We stood next to Owen Wilson in the queue for gelato at Bella Gelateria down by the sleek and shiny Vancouver waterfront. Famous for its small batch, handcrafted Italian ice cream and its killer salted caramel, Bella is a favourite among the well-heeled, hungry residents of Downtown Vancouver, as well as a must-go for visitors to the city, which, given the city’s popularity as a film location (hello Twilight: New Moon), may well include Hollywood heart-throbs.
Once I’d clocked that the man with the shaggy hair and distinctive voice was the movie star he sounded so much like, I turned my attention from the Tahitian vanilla in front of my nose and listened in on the conversation. Wilson had just done the infamous Grouse Grind, the gruelling 2.9km hike up to the summit of Grouse Mountain, one of British Columbia’s most beloved outdoor attractions, which looms 1,127m above sea level in Vancouver’s North Shore mountain range. Commonly referred to as ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’, it’s not something to embark on half-heartedly (or after a big lunch)—but when you get to the top, the sweeping panoramic views up on Grouse will go some way to dulling the pain. They also remind you that, as well as a thriving metropolis alive with hip cafes, chic boutiques, progressive galleries and restauranty former warehouse districts, Vancouver is beautifully situated: surrounded by sea, flanked by fir-lush forest and soaring, snow-topped mountains.
Wilson had well and truly earned his gelato, but if you need no such excuse, you can reach the top of ‘Vancouver’s Peak’ via a mountain train and cable car and ski or snowboard its snowy slopes if the season’s right. What could be better though, than flying up there in a helicopter? There are various tours offered, including one experience that proves irresistible to passing pleasure seekers—the ‘Fly, Dine and Drive’ package. This involves being picked up by helicopter from Downtown Vancouver and whisked to the top of Grouse Mountain, where a fine dining feast awaits, courtesy of local chef, Dino L Gazzola at the mountain’s landmark restaurant, The Observatory.
Gazzola favours a simple, seasonal Italian culinary bent; is fanatical about showcasing BC’s wealth of local produce and is committed to sourcing sustainable ingredients. His creations offer diners as much a sense of place as the dizzying views from the restaurant. Expect dishes like crisp-skinned black cod with Jerusalem artichokes (referred to here as ‘sunchoke’), potato crumble and lemon beurre blanc, or Arctic char and Humboldt squid with sweet butternut squash, a creamy smoked celeriac purée and punchy chorizo vinaigrette. After all this, you probably won’t be able to move, but then you won’t need to—as a chauffeurdriven limousine will escort you back downtown in serious style.
But the marvellous thing about Vancouver is that you don’t strictly have to get outdoorsy, or leave its city limits to appreciate its bountiful natural beauty. Take up residence in one of the city centre’s many luxury hotels, and explore it from there. The Shangri-La is Western Canada’s tallest
building, boasting subtle Asian styling, a sumptuous spa and restaurant from three–Michelin–starred super chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Here we feasted on his West Coast-focused, French accented cuisine, savouring plates of Pacific halibut with wilted spinach in a sweet garlic lemon broth and yielding sticky soy-glazed short ribs with an apple and jalapeño purée and crunchy rosemary crumbs.
The city has a wide-ranging selection of high-end residences, the most notable of which are blessed with their own signature restaurants. The art deco-styled Rosewood Georgia houses local star chef David Hawksworth’s eponymous restaurant, where his creative, contemporary Canadian cuisine includes dishes like the delectable Dungeness crab truffle custard with intense Meyer lemon, edamame and artichoke. While over in Yaletown—a flourishing former warehouse district—the trendy boutique Opus hotel is home to award-winning La Pentola: an Italian-inspired restaurant renowned for its familystyle feasting menus, which might feature such comforting plates as braised lamb shank with silky caramelised endive and deep, savoury cauliflower bagna cauda.
And just as Vancouver’s idea of the ‘hotel restaurant’ is a cut above most cities, so too is its concept of street food. Since a law limiting curbside vendors from selling only popcorn, ice cream and hotdogs was lifted in 2009, the gourmet street truck scene has exploded, meaning that you can swap the fancy dining rooms of its top restaurants for its wide, clean streets and dine with the mountains and sea as your backdrop. For the adventurous eater, there’s everything from Japanese fusion hotdogs at Japadog, to gourmet-grilled cheese at Mom’s, or high-technique Chinese at Le Tigre.
One of the city’s most popular street kitchens, Baja-inspired taco purveyor Tacofino, has even launched a sit-down restaurant on Hastings Street, in the up-and-coming Downtown Eastside. Here, any night of the week, you’ll find a bustling mix of locals, restaurant cognoscenti and Mexican food geeks getting stuck in to the addictive tacos and enjoying the wide selection of tequilas. Order the pork jowl tacos, which come with cabbage, caramelised fried shallot, sweet pineapple, and fiery hot chilli sauce sriracha, and wash it down with a signature habanero pepper margarita with habanero tequila, Cointreau and fresh citrus juice. Finish up, and cool your palate down, with some of the delicious house-made horchata (rice milk flavoured with sugar and cinnamon) and cookies.
But it’s not just food that makes Vancouver an ideal destination to kick back and relax - drink is as much a part of the city’s leisure culture as its vibrant culinary scene. And while you can’t legally drink in its many parks and beaches without risking a fine, its wealth of craft breweries, cocktail lounges and wine bars make up for this archaic licensing approach.
Gastown, a cool, cobbled portside district where downtown meets the eastside of the city, is your best bet for interesting imbibing, housing venues keen to showcase Vancouver’s many locapours. The Alibi Room has one of the city’s widest selections of locally brewed beer, while close by at the cosy, European styled Six Acres (housed in Vancouver’s oldest brick building) rustic small plates are taken with glasses of carefully chosen wines from the nearby Okanagan Valley, or ‘Napa of the north’, as it’s also known. We loved the subtly salmon-pink-hued Nichol Pinot Gris 2012 with its refreshing aromas of ripe peach, apricot and gooseberry. New world, steeped in local flavour and good to look at—a lot like Vancouver itself.
Little Black Book
Bella Gelateria (bellagelateria.com); The Alibi Room (alibi.ca); Street food (japadog.com); (letigrecuisine.ca); (momsgrilledcheesetruck.com); Six Acres
(sixacres.ca); Rosewood Georgia (rosewoodhotels.com/en/hotel-georgiavancouver); Opus Hotel (opushotel.com); Grouse Mountain (grousemountain.
com/heli-tours); Shangri-La Vancouver (shangri-la.com/vancouver/shangrila).
Follow Rosie’s updates on Twitter @rosiefoodie and her blog alotonherplate. com. Rosie’s debut cookbook, Fresh: 100 Delicious Recipes From Market to Table, will be published by Hardie Grant in spring 2015.
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