South-Western Bathhouse and Tea Room, an authentic Russian sauna and restaurant in Mississauga

South-Western Bathhouse and Tea Room, an authentic Russian sauna and restaurant in Mississauga

Kind of a secret: South-Western Bathhouse and Tea Room, an authentic Russian sauna and restaurant in Mississauga

Kind of a secret: St. Brigid's Creamery, the Ontario-made gourmet butter Emerald Grasslands fans should know about

Kind of a secret: Frank Ranalli's, an Italian beef sandwich shop in a hot dog shop

Art-of-Secret: The Little Jerry, Toronto's premier audible for serious audiophiles

The kind of secret: Southwest bathhouse and tea rooma Russian banya (sauna) and restaurant in Mississauga

You may have heard about it if: They were lucky enough to be introduced to the tradition by an Eastern European friend or family member

But you probably haven’t tried it because: It is tucked away at the side of a plaza, with only a red canopy over the door hinting at its existence

A decade after immigrating to Toronto from southern Russia, Valentina and Victor Tourianski were invited to a friend’s makeshift backyard banya. “We had fun, but it wasn’t built right — it was just a metal stove in a shed,” says Valentina. “Later that night Victor said, ‘I can build a better banya.'”

He did, and it quickly became a meeting place for family and friends. The socializing reminded her of home. Saunas, along with all of their purported health benefits, are also about community building; they are the social cement of Russian culture.

Soon after, Victor, a construction worker, was injured at work. Looking for a new source of income, the couple began to think about really getting into the banya business. Finding a location wasn’t easy — bathhouses have long been stigmatized — but they managed to secure a spot, opening the South-Western Bathhouse and Tea Room in 2012, a slice of rural Russia just west of the 427.

“Our goal was to introduce this beautiful tradition to Canadians,” says Valentina. And 10 years later, most of their customers are not Russian. However, running a business that revolves around Russian culture is a complicated time. The Tourianskis are staunchly opposed to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but maintain strong ties to their country. Thankfully, their customers understand. “What is happening in Ukraine is absolutely terrible,” says Valentina. “But that doesn’t mean I stop being Russian. This is my culture.”

The spa services here are only half the experience. In the Tudor-style dining room, decorated with old Soviet posters and samovars, red-faced guests in white terry robes and cone-shaped fedoras (to protect themselves from overheating) converse over a cup of complimentary tea and enjoy the after-dinner refreshments Steam bath.

Victor, a passionate cook who owned a sausage shop at home, works with Ukrainian chef Mykhailo Voitovych. Together they serve a menu of dishes from Russia and the former Soviet Union.

There’s the transcendent chakhokhbili, a Georgian chicken and potato stew. The borscht is another hit: beef stock cooked for at least six hours is the be-all and end-all, says Valentina, whose specialty is beet soup. Also on the menu is the colorfully named “Hering Under a Fur Coat” salad – the “coat” is made of mayonnaise, onions, potatoes, carrots, eggs and beets. The fish dish is a classic Russian recipe that is traditionally served during the holidays, especially on New Year’s Eve.

Salo — wafer-thin slices of frozen pork loin served with nutty rye bread — is a popular post-steam snack that’s best paired with a frosty Czech lager. For something a little more potent, there’s Georgian wine, specialty shots – including a bold concoction of vodka, beet juice and Victor’s horseradish jam – and signature cocktails. The star of the cocktail menu, the Moscow martini is infused with a flavorful brine that’s widely considered a cure for hangovers in Russia. Soft drinks include tea and kompot, a juice made from sour cherries and peaches.

Valentina and Victor recently opened a second, larger location in Richmond Hill which features a Turkish hammam room. At both spas, the correct order is sauna first, then food, and finally a vodka shot with dill pickle for an invigorating warm-up before heading back out into the winter air.

After a dip in the 80-degree wood-fired banya, guests can cool off by soaking in a barrel of ice-cold water

A Venik massage involves repeated slapping with a bundle of oak leaves (it feels better than it sounds)

The right way for ice-cold vodka shots: Toast with a “za zdorovie!” (“for your health” in Russian), take a deep breath, down the vodka in one go, exhale slowly, and then eat the dill pickle

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *