Thursday, December 28, 2017



On August 22nd 2017, something miraculous happened in the world. Ashley’s Restaurant landed in Montreal’s Notre Dame de Grace neighbourhood. Arriving with it was Ayesha Gidwani, a remarkably gifted chef whose vegetarian cuisine is tongue wagging wonderful.  Together with owners Chantal and Sina, Ayesha created a menu that has elevated vegetarian meals into Nirvana magic. Here Asian, Indian, and a moment with Mexican flavours turn casual dining into an exciting experience of discovery.
Twenty-five divinely-inspired dishes deliciously demonstrate Ayesha’s awesome talent and instinct for ingredient combos that create the “wow” factor.

Each food-fabulous creation attests to Ayesha’s long-time love affair with cooking.
“When I was a child, I was always playing in my mom’s kitchen back in India. She was a great cook, and I watched what she did.”
 Since moving to Canada (2002) after a 14-year-stint as a Bollywood costume designer, she became Montreal’s “it” girl for vegetarian cuisine, creating veggie menus for several restaurants – her biggest coup was as Executive Chef at Cantley Suites for six years.
“I live, breathe, walk, talk and dream about what I do. I am very passionate about cooking and I do it from my soul. Here, at Ashley’s I have created vegetarian and vegan options using flavour fusions from Asia, India and beyond.”

Novice Designer Makes a Notable Impression

The Zen appeal also resonates in Ashley’s décor. Sina was responsible for its interior design.  It's hard to believe that Ashley’s was his first design project; it’s nothing short of genius. The result is outstanding, even daring. “I wanted to create a cozy, authentic place using the old and new,” said Sina.  Seemingly incongruous elements – both organic and modern, blend beautifully. Its visual aesthetic conveys an eternal feeling of serenity.

Natural wood restfully warms the restaurant in every space: the walls, benches and irregular shaped tables. Leather, brick, ceramic facades, even a peek-a-boo tall black column distinctly enhance the dining areas. Highlighted by top hanging lighting, Ashley’s embodies fluidity in aesthetic appeal.
Sina went all out in the loo rooms. They’re outrageously whimsical and colourful.
             Take a peek.         

Menu Health in Exotic Ingredients

Never mind that the dishes come with some pretty funny names: Avo’Cuddle toast, Umami Burger, the Bodhi Bowl or Jungli Yogi Bowl, the irony is palpably pleasing. Each wondrous dish is composed of nature’s most coveted flavours and ingredients. Everything is naturally grown, devoid of sugar (natural maple syrup is used) and almost zero % gluten free. Common to almost every plate is the extraordinary variety of different foods that go into each dish. I counted an average of 20 different ingredients for each, including a maze of veggies, grains, mysterious Asian and Indian roots, peppers, berries, seeds, noodles and more. One of Ayesha’s signature sensations resides not just in the presentation factor but the many hidden layers of differing foods that add never-ending surprise to the eating experience of that particular dish. Herbs and one-of-a-kind Asian dressings – served on the side are blended to perfection; the taste is exquisite, the texture sometimes crunchy, such as in the three different chef-inspired macro bowls. Each instantly brings a wealth of vitality and exoticism to the name, ‘salad’. Sensually addictive and creamy gorgeous both in taste and colour is the main dish, “From Berma with Love”. One of four favorites and an Ashley creation, this meal consists of coconut spiced lentil curry on konjac noodles, hash browns, roasted chick pea tofu, onions, roasted chilli, garlic oil, smoked sweet potatoes, coriander and lemon juice. This dish is heavenly. If you could taste love, this is it.

Eating Splendidly
My companion and I started with two salad dishes. I had the Urban Hippie Bowl whose 20 ingredients included purple kale, pilaf quinoa with a fig, yellow beets, kombucha dressing, roasted tumeric papaya, faro salad, roasted chickpeas, apples crisps a smattering of nuts and pumpkin seeds and more – topped by a big orange dollop of harissa hummus at the centre of it all. How’s that for healthy!

My companion dove into the Jungli Yogi Bowl – a sure bet for healthy eating accented with Greek, Mexican touches: Kalamata olives, cilantro lime dressing, mango house chutney, and heaps of kidney beans with alfalfa sprouts, spelt salad and cauliflower rice.

