Batch: A New Brewpub in the Heart of Downtown Toronto

By: Saema Nasir

“This is going to be good.”

Those were the words my friend exclaimed as he surveyed the crowded room filled with the chatter of strangers and the music of a live band.

And it turned out he was right.

The crowd was hip, the beer was flowing and the music was loud in the dimly lit room. This is the scene I found myself in for Batch Toronto’s pre-opening bash. 

A new gastropub in the heart of Toronto, Batch’s menu features carefully crafted cocktails and an extensive selection of craft beer brewed in-house as well as traditional pub eats with a fresh twist. 

The upscale décor is really what stands out. The open space features exposed brick, tasteful and ultra-current accents such as mason jars, copper hardware finishes as well as a retro touch of lighting and seating booths reminiscent of a 50s diner. With two levels, there is plenty of room and the space is great for big groups or even an intimate dinner for two. Think of Batch as the most upscale pub you’ll ever go to. 

I was presented with three beer selections, each with a distinct taste and flavor. The Porter beer was a deep chocolate colour, with a chocolaty, deep taste to match. This was a filling beer that had real depth. Next came a foggy, amber, wheat beer, which was surprisingly refreshing and light. I could see myself drinking this on a cottage patio in the summer. The last beer was the lightest in look and flavor; it had a bitter taste that didn’t linger but is potent when it first hits your tongue. 

After whetting my whistle, the food was served, which was superb. Expect traditional pub fare done excellently and differently, which will pleasantly tingle your taste buds. One example is the fried pickles. This may seem like a simple dish served in many other places, but in the hands of Chef Ben Heaton, he turns this humble snack into something wonderful that is both crispy and light. Paired with the dill and ranch mayo this is a must-have!

The lamb burger was juicy and the curried lime pickle mayo had a creamy tang that complimented the taste of the meat.

My personal favorite were the wings which came in garlic and honey or house hot sauce. Elevated beyond what usual wings are, these small bites had a kick without too much heat and a sweet tang without the sugariness. Also of note was the curried chicken flatbread, which was buttery yet still light, savory and spicy. The herbs stood out and the flatbread itself was fluffy. 

I was impressed by the beautiful space and elevated pub fare. If you want a comfortable atmosphere that is still trendy and delicious and affordable food, definitely make Batch your go-to weekend haunt.

Photos of interior by Joel Levy Photography.

Photos of food by Paula Wilson.

Saema Nasir is a communications professional who blogs, writes, paints & explores her beautiful city of Ottawa. She has a Masters in Public Relations and also blogs at Follow her on Twitter @saemanasir

The Judas Kiss - Theatre Review

By: Saema Nasir

From the first provocative scene to the final, heartbreaking act, The Judas Kiss will have you glued to your seat and riveted by the action unfolding before you.

A retelling of Oscar Wilde’s last years, the play deals with the themes of loyalty, love, betrayal, and friendship as it explores his run from the authorities who wanted to punish him for his sexuality. Depicting Oscar Wilde’s relationship with his long-time advisor and former lover Robert Ross and his current lover Lord Alfred Douglas, we see the external factors that Wilde had to contend with, while simultaneously struggling with his internal impulses on whether to escape prosecution by fleeing England or staying to face certain imprisonment. 

The star attraction is Rupert Everett who plays Oscar Wilde with gusto. Relishing in every quip, with witty repartee rolling off his tongue, Everett creates a Wilde who is infuriating as well as sympathetic. Portraying Wilde’s downfall from wealthy and fêted raconteur and socialite to an impoverished expatriate, Everett showcases Wilde’s weaknesses with subtlety and his legendary spirit and wit vividly.

Under Neil Armfield’s skilled direction, each actor shines, adeptly showing how their characters impacted Wilde and his decisions as they enter and exist in his life.

Charlie Rowe as Lord Alfred Douglas is arrogant and easy to dislike. In spite of all his shortcomings, Wilde truly loved him. 

Alister Cameron as a musty butler brings a lively touch to the scenes he is in while Cal MacAninch shines as a loyal and spurned former-lover of Wilde. He brings a raw intensity to the character whose heartbreak is worn on his sleeve.

The Judas Kiss asks very important questions around the importance of loyalty, the sting of deceit and the value of love. More poignantly it depicts the cruelty of a society so capable and willing to ruin a brilliant man simply for who he was.

