From the stylish seafood-centric Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar to casual The Fat Badger gastropub by British native — and much-lauded chef — Neil Taylor, Vancouver is seeing a mini-boom in new restaurants on the city’s downtown peninsula. Here’s our guide to five of the freshest eateries to try now in Western Canada’s largest metropolis.
Chefs Lucais Syme and Gill Book of La Pentola della Quercia, the excellent Italian dining room at the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Opus Hotel Vancouver, have opened a European-style bistro in one of the city’s oldest buildings, the 116-year-old Victorian Hotel. Cinara feels like a comfortably cool neighborhood eatery with mismatched china and an Italian-influenced menu. Dishes run the gamut from grazing-size cicheti such as the rich chicken liver parfait or a plate of white anchovies and pickles, to salads of warm octopus and potato or a summertime mix of grilled peaches, tomatoes and basil, to more substantial creations such as braised rabbit or branzino (sea bass) topped with an almond salsa verde. The wine list is strong on Italian labels; if you’re not imbibing, try the non-alcoholic elderflower-lemon pressé.
The city’s most buzz-worthy new spot is this classy dining room at the Four-Star The Sutton Place Hotel, where Vancouver-raised chef Alex Chen, who honed his fine dining skills as executive chef at Five-Star The Beverly Hills Hotel, has returned to wow his hometown. His menu stresses local seafood, but even pescaphobes will find plenty to love. Stellar starters include the meltingly tender Wagyu carpaccio dabbed with a smoky mayonnaise and citrus-cured hamachi (yellowtail) served with delicate circles of avocado and hearts of palm. The meaty jumbo scallops, caramelized and settled atop a broth brimming with artichokes, olives, and oven-dried tomatoes, and the hearty 14-ounce pork chop sauced with apple vinegar jus and served on a swath of pea purée are among the intriguing mains. Save room for the calamansi, a lemon tart decorated with delicate puffs of pineapple meringue.
This red Victorian house in the shadow of downtown’s office and condo towers has been converted to a clubby British gastropub. With a résumé that includes time at London’s River Café, UK-born chef Taylor (who also co-owns España, a popular Vancouver tapas bar) is going back to his roots, cooking up fresh adaptations of pub classics. The menu changes regularly, but you might find Welsh rarebit, fish and chips with mushy peas, and steak and ale pie, alongside more locally inspired plates such as chanterelles on toast with braised dandelion, poached egg and radishes, or salmon topped with basil mayonnaise. And to drink? Why, a proper pint, of course.
The chefs at this tiny bistro in the heart of Vancouver’s thriving Davie Village clearly have a sense of fun. Meaty oyster mushrooms are served on the half shell like their seafood namesakes, while thick slices of kohlrabi are seared and topped with walnut butter as a spot-on scallop stand-in. With dishes like steelhead trout tartare and a hearty game fondue, the menu isn’t entirely vegetarian, but it’s healthy. Another thing: you won’t find these innovative plates on every downtown menu — perhaps not surprising from a kitchen whose motto is “Stay Wild at Heart.” The cocktails are eclectic and herbaceous, too, from the Green Ceasar (potato vodka, cold-pressed juice, blue-green algae, celtic salt, bird’s eye chili and pickled veggies) to the Northern Heights (rye whisky, birch syrup, apple cider vinegar, and tree oils).
This beloved brunch and lunch spot isn’t entirely new. In fact, it’s been serving its excellent coffee, signature Belgian waffles and hearty Mediterranean-tinged midday meals since 2008. But recently, Café Medina not only relocated to spacious high-ceilinged digs downtown but it also updated its menu with new chef Jonathan Chovancek at the helm, and there’s been a line out the door ever since. Once you wangle a seat inside, try the poisson curé, a salad of wild salmon, crunchy sprouted farro, pistachios and parsley, or the tagine, a stew of Merguez lamb sausage, chicken, and vegetables topped with poached eggs. Don’t worry: the adored waffles, with toppings such as salted caramel and peach-bourbon butterscotch, are still available and just as delicious. Want to hear more tasty news? The café plans to open for dinner soon.