18 2881 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC V6H 3J4
For every city, foodies usually have their recommended standbys. You know what i’m talking about – the restaurants they all recommend en masse. In my experience, many people make these recommendations having never patronized the restaurant. They’ve heard that the restaurant was great, so they suggest it to others. More often than not, the restaurant doesn’t deserve the reputation it has. Occasionally, a restaurant actually lives up to that reputation. Among the serious and the not so serious, West has a sterling reputation for delivering top quality food in Vancouver.
My last visit to West came post-David Hawksworth, who had been replaced by Chef Warren Geraghty. With sous-chef Stephanie Noel staying on, most people did not expect a drop off in quality. There was some trepidation, though reports were that the food was as innovative, fresh, and flavourful as always.
I had a reservation for a Friday night. Our reservation at 7:30pm meant there was still light out, and the room was brightly lit with natural light, and very comfortable. I wish I had more interior design experience to be able to describe a room as more than “hip, casual-chic, trendy and modern”, but what can I say, I learned everything I know about design from television. I liked the room though – clean and crisp whites along with natural materials- leather and wood. It was comfortable in the sense that you did not feel out of place in jeans and a shirt. Definitely my kind of place.
In order to get the best possible breadth of “West”coast experience, we opted for the West tasting menu, which rang in at a reasonable $98. Measuring 7 courses, plus an amuse and petit fours, it seemed like excellent value for a restaurant of this quality.
However, the amuse definitely started me on the wrong foot. They brought it out, and the first thing i saw was…foam. Oh word, how i hate foam. I have nothing more to say about this.
The timing for my visit to Vancouver had to do with several factors, one of which was it was Spot Prawn season. I was looking forward to West’s take on Spot Prawn ceviche, as i feel ceviche is an excellent way to highlight the sweetness and freshness of seafood, without the overpowering “ocean” taste that many people find offputting. The dish was served with asparagus and saffron chilled tagliatelle, a potentially interesting flavour combination. Unfortunately, i was extremely disappointed with this dish. The prawns werent sweet, but milky. There was almost no acidity with the ceivche, a cardinal sin in my mind. They were completely bland. There was no hint of saffron, and the asparagus were more after thoughts than anything actually incorporated into the concept of the dish. A thorough failure.
The second course was smoked veal tongue, with pecorino and salad. I love tongue, so this was definitely a dish I was looking forward to. Impeccably presented, shaved pecorino brought an extra dimension. The texture itself was actually very different than other tongue dishes i’ve had, which was actually quite fascinating. However, the entire dish was under seasoned. Even taking bites of tongue with pecorino, there wasnt enough saltiness to draw out the flavours of the smoke and the tongue. The citrus puree, which i assume was meant to use some acidity to balance out the dish, was flat. All in all, another disappointment.
After a third dish that was disappointing (a tian of crab, couscous, and smoked tomato gazpacho), a server asked how we were enjoying things. When I expressed my disappointment, a manager was called over immediately. She asked me what issues I’d had, and I went through a (likely unnecessary, overly descriptive) rundown of my issues with each dish thus far. My dining companion, and the manager, both looked a bit shocked, but she asked if I was “in the industry”? I gave her a non-committal answer, since the question was irrelevant, and really shouldn’t have any bearing on the quality of food or service you receive. She promised to relay our feedback to the kitchen. Not surprisingly, things improved drastically from this point forwards.
The next dish was my favorite of the evening – a phenomenal piece of halibut that was perfectly cooked. Topped with clams and mussels, served with a spinach sauce on a watercress and potato salad, it was a perfect blend of fresh ocean flavour that paired well with the richness of the halibut. This dish, a regular menu item i believe, was a winner.
The last entree of the night was partridge breast with braised artichokes and rhubarb jus. Cooked a bit more than my liking, the dish was still a well-executed combination. The tartness of the rhubarb went fantastically well with the patridge. I know that rhubarb and artichokes aren’t part of a partridge’s normal diet, but i could certainly imagine them being so!
Things finished up with an average cheese course, a good dessert, and amazing petits-fours – so good, that we asked for, and received seconds. Total bill, with some wine and gratuity, was roughly $400.
I’m sure expectations played a big part in how I felt about my meal – with very high expectations, the meal definitely started as a disapointment. While it finished on a strong note, I have to say, at the price paid, I certainly did expect better. One should not walk out of a top restaurant thinking they had a “ok” experience. The concepts were all fundamentally sound, but under seasoning, or insufficient acidity are simple errors that could’ve been easily fixed by tasting what they were serving. To me, these are not errors that a top restaurant make at the top their game. Either they were having a bad night, or they have gotten a little bit sloppy based on their sterling reputation. Regardless, I expect better from a chef and a restaurant. The service, and wine program are impeccable – and I would definitely go back to order the halibut. But in terms of this experience at West, chalk it up to another fine dining experience that didn’t meet my expectations.