patisserie, they serve nothing but coffee and a rotating menu of croissants. The day I was there they didn’t have a plain croissant, but their kougin amann was a thing of beauty (stay tuned for a whole blog post on these–my new obsession).
Theirry. Part of the Top Table group, which also includes some of the top names in fine dining in the city (think West, Araxi, Blue Water Cafe), Thierry was where I first ignited my macaron obsession. They make a proper croissant here, along with lots of other fancy French pastries. Be warned: it’s always busy. Always.
Tartine. Tartine is one of those places that you don’t want to tell people about because you’re afraid it will be overrun by hipsters. The original location is right under the Burrard St Bridge on Beach Ave, and is a convenient stop when you are riding your bike around the seawall and need to refuel. It smells like a proper bakery, and let’s face it, there’s no better aromatherapy than that. They just opened up a second location in the Davie Village.
Viva Fine Foods. A Kits breakfast institution, Viva is a well-loved local neighbourhood joint. There’s very little seating, but that’s okay, because it’s right on Kits Beach. Take your treats to a bench facing the ocean, and have a moment.
Patisserie Lebeau. One of the “foodiest” blocks in the city (at least until Barbara Jo’s shut down), Patisserie Lebeau is next-door to Les Amis du Fromage. It’s a perfect marriage. They do the most amazing waffles here, as well. I mean it. Don’t just go for the croissants. Get a waffle, too. And get there early, they sell out, but not on Sunday. I have gone and been disappointed so very many times on a Sunday. I can never seem to remember they aren’t open.
Plaisir Sucré. otherwise known as the place I go while I’m waiting for my kid to get his teeth cleaned. No, seriously. Yes, it’s beside my kid’s dentist, and that’s how I discovered it, but I go here when he’s not at the dentist, too. People here speak French. I often order in (my terrible high school) French. It has a very authentic feel to it, and I love that it’s a small business, family-run. It is very worth supporting, and the croissants are good, though my taste-testing helper thought they weren’t the freshest (though I’m pretty sure they were made that morning).
Beaucoup. When I crowdsourced “who has Vancouver’s best croissant?” the name that came up over and over, more than any other, was Beaucoup. It is insanely charming, though tiny. And although Jackie Kai Ellis no longer owns it, Betty & Jacky Hung, the current owners, have filled her shoes nicely. Full warning: if you are a fan of this croissant, you’re not going to like what I have to say next. For me, this croissant is too buttery. I know! Can there be such a thing? If you leave it in the paper bag, you’ll notice quite quickly that the bag is covered in grease spots, and when you eat it, your fingers will be covered in butter. If this is your jam, then carry on. But I like my croissant (and this was my experience of croissants in Paris) a little more moderate on the butter. This is also the most shattering of all the croissants I have tried. The crumbs are legion.
Bel Cafe. Another place I grew to appreciate and love the macaron. The original location is in the Hotel Georgia downtown, but they just opened up a second, larger location in Kits, on the edge of Granville Island. It’s open and airy, with tons of modern touches in stainless steel. Again, a very solid, good croissant.
A Bread Affair. Located on Granville Island, and with their croissants sold at Farmer’s Markets around the lower mainland, this one was also a popular choice. The reality, however, for me, was not great. I had one from a Farmer’s Market, and I suspect it was not made that morning. Perhaps I would have better luck visiting the bakery (which I have in the past and loved).
Their There. Owned by the same guys that run AnnaLena, this slip of a coffee shop has only been open on West 4th for a few months. It’s cute. And every time I’ve been in there, it’s been packed. Every time. Part of the reason why is because of the interesting pastries. They’re doing cronuts, buns made with bagel dough and stuffed with cream filling, fun donuts and gorgonzola-and-mortadella croissants. The croissant here was one of my favourites. It was crisp on the outside, but moist and soft on the inside, a little on the sweeter side for a croissant.
Temper Pastry. I’ve been a big fan of this place ever since it opened in the Dundarave Village. Dundarave, BT dubs, is kind of foodie heaven. There’s a supreme butcher there, great coffee shops, and perhaps some of the best French food (The Truffle House) you’ve ever had. The shop has that lovely neighbourhood feel to it, it’s airy and light with tons of windows and outdoor seating in the summer. They do chocolates, pastry, light lunches, coffee, and of course, some fine croissants.
Thomas Haas. Both Haas and Chez Christophe (below) are both thought to be master patisseries. The Haas croissants are bigger than the ones I had in Paris, but they are very nice, well done. (second location in Kits)
Faubourg. Frenchy-french-french! Yeah, this place is, too. It feels a little commercial to me, slightly less artisan, but the food is good. (second location downtown)
Chez Christophe. This is another business I have been happily following the success of from the first day they opened their doors. It’s worth the trek to Burnaby Heights to this lovely coffee shop/patisserie, especially since they moved across the street to bigger digs. The croissants are good, though a little lacking in flakiness. One of my favourite things from here are his “flutes” which are puff pastry baked into twisty straws. The sandwiches are also great, and bonus! There are vegan and vegetarian options.
L’Atellier Patiesserie. It’s weird. I drove past this place 4 times before I figured out where it was. The location is just off of main, in the industrial/brewery district. The neighbourhood is full of artist live/work studios and automotive garages. In fact, my guess is, this place was something industrial before they took it over. The retail part is tiny, just about 1 table inside, and few more outside undercover, and the back is a bakery. It’s all very strange, but the croissants are legit.
Marche St Georges. There are a few places in Vancouver I go when I am most missing Europe. One is for a glass of wine on the patio of the VAG. The other is Marche St George. Tucked away in the middle of an East Van neighbourhood, it’s a destination for me, but for the lucky people that live nearby, it’s just about the best neighbourhood cafe in the city.
Batard. Okay, I’m going to say it. Batard has the best croissant in the city. Never mind that I was completely seduced by the shop. When I talk about the places in the city that make me feel like I’m most in Europe, Batard must be on that list. It’s utterly charming. There’s a bit of a market here, too, so if you need French-related stuff, they have it. They also have fresh artisan bread, coffee, sandwiches, to-go meals and even vegan options. But the croissants. You guys. The croissants. They’re buttery without being too greasy, flaky, but not shatteringly flaky. You can literally see the butter inside them when you open them up. They are perfection.
Okay! There it is!
I’m sure many of you want to argue with me right now, and tell me what I missed, so please do so in the comments below. What’s YOUR favourite croissant in Vancouver?