Story by Lynn Burshtein
LONDON, ONTARIO – My sister and I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity last winter to attend the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships. As former figure skaters, we were thrilled to see some of our sporting heroes in person at the Budweiser Gardens, a large spectator facility in London, a southwestern Ontario city known for its university atmosphere.
With a jam-packed schedule there was little time to organize meals and sightseeing. We decided to research in advance some of the local dining options situated close to the arena. One restaurant that was repeatedly recommended was Waldo’s on King, adjacent to the Covent Garden Market. Adding to its appeal as far as I was concerned was its comprehensive selection of vegetarian options.
On our final night in London, in between skating events, we calculated that we had exactly 45 minutes to eat dinner. We desperately wanted to try to squeeze in a meal at Waldo’s to see what all of the hype was about. Given how booked the city’s restaurants were that week, particularly near the arena, we weren’t too surprised to find a sign posted on the front door that read: “Sorry, we’re completely full tonight.” But the prospect of eating yet another overpriced box of popcorn at the arena in lieu of a proper meal was getting old. So we walked in and literally begged the owner for a table. He said there was one table available immediately, provided we were able to finish up within 30 minutes. We promised him that if he could arrange for the food to be served that fast, we would get out of his hair within half an hour.
A flawless routine at Waldo’s
And so began one of the most delicious — albeit truncated — meals I’ve had in a while, in any city. We had enough time to order salads alongside our mains. Our choices included the Mesclun Salad with Citrus Fruits, comprised of thin slices of fennel, toasted almonds, and a honey dressing ($9) as well as the Beet Root Salad, made with whole beets, avocado slices, and bocconcini cheese delicately arranged on a bed of greens ($12). Everything was made with what were obviously fresh ingredients and, unlike many restaurants that tend to douse salads with too much dressing here it was applied with a light touch.
As for the mains, the Butternut Squash Ravioli ($16) I chose featured large homemade raviolis covered in a tomato and basil sauce and a dusting of parmesan (a four-cheese cream sauce is another option). This dish had just the right pasta-to-sauce ratio, with the tangy tomato sauce off-setting the sweetness of the baked butternut squash. My sister, meanwhile, enjoyed the Warm Tuna Asian Style ($14), a fresh tuna rolled in sesame seeds served with soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi.
In terms of the service, the manager delivered on his promise to organize the timing of our meals to fit into his tight schedule and ours; the kitchen supervisor at Waldo’s obviously runs a tight ship. Despite the almost-frantic pace, everything was brought out by a server who kept a smile on her face the whole time and attended to us with the utmost professionalism. I can think of a few Toronto restaurants that could learn a thing or two about good service here.
The only downside to our experience? Not enough time to sample the full panoply of menu items. Given the chance, we could have tackled the dessert menu and perhaps even Waldo’s legendary whiskey menu . But the Ladies Free Skate Finals was about to start and we had to remind ourselves that was why we were in London in the first place.
More About Waldo’s on King
History: The first Waldo’s was founded in 1987 by the restaurant’s original owners, Jim and Ingrid Waldle (the restaurant was named after Jim’s childhood nickname). Current owner and head chef Mark Kitching, who opened the King location approximately 10 years ago, transformed the restaurant’s concept from fine dining to haute casual fare (Kitching decided to keep the original name, however).
Location: 130 King St. East at Covent Garden Market, London, ON (see map below)
Contact: Telephone, 1-519-433-6161; website, www.waldos.on.ca
Fun Fact: Canadian crooner Michael Buble has dined here.