London, ONT.

  • Population: 352,000
  • Birthplace of Justin Bieber
  • Also known for: the London Fringe Theatre Festival

It's tempting to dismiss the food scene in a city like London, Ont. A cursory Google search of local restaurants brings up page after page of stuffy, outdated fine-dining establishments or cheap, low-quality eats aimed squarely at the city’s sizeable student population. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll discover a city that’s increasingly recognizing the value of its surrounding farmlands and the potential to convert old industrial buildings into cool independent breweries.

Where to stay

Downtown is, of course, the most convenient base for eating and drinking your way through the Forest City, and Hotel Metro’s prime location near Covent Garden Market is tough to beat. Better still, the hotel’s stylish rooms could easily go toe-to-toe with those you’ll find at a boutique property in Toronto or any other large city. Gray colour palettes and 10-foot-high ceilings – along with brick and wood accents – give the rooms a tasteful, contemporary, industrial feel. Rooms also feature sleek bathrooms with rain showers and separate soaker tubs, plus thoughtful extras like Aveda bath products.

Covent Garden Market

Where to eat

Founded in 1845, Covent Garden Market is one of London’s most enduring cultural hubs. The modern incarnation of the market is a spic and span building filled with neat rows of vendors selling flowers, fresh produce, baked goods and handicrafts. The market is producer-based, with its vendors growing, raising, baking or otherwise making everything they sell. From May to December, stalls spill out onto the building’s sprawling front patio for an expanded outdoor market.

The Root Cellar’s setting in an Old East Village heritage building is a fitting match for its menu of organic, farm-to-table fare. A map on one wall pinpoints where the restaurant’s ingredients come from, with most sourced within 150 kilometres. The seasonal menu is hip yet approachable, featuring inventive vegan and vegetarian options as well as crowd-pleasers like burgers and pasta. The brews on tap come from London Brewing Co-operative, an affiliated microbrewery with a shared focus on local ingredients. Their approach to brewing is epitomized by their signature Local 117 brew, which is made only with ingredients sourced from within an 117-kilometre radius.

Where to drink

Forked River Brewing Company

Forked River Brewing Company was London’s only craft brewery when it opened in 2013, paving the way for the other microbreweries that have since popped up across the city. It’s also one of the few London-based brewers that’s distributed in Toronto, on tap at bars like Get Well and The Wren, and it’s stocked at many LCBOs. Their core beers are the easy-drinking Capital Blonde Ale and the Riptide Rye, a hop-forward pale ale. Forked River also produces seasonal brews and, more recently, it introduced Alpha Test, the first in a new series of experimental IPAs.

With multiple locations, Fire Roasted is one of London’s most popular indie cafés. The company roasts over 35 types of coffee, including 20 single origin beans. Owner David Cook is a vocal proponent of London’s small businesses: he also manages the Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market at Western Fair, where local vendors set up every Saturday.