Chambar Belgian Restaurant
562 Beatty Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2L3
Open 5:30pm – 12:00am
Belgium. How such a small country, with a hat tip to the French, ended up being top quality producers of some of my favorite consumables is honestly beyond me. Chocolate. Waffles. Mussels and fries (moule frite). Beer. These are not just good offerings. These fall well within the realm of comfort food for me. Of course, Belgium food is much more than frites, chocolate, and waffles. With access to fresh ingredients and the sea, and with a storied food culture, the essence of Belgian food is adaptability delivered in a clear, unpretentious style. Food for the gourmet, and the gourmand. This approach to food is at the core of the menu offered at Chambar.
Chambar is a very well-regarded restaurant in Crosstown Vancouver. Known for their particularly beautiful space, foodies have been raving about the unique combination of great affordable food, wonderful space, and excellent service. Showcasing local art, the impeccably decorated space manages to pack in a lot of seats, without feeling claustrophobic. Even with the high density of diners, Chambar manages to have great energy, while simultaneously having an intimate feel. I know I don’t comment much on decor, but i have to admit, i love what they’ve done with the place.
Let’s start with the best of the best- the beer selection is phenomenal. Exclusively Belgian, they had bottles I’ve never seen in North America before, even at the esteemed Torornado. Lambics, lagers, wheat, blondes, golds, trippels, trappiste beers – what a selection! I wish we could’ve stayed to sample them all. I do love my Belgians!
Not feeling completely hungry after a late lunch and an impromptu bubble tea visit after a hot day at Kits beach, we settled on a few beers and the Belgian classic, moule frite. Mussels are available in three flavours – coquette (white wine, bacon, spring onions), Vin Blanc (white wine, celery, leaks, and pepper), or the best sounding of the lot – Congolaise (tomato coconut cream, smoked chili and lime, cilantro). We ordered the Congolaise and the Coquette.
Surprisingly enough, I was extremely disappointed. The sauces were decent, but didnt carry enough intensity of flavour – they were definitely watered down. They needed to be reduced by about 30-40%. The frites and aioli were good, no complaints there. The mussels however, were of a size and quality that I wouldn’t serve in my home, let alone at a highly regarded restaurant for $21 a plate. They were stringy, tough, many unopened mussels, and frankly, just not very good. If i was not feeling slightly ill from heat stroke, exacerbated by the beer, I would’ve sent the whole order back. Granted, while we were dining in what many traditionally consider to be “shoulder season” for mussels, i’ve found that with aquaculture and trans-pacific shipping, there really is no season when you cannot get great mussels. Every month is a good month for moule frites.
Throughout, the service was fantastic. The whole experience wasn’t helped by my heat stroke, as i was slow to order, and definitely a little pokey, but the server was patient, and attentive, even with a large section and the never ending requests for water. On service and atmosphere alone, I would go back to soak it all in.
In discussing and reading more on Chambar, I get the impression that the moule frites are not considered to be big hits with many Vancouver diners. Some camps believe Chambar falls into the “appetizers, beer, and atmosphere” kind of experience. Others are very effusive in their praise for the entrees. But if a chef who trained in a 3 star michelin restaurant is turning out exceptional food, why can he not deliver something as simple as mussels? To be fair, yes, it was a Friday, and they were *extremely* busy. It wouldn’t surprise me if they had gotten a rush on mussels, and were doing what they could to keep up. But for a signature dish, I was expecting a lot more care and attention. After all, as every home cook can attest to, good mussels are not tough to make at home. I’ll reserve judgment and give them a pass for now on the strength of service, beverages, and atmosphere alone, which truly were memorable in a year of outstanding dining experiences. But I hope the food really is better than the moule frites i tried, because if not, that would really be a grand disappointment.