What’s great about this place is vegetarians and vegans can dine together since options are always there for family members to choose. As a peanut-free establishment, 85% of the ingredients are also organic including the sunflower and olive oil in the dishes.

That could account for the totally non-greasy pan-fried leek and vegetable dumplings we ordered for starters. I loved the house tamari and sesame sauce. We gobbled up the four on the plate as fast as we munched away in surely the most extraordinary side dish I have ever tasted: Mumbai Bhel. 

Superb and inspired by Goddess Ayesha, this wonderful dish consists of the perfect blend of puffed rice, red onion, cucumber, tomatoes, sprouted mung beans, chick pea crisps flavoured in tamarind and coriander chutney.
There is nowhere else in Montreal to find such astounding dishes that are light yet filling and oh so healthy.

Ashley's is Awesome
I could go on and on about other dishes I have eaten here; suffice it to say Ashley always has healthy surprises. Whether you’re from Montreal or Timbuktu, you must eat here. How many times can you tell someone, you just tasted gluten-free fava bean crust and you really really liked it? Where else can you boast about biting into a chocolate beet brownie with organic chocolate truffle and roasted hazelnuts? 


By the way, did I mention there’s a class-A wine list and bar?
Menu prices are low. That’s another plus why the entire family can enjoy this place, and there are weekend brunches. 

Ashley’s is located at 5942 Sherbrooke ouest, Montreal, H4A 1X7.
Call (514) 369-7566.

Monday, December 11, 2017

BALI (SMCQ) Clanging that went on too long

Four works featuring the music of Bali putting Jose Evangelista into new territory as a composer in the Asian mode was on the program this December 7th evening.

The concert was prefaced with a far too-long explanation of the Gamelon (orchestra) by Pierre Paré-Blais who also plays the instruments that we saw on stage at Montreal’s Pierre Péladeau Centre. He said the music is based on a single melody flushed by the other clanging instruments that seem to swirl around it faster and faster. Lovely bright red and gold instruments glittered the stage -- strange looking musical percussive instruments ranging from gong keybar to martenot – the latter sounding like a Wurlitzer and synchronizer. An interesting instrument that should be heard far more than it is.

Although the musicians were impeccable in timing and speed, after a while the pieces sounded like a collective clanging cacophony that sadly was not as colourful as the appearance of the instruments themselves. The one musician who held our attention with his passionate playing of  a drum-like instrument was I Dewa Made Suparta. He is director of the entire orchestra.

The performance needed costumes and showmanship. The three dancers save, for one who looked like a lost misfit towering awkwardly over the others who were Asian -- did not help this dance ensemble in look; nor did this trio inspire us, but the two other dancers would have -- without the gawky one. She looked about as Balinese as a giraffe trying to hide among cats. I did not feel transported to Bali during this concert. Though it was lackluster, the instrument playing was expert indeed.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Nightmare hotel reserved through

I bought through a two- night stay at Myrto Hotel (note that sometimes it’s called Myrtos) God forbid there might be two of these hellish hotels.

Judging by the photo of the room on, I was supposed to get a double size budget one, I thought things would be okay.

Never judge a hotel by its cover photo - or at least in this case. The room was so tiny, my rather small suitcase was not able to fit in it. The bed was so small with no room to get out of it except if you wanted to bang your legs against the side wall.  

There was no space at its end, or sides or head. There was just a shelf  at its end with a small noisy fridge on it; no place to put your clothes; no place to move to get into the bed or out of it. And by the way no window as it shows in the photo. No side table except a tiny gnome size-one -- not big enough to put my small laptop on. The plug sparked and damaged my mouse.  There was no hot water except if I wanted to wait an hour before the boiler would work to make it hot. That’s what the kids downstairs running the hotel told me. Now these kids were nice and tried to help as much as possible, but how do you put a broken hotel back together?

These downstairs folks were young, very nice but there was no manager on site. Oh by the way, the elevator sounded like an airplane about to take off. It was so loud and groaning all night long I could not sleep at all.

Worse still, when I asked to change rooms there was no manager around at all or ever.

