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September 5, 2009 2:02 am
The restaurateurs in Vancouver are optimistic, and with good reason. At the end of January next year the Winter Olympics will take place in the ski resort of Whistler, just 100km away, and the Games will bring with them an influx of visitors, broadcasters and sponsors.
The ebullient Vikram Vij, who has run two local Indian restaurants, Vij’s and Rongali, for the past 14 years, summed up the upbeat feeling in this city: “The Olympics is a silver lining. The trickle-down will start in September and October and then we hope that the Games will generate enough publicity for the region to see us through until the spring of the next year.”
Vij was one of three chefs I had met at Gyoza King, which is a popular late-night rendezvous for the city’s restaurateurs. Each exuded a sense of optimism that I have not encountered anywhere during the past few months. The second was David Hawksworth, a Canadian, who cooked for more than 10 years at some of the best restaurants in London before deciding that he wanted to be closer to the ski slopes. His new 190-seater restaurant, Hawksworth in The Georgia Hotel, will open in a year’s time.
The final member of our group was Thomas Haas, the fourth generation of a family of patissiers and chocolatiers, born in Aichhalden, southern Germany. Haas – like many chefs running their own businesses in Vancouver – came here to work for one of the major hotel groups. He now runs an exciting café and pastry shop and is overseeing the construction of a second production unit for the patisserie and chocolates.
The shop opened five years ago on a light industrial estate in north Vancouver where his neighbour was a large car dealership. At the last minute, Haas decided to add a 400 sq ft café to the front, and this has become the engine of his business. “Our total sales are just over C$3m [£1.7m] and C$2m of this come just from the café,” he explained. The twice-baked almond croissant I ate in this unlikely setting was the best I have ever had.
The sunny local outlook has a precedent – the Expo held in Vancouver in 1986. John Bishop, a veteran restaurateur known for championing the quality of local British Columbian produce, had opened his restaurant, Bishop’s, a couple of years earlier. He said: “Our turnover doubled when we hosted Expo here in 1986 and this impetus lasted for a couple of years.”
Vancouver’s exciting food culture has grown on the back of the hard work and enthusiasm of determined individuals such as the chefs I met; Mark Davidson, an Australian, who has taught many of the city’s sommeliers; Yoshi Tabo, the sushi master at Blue Water Café; and Ian Dalziel, the self-proclaimed “first mate” at Rodney’s Oyster House.
Despite the upbeat atmosphere, many of Vancouver’s restaurants are choosing not to open at lunchtime and instead concentrate on the profitable evening trade from 5pm. This trend is observable across North America although it does not apply to the city’s Asian restaurants – which are so numerous, so good and represent such value that they merit a detour in their own right. Two dim sum lunches, at the Shanghai Bistro Kitchen and a vast branch of Kirin, were distinguished by clean flavours, well-executed cooking and friendly service.
But like many who work in Vancouver’s restaurants, I lost my heart to Gyoza King, and not just because of the kitchen’s adeptness with gyoza, or stuffed Japanese ravioli. The service is friendly; the prices are reasonable; and it boasts that it is a “sushi-free zone”. Who could resist a restaurant with a menu that displays a photograph of the nearby countryside with the caption, “What a wonderful sky”?
Shanghai Bistro Kitchen, 1124 Alberni Street, tel: +1 604683 8222
Blue Water Café www.bluewatercafe.net
Rodney’s Oyster House, 1228 Hamilton Street, tel: +1 604609 9941
Gyoza King, 1508 Robson Street, tel: +1 604669 8278
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