See The Judas Kiss for its superb acting, engaging dialogue and entrancing action, as well as for the important lesson it teaches on the perils of letting the law into the bedroom.

The Judas Kiss is playing until May 1, 2016 at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto. Tickets can be purchased online at

Photos: Cylla von Tiedmann

Saema Nasir is a communications professional who blogs, writes, paints & explores her beautiful city of Toronto. She has a Masters in Public Relations and also blogs at Follow her on Twitter @saemanasir

Salt-Water Moon - Theatre Review

By: Saema Nasir

Anchored by a love story, David French's award-winning play, Salt-Water Moon is a raw look at Newfoundland’s history post-World War I. The story takes the audience through the trials and tribulations suffered by working class men and women both during and after the war. The heart of the story centers around a rocky reunion between two former lovers, Mary Snow and Jacob Mercer. Delving into the experiences of Newfoundlanders through their lenses, the play explores the former couple's passionate past, tempestuous present and uncertain future. 

Ravi Jain’s adaptation gives us an intimate look into the lives of Jacob and Mary by creating an ethereal, romantic space where their story unfolds. The bare-bones stage is alight with candles strewn all over and the young lovers are illuminated by them. The cast truly shines; from Kawa Ada’s charismatic portrayal of Jacob to Ania Soul’s moving narration and enigmatic singing voice. However, it is Mayko Nguyen who truly stands out with her depiction of a young woman coming into her own. She is both bitter and hopeful, steely and soft, hard-headed, yet a dreamer. Nguyen adds a level of depth to the character with her authentic and emotionally charged performance. 

Soul's narration of French's stage directions is a unique artistic choice that Jain employs. Almost everything she recites is contradicted by the actions of the characters. This element adds to the layers and complexities of the characters. While audiences may grapple with the thread-bare set design, it is the heart of the story that captures our imagination and holds our attention. French has created characters that we can truly care about. We wonder about their struggles, aspirations and potential. 

The rich storyline coupled with outstanding acting makes Salt-Water Moon a moving production that will tug at your heartstrings and remind you of your first love. 

Salt-Water Moon plays at the Factory Theatre (125 Bathurst Street) until March 13, 2016. Tickets can be purchased online at

Photos: Joseph Michael Photography

Saema Nasir is a marketing communications specialist who blogs, writes, paints & explores her beautiful city of Toronto. She has a Masters in Public Relations and also blogs at Follow her on Twitter @saemanasir

Picasso at the Lapin Agile - Theatre Review

By: Saema Nasir

Steve Martin is usually front and center on the silver screen, making us giddy with laughter in his wildly hilarious films. You may be surprised to learn that he is the playwright of a fantastical play, which opened in Chicago over 20 years ago. Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a pleasant surprise that will engage, delight and amuse.

This intellectually stimulating comedy brings together two of the greatest minds and talents of the 20th century in one bohemian, ramshackle bar in Paris in 1904. Martin imagines a meeting between Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein as they exchange grand ideas about the universe and its relation to art.

Produced by Seven Sibling Theatre, the latest incarnation of the play stands out for one reason alone: the talent. The writing is brilliant and one can see Steve Martin’s comedic chops shine through the witty dialogue. However, it's the young ensemble cast that is bursting with talent and brings to life Martin's hilarious, yet thought-provoking work. 

The venue is quite unique: instead of a theatrical stage, the play is set at the Round, an intimate bar in Kensington Market, which is meant to be the Lapin Agile. The audience watching the great debate only serves to enhance the authenticity of the setting.

As a young Albert Einstein, Will King’s accent and mannerisms stayed steady throughout the 90 minute play. It would be easy to slip in and out of character and and veer into parody instead of a respectful depiction of Einstein. Indeed, I felt as if I was watching a young genius passionately speaking about ideas which would one day lead him to greatness. 

Just as excellent was Dylan Evans who portrayed the young, philandering and angst ridden Picasso. Bringing a vibrant energy to the stage from the moment he entered, Dylan’s Picasso was both infuriating as a heartless womanizer and endearing with his passionate drive for his art. 

Erin Burley, whose portrayal of Suzanne (among other characters) was restrained, sympathetic and authentic. I did not feel disdain for the woman hastily pursuing Picasso, but instead sympathy for her girlish infatuation.