Breakfast on looks yummy. Well, old cornflakes cold coffee and sticky white yogurt was there. I had placed my coffee cup on the wood table whose top instantly toppled, flipping sideways into a 90- degree angle, thereby spilling my stale coffee with the cup landing on the floor. This was becoming the Twilight Zone. I felt unsafe.

 I left the hotel at 1 am the second night and slept at the airport to catch my 7:30 morning flight back home

I now know why the Russian owners were never in sight. They were back home drinking vodka no doubt and laughing all the way to the bank while we poor helpless Myrtos Hotel victims were feeling like we had landed in a hovel of horrors. No one can walk in off the street and book a room at this hotel. You have to go through  get the money before they see it is their modus operandi.

Shame on Booking .com for not investigating this hotel and using false photos to get clients to book at this shabby hotel – one  that I would not even put Norman Bates in!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

UNE JEUNE FEMME (Directed by Léonor Serraille) *

Laetitia Dosch stars as a young woman who has been jilted by her photographer boyfriend. She lives in Paris, and hates it. She mooches off others, even gets a job as a nanny which doesn't work out for the mother in the end. She drifts but finally lands a job in a lady’s undergarment and nightwear high end store. She gets pregnant by her ex-boyfriend but refuses to take him back. Instead, she ends up with a store worker who seems like a better man than the crud she had as a boyfriend. Good acting can’t save this first feature film by the director whose unoriginal plot downplays the ugly truth about being lost and marginalized in a society that does not care. Screened at Montréal’s  2017 Cinemania Festival.   

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

THE HIDDEN RIVER (Jean-Francois Lesage) bomb

The loon calls at the end of this documentary were the only moving effect in this pretentious film where different groups of friends and family gather at different spots on a lovely river that seems to symbolize life’s flowing currents. There is a group of women who talk about their feelings of motherhood; two men who contemplate depression and death, young boys jumping in the river, one fly fisherwoman, a couple – she loves him; he is more into other things.
 This film is so ridiculously unrealistic. Do people in nature truly wax philosophical for 20 minutes with each other. Not once, did anyone ask: “So how are you? What’s happening in your life? Peopledo not listen to head speak about life in such surroundings, other than in a life coaching class or in a university
    lecture in a philosophy class with a bad professor.

                                                 Screened at RIDM, 2017.

Thursday, November 9, 2017



There are hotels, and then there are those that surpass the highest of expectations; they attain perfection. This is one such hotel.                 
                                                                                                   Nancy Snipper

Set among lush gardens on a lofty hill overlooking eastern Crete’s magnificent Marabello Bay, St. Nicolas Bay and Resort Hotel is renowned for its breathtaking panoramic view.  Close to ten acres (40,000 square metres) of property steeped in luminous natural beauty mesmerise – starting with the hotel’s private pristine sandy cove beach, made more remarkable by huge flat-bed rocks for relaxing, perched just above the sea – well deserving of its Blue Flag E.U. status. The property stretches beyond to reveal a natural variety of vistas and villas.

                                 Inspirational scenes beckon the guest and the bather. 

Stone and marble merge into the boundless blue of sea, sky, and swimming pools. 

                           A signature centre piece is the enormous salt-water pool.

If you book one of the waterfront luxury Thalassa Villas (there are eight of them), you’ll have your own heated one!  Reserve a villa for your family or go for its romantic appeal. Not surprisingly, weddings are held here.

Outdoor/Indoor Mediterranean Splendour

Winner of the world’s most prestigious awards for hospitality excellence, this Trip Advisor top-star hotel has garnered so many kudos, it outranks most that strive to emulate it. 

                                Minoan-like archways frame vistas of green. 


Stone pathways meander among pine, palm and carob trees, accenting buildings bathed in white and marble. 


Lush and lovely!


View of St. Nicolas Bay from hotel.

Grounds are gorgeously enhanced by a series of beguiling indoor architectural features and objects that bring to life elements of Greek antiquity. Such impeccable taste attracts the discerning traveller in need of calm surroundings cocooned in authentic Cretan elegance. 

