Salut! Chin chin! Na zdorovie!
Raising a glass of Bordeaux in France, Aperol spritz in Italy or chilled vodka in Russia is certainly one way to familiarize and assimilate yourself in your surroundings while visiting a new country. Enjoying and sampling local cuisines also enhance sipping an archetypical tipple -- is there anything better than a caipirinha consumed by Brazil's famous beaches?
We've compiled a short list of the world's best spots to get a feel for your environment -- places that serve up the best local offerings, and do so in an authentically native atmosphere. We'll drink to that!
Smack in the middle of Sydney's iconic neighborhood Paddington, The Unicorn's historic building has been around since the 1800s. Proudly serving up local cuisine and bevvies, music, art and local talent are also important aspects of the welcoming, relaxed and lively venue.
Carefully respecting the architecture and design while adding personal touches, co-owner Jake Smyth explains, "We basically touched nothing, yet changed everything. We ripped up vinyl, but kept the incredible terrazzo floor. We kept the bar position, but had incredible blue-gum bar top installed." As for the locally sourced and patriotic art decorating the wall? "Our favourite moment is the map of Australia; it was hand drawn by local artist Michael Whooley. It took a full week, but the result is stunning."
Original elements, like art deco fittings, contribute to The Unicorn capturing the essence of a true Aussie pub -- "pubs are at the cornerstone of what it is to be Australian. What are we without pubs? We lose the larrikinism and we lose community, we lose the wild, arm-waving, storytelling drongo that we all have inside of us," -- Smyth declares.
This notion is elevated with The Unicorn's involvement in supporting local talent. "We have quietly begun putting shows on here, without too much fuss because we love to support artists wherever possible. We support them in the best way we know how -- giving them an opportunity to get paid and laid!"
But despite the history and commitment to local Aussie culture, there is definitely no lack of modernity; "The Unicorn is not a time-piece. Its not nostalgia. Its a living pub, so we wanted to give a nod to its past, yet allow it have a future. That's why there is empty space on the walls, and corners are left untouched. We want the venue to grow genuinely, to have its own story to tell in 20 years time. We believe that by over telling the story at the beginning, you stifle and choke the natural journey of then venue. The tradition is in the offering. Cold beer, bloody good food, music, art and happy people."
Smyth, in typical Australian manner, encourages dishes and drinks to be enjoyed in the outdoor space. "The courtyard is my favourite aspect. It's quiet, tranquil and it's where we keep our swans. They make us happy." We can't argue with that.
Established back in 1742, Wiltons was originally a shellfish monger in the Haymarket. By 1840, it had developed into a full-fledged restaurant and became famously known for serving the freshest fish, shellfish and game in the country. Today, ingredients and dishes are just as fresh and delectable. "Oysters are still shucked fresh to order; the crab, langoustine and lobster still arrive live from the market, and when in season, grouse, partridge, pheasant, duck and woodcock arrive fresh from country shoots," House Manager Michael Stokes shares.
So what's it like to dine in such a historically sound institution today? "The artwork that adorns the walls would not be out of place in a stately home. The staff are dressed in traditional black and white, or in dresses reminiscent of a British nanny, and the service offered is not as stuffy as some may expect, but still very attentive."
Traditional, original and truly patriotic touches have been maintained, throughout: "although we strive to keep the décor fresh, we do not and will not change the feeling of the restaurant. Guests soon decide which is their favourite table, and some still sit at the same tables that their grandfathers sat at. The whole ethos of the restaurant is that of a British country house."
Contemporary updates are best demonstrated on the plates served. As for what Stokes favours? "Being a traditionalist, the simple dishes are the best for me; the most outstanding example of this is our carving trolley, which is available and different each day of the week; Saturday brings beef Wellington." Perhaps the most exemplary quintessential British dish of all.
An iconic institution in Toronto's trendy Queen West, The Drake Hotel is a well-known and loved meeting place. Opening its doors in 1890, "the area was a major Canadian Pacific Railway hub that linked downtown with the lakeside summer homes of Toronto's western beaches at the time," explains The Drake's PR Manager, Jessica Rodrigues. "Then, in 1949, Michael Lundy purchased the property, renamed it the Drake, expanded the building and created many of the improvements visible today, including the grand staircase in the lobby and the addition of a lounge and restaurant."
The hotel continues to show their local love after guests check in: "When looking through the amenities in-room, we offer Canadian products, like David Chow Chocolate (from PEI) in unique, delicious flavours like lavender, dried blackcurrants, earl grey tea and vanilla sea salt; Hawkins Cheesies (made with real Canadian cheese!); Squish Candy (sourced from Montreal); Sapsucker Maple Water, and routine natural deodorant, which is based out of Calgary, is provided in our toiletry kits."
When guests need a bigger nosh than the Canadian-sourced room snacks, they can take comfort in knowing The Drake serves up dishes and drinks that also have Canadian flair. Rodrigues shares her favourites: "I personally love the Brown Butter Maple Old Fashioned and the Voodoo Child cocktails. The Old Fashioned gets a Canadian twist by adding real maple syrup, while the Voodoo Child uses J.P. Wiser's, an award-winning Canadian whisky, as its base.
We of course also feature Canadian beers and wines, which always go down well with our menu. I love the Drake burger. We get our meat mainly from Cumbraes -- they work exclusively with small, family run farms throughout Ontario! I do order the lobster nachos often as well: house made chips, creamy mornay sauce, pickled jalapenos and, of course, amazing (Canadian) East-coast Lobster!"
Cheers to that!
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