The storyline is fairly simple, with various luminaries in history popping in for a drink at the bar, interacting with the colourful regulars, with conversation ranging from one’s place in history to women, science and art.

If you are looking for a stimulating evening where you will simultaneously laugh, think, and witness superb acting from the talented young cast, then go and see Seven Siblings Theatre's production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile.

Picasso at the Lapin Agile plays at the Round (152A Augusta) until February 28. Tickets are $25.

Photo courtesy of Seven Siblings Theatre.

Saema Nasir is a marketing communications specialist who blogs, writes, paints & explores her beautiful city of Toronto. She has a Masters in Public Relations and also blogs at Follow her on Twitter @saemanasir

The Cantina by Campbell’s

By: Saema Nasir

Soup evokes warm memories for me. Whether it was grandma’s chicken noodle soup or that newly discovered pho place around the corner, thoughts of soup bring up visions of warmth, coziness and goodness.  One brand well-known for its hearty soups is Campbell’s. The iconic red and white can of tomato soup has been a go-to for moms, college students and young professionals for decades. 

With its new pop-up soup restaurant on Queen West in Toronto, The Cantina, Campbell’s is spreading the word about its new line of delicious soups, while also freshening up its brand.  

Celebrity Chef

I attended the launch of The Cantina by Campbell’s and was interested in learning about the concept, while sipping and savouring delicious soups. Campbell’s has collaborated with Matt Dean Pettit, owner of the popular Rock Lobster restaurants in Toronto. His high-energy and passionate advocacy of Campbell’s new soup kits brought vigour to the event. 

"I was inspired by the world and global cultures. I wanted to bring to life the idea that ‘we all soup,'" he enthused to the rapt crowd.

The soup kit ideas Dean Pettit helped create, which require you to combine the kits with your own fresh ingredients are reflective of the global village in which we as foodies live in. 

New Flavours

There are four new soup flavours available for tasting at The Cantina. The best part? They are all free! Here is my low-down on how they all taste and whether they live up to the hype:

  • Thai Chicken and Rice Khao Soi – Although this soup comes out of a package, it didn’t taste like instant soup. Instead it has an earthy and tangy taste to it with a pleasant zing as well. You can expect Thai curry flavouring to the broth-based chicken and veggie soup. 
  • Creamy Tomato Black Bean Taco Soup – This is not your mother’s tomato soup. Influenced by Mexican flavours, it is a creamy fusion dish, which has a thick consistency due to the pulses in it and is pleasantly acidic. Creamy and rich, this soup is perfect for our cold Canadian winters. 
  • Roasted Beer Can Cream of Chicken Soup – This creative concoction was hands down my favorite and the very best soup of the night! The spicy, zingy soup incorporates roasted chicken and had a very creamy consistency. The depth of flavour was great and it exceeded my expectations of how soup could taste. 
  • Spicy Vegetarian Ramen – The ramen soup had a strong flavour, which could turn off those not familiar with Asian flavours, but for those who love them, this soup is bang on. It’s fresh, authentic taste brought out notes of lemongrass, seaweed and the vegetable broth is earthy. 

Trendy Vibe

Brick and wooden accented walls combined with chic seating and chalk art make this space seem like the hippest cafeteria on the block. There is also a mosaic wall where guests can place a sticker to create pop art. What’s more is that Campbell’s is donating one can of soup to the Daily Bread Food Bank for each sticker that is placed on the wall. 

As I mingled with other guests, I could not help but think that all those present seemed really excited and engaged about a very simple, inexpensive meal: soup. Far from a boring meal, Campbell’s has made people excited to consume soup again.

Next time you want some warmth on a cold night and don’t have hours to make soup from scratch, grab a Campbell’s soup kit by heading over to The Cantina.  

The Cantina by Campbell’s is located at 501 Queen Street West and is open until February 21, 2016. Hours: Monday – Friday, 11:00 a.m. 8 p.m. & Saturday – Sunday, 11:00 a.m. – 7 p.m.   

Photos courtesy of Campbell's. 

Saema is a marketing communications specialist who blogs, writes, paints & explores her beautiful city of Toronto. She has a Masters in Public Relations and also blogs at Follow her on Twitter @saemanasir