West Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

West Restaurant
18 2881 Granville Street
Vancouver, BC V6H 3J4
(604) 738-8938

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My last visit to West came post-David Hawksworth, who had been replaced by Chef Warren Geraghty.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.

West Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

16 thoughts on “West Restaurant – Vancouver, BC

  1. Foodosopher, I really admire you and your guts for standing up and telling them the blunt truth. I think a lot of us (I will include myself sometimes) just suck it up and keep ourself shut, out of fear of being condescended or humiliated in public. I guess that’s why, to an extent, I prefer not to go to high-end restaurants…

    Likewise, I am surprised at the manager’s reaction. You should be getting the same food and service regardless of who you are. This brings a review Alexandra Gill (of The Globe and Mail) wrote about C (the restaurant) and the food/service you receive when you are not a VIP (or at least when you are not recognized right away as such). The article is available here. The fact things improved after your comments makes me believe it was not an off-day but, rather, sloppiness.

    As a side note, can you tell us your non-committal answer when asked if you were “in the industry”?

  2. I’m nervous about bringing a camera into “nice” restaurants. Did they catch you taking photos at all?

    Now I’m sad that I never got to West before Hawksworth left.

  3. KH,

    I used to feel the same way – just say nothing, and then quietly leave. I think what changed my mind was when many chefs and owners told me they would rather know, so they could rectify the situation, than not know. It hurts the ego yes, but at the end of the day, all they can do is try and make it up to you. As one friend put it “I can’t fix something i don’t know about… and i want to make your experience as good as possible so you come back.” As long as you are respectful about it, i’ve found servers and chefs to be very reasonable. Yes, i’ve heard of the odd humiliating experience, but that is really a sign of an ignorant, and soon to be bankrupt restaurant. Usually, they’ll know if they are turning out less than par. They probably know the other 10 things that we missed that arent quite right either! 🙂

    Interesting article on C. Thanks for passing that on. It’s a sad statement, yet, I find it is quite true of many people in general. If they don’t feel they have anything to gain from being especially nice to you. Have you personally noticed that kind of treatment at other restaurants? For me, i see it occassionally, but most places know that your average everyday person is the key to success.

    As for my non-committal answer, Im sorry but I wish to keep it that way. I don’t wish to provide additoinal information that may reveal who I am. Let’s just say I am currently not in the industry. Though if you want to be literal, diners, i would say, are the most important part of the industry, something restaurants shouldn’t forget!

    BB – i didnt hide my photo taking at West. The room was too open, and the space too linear – all serving staff have a clear line of sight straight down the restaurant – there wasn’t any point. I know a lot of people are nervous about it, but after a while, you just get used to it 🙂 I don’t, however, use a nice setup like Shokutsu – just a small point and shoot that does an ok job. Much more discrete. What camera do you use for shooting photos?

  4. Hi Foodosopher:
    You are based in Vancouver, are you? Wanted to give you a heads up and asking if you would like to join us Vancouver area food bloggers for a dinner on Joe Fortes. That is on 20Nov which is a Saturday. It is actually a FoodBuzz dinner who will sponsor $50 per person for the dinner. It would be great to have you along and I would love to meet up with you and say Hi. If you can make it, drop me a line on chowtimes@gmail.com.
    BTW, great blog … I subscribe to your site and enjoyed your postings.

  5. At restaurants I’ve been using my Canon PowerShot SD850 IS – a slightly better camera than most point and shoots as it lets you manually set ISOs, flashes, etc. I don’t think I’d dare use my SLR unless I was taking photos with the express permission of the owner/chef. Guess I’m too much of a chicken! 🙂

  6. Jeez I just read that article on C and am disgusted. If I pay $500 for a meal I expect to get my money’s worth food-wise.

    I had just a set lunch in a Michelin starred restaurant in London, and not only did I have a wonderful meal and attentive service, but when they found out we were tourists we were taken for a quick tour of the kitchen and met the chef. They knew we weren’t regulars or media but they still treated us like we were important. Now that was an experience.

  7. BB – i use a SD 870 IS, so i know exactly what you mean regarding pulling an SLR out. Takes decent photos though, especially for the size. I don’t think i’d have problems breaking out a full on SLR though – i find most restaurants are quite used to it these days.

    Regarding the article on C, it is a bit abhorrent, but not unexpected in my mind. Im glad that the starred restaurant took great care of you – I wish more restaurants viewed every customer the same way. It’s amazing how much we’re willing to forgive in terms of the food as long as the service is great quality.

  8. We have eaten at West on several occasions, both during Hawksworth’s tenure and after. Imho, the food was a little more even when Hawksworth was at the helm, with every plate – both meat and seafood – being of consistent standards. I’ve been there once under Geraghty’s watch earlier this year, and found the food a little uneven from course to course. Some items on the tasting menu were fantastic (e.g. risotto with shaved truffles), others just blah (e.g smoked sablefish). For the price point, one would expect a little more consistency. Perhaps it was one of those off nights, but at this price point, that really shouldn’t have been a factor.

    In our experience, the restaurant that has been the most consistent in terms of food quality is Le Crocodile. Not the most innovative, not haute cuisine, but really well made classic French food everytime.

  9. ET – i’ve heard good things about Le Crocodile, but have never had the opportunity to go. What would you say is a can’t miss dish there? I will try and make it a priority to try it next time.

  10. Foodosopher – @ Le Croc, I have found the duck and the veal chop to be very tasty and very consistent the few times we’ve had them. Before the whole ethical issue of consuming Chilean Seabass came to the fore, they did a really mean version as well. Generally, the consensus from friends and family is that the dishes @ Le Croc are well-made – part of it (imho) may have to do with the fact that the menu stays pretty constant, with minor tweaks instead of wholesale changes.

    Do bear in mind that Le Croc serves French standards – so recall a meal you’ve had at a above avg. Parisian bistro, and you know roughly what to expect. Le Croc doesn’t get too fancy (no foams, no towers, no frou frou), and for that, I’m glad.

    oh yeah, if you’re a fan of foie, don’t forget to order a slab for your starter…

  11. ET – sounds heavenly. Good solid French food is under appreciated. Im definitely not into foams, towers, frou frou food – our site is dedicated to substance. Im all for bistro.

    And yes, im definitely a fan of foie. Though these days, i typically buy it and serve it myself. It really is very easy to make, at a much more affordable price.

  12. Always consistant … and the consistency is predictive , savory , ummm just like the first time! this place walks over .. around .. under … beside. Yet best of all! … Right through what you thought was Pacific Northwest Cuisine! I have eatin at every place in Vancouver for 8 years straight … and this is the only one that never fails to deliver!!!!

  13. Pingback: "Are You a Food Critic?" | I'm Only Here for the Food!

  14. Hi. I’m the restaurant critic for the Baltimore Sun, and I have a blog called Dining@Large. I’m doing a post on foam, and I laughed out loud at your comment about it. I’d like permisssion to use your photo of the amuse. I would, of course, credit you and link to your blog. Thanks.

    • Thanks for visiting us from virtually across the other side of the continent. As I know the author of this post (aka foodosopher) is a little predisposed this week, I’ll take the liberty of granting this permission on his behalf, as per the request you have given. Look forward to how you expand on the foam theme. 🙂

    • Sorry i’ve been out of commission this week – but Shokutsu worded it right Elizabeth – you’re more than welcome to use the photo. Thank you for asking permission – after our experience with content theft, i certainly appreciate people who do things the right way. If there’s anything else we can do to help, let us know. We’d be happy to be of assistance!

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