Started in 1988, St. Nicolas Bay and Resort Hotel is owned and built by the 
visionary Cretan architect, George D. Alexandrakis. Highly artistic, Mr. Alexandrakis has designed an array of wall fixtures, lamps, mirrors and handicraft which enhance the hotel. A genius for creating unique furniture as well, each room demonstrates his passion for design originality. Functional, visually appealing and clever, many objects you see are a product of his own brilliant imagination.

“George always wanted to create a hotel having all the elements of a Cretan nobleman’s home with soul, elegance and style,” said head manager, Costas S. Zarbalas who’s been with the hotel for 30 years.  “We want to fulfill people’s holiday dreams, so we work as a caring sincere team (over 165 staff members).  We give personable attention to their wishes; this is a small size hotel so we accomplish every guest’s expectations for a perfect holiday.”

 The harmonization of traditional Greek architecture with contemporary chic is its signature style. Upscale rooms – all 107 of them – are stunningly appointed. An exquisite blend of different textures and creamy hues put the tranquility of the Aegean Sea right next to you. If Aphrodite were mortal, she surely would have settled here!

Room Variety with Sea Views

Although there are over 100 rooms, each seems to be an island on its own. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to hear or even see your neighbour, as the hotel is constructed to ensure serenity and privacy.

There are several types of rooms – each with its own distinct layout. Most offer sea views.  Rooms range in size from 30 square metres to 160 square metres, such as the two villas within the Club Collection. Their terraces alone are 90 square metres and the pool is 30 square metres. No matter the size, all rooms have marble bathrooms, bathrobes, big thick beach and bath towels, slippers, luxury toiletries, a Nespresso coffee machine, fridge and of course WIFI, movies,  multiple language TV channels, telephone and air-conditioning. Some sport designer couches with lots of pillows.
There’s no lack of choice: from studio and one bedrooms to two and three bedrooms with lovely layouts. There are six different kinds of rooms within the Classic Collection: Junior, Deluxe and Executive suites. Most come with Jacuzzis, two balconies or one huge one. Twenty-three private pools are there to enjoy in some deluxe suites and in the exclusive Club Collection. Many have ensuite bathrooms and all kinds of state-of-the-art amenities with VIP extras. 

The Aphrodite House even has a remote control that opens up the in your bedroom to reveal a spectacular sea view right in front of you.

          My own private pool in the Classic Executive Suite. The view was captivating. 

I felt like a Minoan princess (without the regal attire!) 

The trick to ordering your room depends on your requests. Do you want a garden view, sea view; how many bedrooms; do you want a private pool, Jacuzzi, two balconies?  Order your preferences and priorities; make your bucket list, and the reservations department will grant what you request. Bear in mind, that price varies depending on room type and the season. I saw several rooms. All displayed an understated sophistication that exuded distinctive allure. 
 Visit the website at the end of this feature to obtain more detailed information.

Eating like a Minoan Princess

Five great areas for eating Greek and international cuisine are located in scenic areas of the hotel. My first night of arrival, I ate in the Greek Kafenion whose specialties include all kinds of Greek fish, pasta and meats. I found this meal to be a delightful first-night indulgence.

Two bouzouki players set the mood for taste enjoyment. 

Everything is cooked fresh at the hotel, and all produce comes from the area.  For my appetizer, I had a delicious seafood salad of greens, locally grown olives, mussels and huge pieces of jumbo shrimp. It was excellent.  My main course was a wonderful slow-cook oven-roasted veal dish whose huge tender pieces were flavored in tomato sauce, and pepper with Hilopites pasta surrounding it all. Wine was a 2010 red wine from Nemea. My dessert was a startling affair.  Service was of the highest quality.

Breakfast… Beyond Believable!

Served in the Club House Restaurant indoors or on the sea-view terrace, breakfast is an exorbitant feast. Guests can either sit on the terrace overlooking the sea or inside where all the food is presented on 12 long tables beautifully set with fine linen table cloths. The buffet is laden with countless classic Cretan and international dishes which delight the senses.  Ten hot servers for meats and cheese pies form part of this fabulous morning feast.  I loved the various sheep and cow’s milk yoghurt of different fat percentage.  The grape mousse cinnamon pudding called moustalevri was my addictive discovery. You have the choice of Gluten free and lactose intolerance dishes as part of their health-conscious cuisine. Meat, fresh fruit, Cretan cheeses, cereals, a yummy creamy vanilla pudding, and the list goes on.  Cretan olives – five different kinds, including Tsakistes and Throubes were a delight to sample as was the smoked pork. Figs, dates, all kinds of dried fruit, even goji berries. Jams, purees, Greek marmalades – home-made of course – like everything else – decks out more banquet tables. Incredible Cretan creamy desserts and strudels to satisfy the sweet tooth have tongue-watering palette appeal. Typically, they have their own table, and it’s a popular one!  You can enjoy all this, and also order from the à la carte menu which offers omelettes, crepes, pancakes and more yummy morning goodies?

Later on, take time to relax,
to eat and imbibe in other areas. 

                                 Night-time at the Greek Kafenion Restaurant

Astra Bar strides a lovely pool; then take a step inside the Minotaure Restaurant which specializes in sushi and Far Eastern cuisine. The Blue Bay has a Japanese menu along with grilled fare, savoury Greek food, pasta and salads.  Discover them all. Variety is the spice of life, so indulge in all of them. That’s part of the fun.

For all information on rooms, prices, restaurants and more,
Address: St. Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel is Thesi Nissi, Aghios Nikolaos, 721 00

Pampering at Poseidon Spa

Taking a treatment in the hotel's world-class spa is a must. There are over 40 all-natural beauty and well-being treatments to address body and face issues. 

 The spa’s bio-tech face technology by Elemis a ground-breaking anti-ageing product line, specifically targets wrinkles, pigmentation, skin tone and so much more. There’s even facial resurfacing and non-invasive lifting – a god-send!

Prior to my treatments, I enjoyed a scented hot vapor room. I did not have time to take a swim in the beautifully heated pool that alleviates pain, but I would return.

The setting for my treatments was incomparable.  The sea at my side, two demure trees swaying in the wind and tiny rock island poking up. The view was sublime. I was already relaxed.
My expert therapist Helen suggested I have the spa’s Signature deep tissue back massage which uses Cretan bees wax and ointments. I could hardly wait. Using her forearms to swiftly move along my spine and loosen knots, Helen found areas of tension I did not know existed. This novel forearm technique created a smooth rubbing sensation on my back; knots were soon loosened.
After my back massage, Helen gave me an Easy Going Facial – specifically the Fleurs de Bali 30’. 

Helen used products from France’s Cinq Mondes line. They are completely natural and feel gloriously light on the skin, yet the result is astounding.  I could not believe how my skin was transformed in just over an hour.  This particular facial had several steps: cleansing, spraying flower rain tonic, doing an exfoliation, and next – a mask accompanied by Helen doing a scalp massage. 

Applying a deep nourishing elixir for my dry skin (there are five to choose from).
And finally, the Serum of Youth. All worked their combined magic; my skin’s leathery look was no more. Instead I saw a clear, bright and radiant sheen of youth.  My skin felt like silk. I wanted it to last forever.

For all information, visit:

Venturing Beyond
St. Nicolas Bay Resort Hotel is a utopia; linger all day or get active at the quiet beach by partaking in the waterfront activities there. Canoe around, paddle board  jet ski or/and be taken in the speedboat to the nearby church-topped island with cri-cri (Cretan goats).

If you want to explore beyond this paradise, here are some suggestions:
Aghia Nicolaos:  Just over 1.5 km away from the hotel, Aghia Nicolaos is a trendy touristy city. More like a big town, it has an array of both exclusive and souvenir shops that wind around the enchanting waterfront. Picturesque with its own history, this seaside summer resort has its own archaeology museum.

Spinalonga: take the bus, or taxi to nearby Elounda or Plaka, to boat over to this deserted island of 16th-century stone walls that once quarantined lepers from Crete and the rest of Greece  in the early 20th-century until 1957. Interesting but bucolic, there is an unmistakable melancholy in the atmosphere. Join a guided tour to get all historical details.

For boat times, visit:

If you rent a car, get lost along the coastal road, and enjoy the spectacularly high mountains on one side, and cozy bays of perfect blue that beckon.  Kayaking and all kinds of sports, you can find in town, but some of these activities, you can do directly from the hotel.  Here’s the website again: