Pacific Rim Cool

25 Jun 2016
4 min read
Making Vancouver her home for the summer, Rosie Birkett shares her favourite spots in this blissfully alive city, including an experience with ‘mother nature’s stairmaster’, bumping into hollywood stars and the city’s top feasting destinations…

We stood next to Owen Wilson in the queue forgelato at Bella Gelateria down by the sleekand shiny Vancouver waterfront. Famous forits small batch, handcrafted Italian ice creamand its killer salted caramel, Bella is a favouriteamong the well-heeled, hungry residents ofDowntown Vancouver, as well as a must-go for visitors to the city,which, given the city’s popularity as a film location (hello Twilight: NewMoon), may well include Hollywood heart-throbs.

Once I’d clocked that the man with the shaggy hair and distinctivevoice was the movie star he sounded so much like, I turned myattention from the Tahitian vanilla in front of my nose and listened in onthe conversation. Wilson had just done the infamous Grouse Grind,the gruelling 2.9km hike up to the summit of Grouse Mountain, oneof British Columbia’s most beloved outdoor attractions, which looms1,127m above sea level in Vancouver’s North Shore mountain range. Commonly referred to as ‘Mother Nature’s Stairmaster’, it’s notsomething to embark on half-heartedly (or after a big lunch)—but whenyou 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 asa thriving metropolis alive with hip cafes, chic boutiques, progressivegalleries and restauranty former warehouse districts, Vancouver isbeautifully situated: surrounded by sea, flanked by fir-lush forest andsoaring, snow-topped mountains.

Wilson had well and truly earned his gelato, but if you need no suchexcuse, you can reach the top of ‘Vancouver’s Peak’ via a mountaintrain and cable car and ski or snowboard its snowy slopes if theseason’s right. What could be better though, than flying up there in ahelicopter? There are various tours offered, including one experiencethat proves irresistible to passing pleasure seekers—the ‘Fly, Dineand Drive’ package. This involves being picked up by helicopter fromDowntown Vancouver and whisked to the top of Grouse Mountain,where a fine dining feast awaits, courtesy of local chef, Dino L Gazzolaat the mountain’s landmark restaurant, The Observatory.

Gazzola favours a simple, seasonal Italian culinary bent; is fanaticalabout showcasing BC’s wealth of local produce and is committed tosourcing sustainable ingredients. His creations offer diners as much asense of place as the dizzying views from the restaurant. Expect disheslike crisp-skinned black cod with Jerusalem artichokes (referred to hereas ‘sunchoke’), potato crumble and lemon beurre blanc, or Arctic charand Humboldt squid with sweet butternut squash, a creamy smokedceleriac purée and punchy chorizo vinaigrette. After all this, you probablywon’t be able to move, but then you won’t need to—as a chauffeurdrivenlimousine will escort you back downtown in serious style.

But the marvellous thing about Vancouver is that you don’t strictly haveto get outdoorsy, or leave its city limits to appreciate its bountiful naturalbeauty. 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 restaurantfrom 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 garliclemon broth and yielding sticky soy-glazed short ribs with an apple andjalapeño 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 signaturerestaurants. The art deco-styled Rosewood Georgia houses local starchef David Hawksworth’s eponymous restaurant, where his creative,contemporary Canadian cuisine includes dishes like the delectableDungeness crab truffle custard with intense Meyer lemon, edamameand artichoke. While over in Yaletown—a flourishing former warehousedistrict—the trendy boutique Opus hotel is home to award-winningLa Pentola: an Italian-inspired restaurant renowned for its familystylefeasting menus, which might feature such comforting plates asbraised lamb shank with silky caramelised endive and deep, savourycauliflower bagna cauda.

And just as Vancouver’s idea of the ‘hotel restaurant’ is a cut abovemost cities, so too is its concept of street food. Since a law limiting curbsidevendors from selling only popcorn, ice cream and hotdogs waslifted in 2009, the gourmet street truck scene has exploded, meaningthat you can swap the fancy dining rooms of its top restaurants forits wide, clean streets and dine with the mountains and sea as yourbackdrop. For the adventurous eater, there’s everything from Japanesefusion hotdogs at Japadog, to gourmet-grilled cheese at Mom’s, orhigh-technique Chinese at Le Tigre.

One of the city’s most popular street kitchens, Baja-inspired tacopurveyor Tacofino, has even launched a sit-down restaurant on HastingsStreet, in the up-and-coming DowntownEastside. Here, any night of the week, you’ll finda bustling mix of locals, restaurant cognoscentiand Mexican food geeks getting stuck in to theaddictive tacos and enjoying the wide selectionof tequilas. Order the pork jowl tacos, whichcome with cabbage, caramelised fried shallot,sweet pineapple, and fiery hot chilli saucesriracha, and wash it down with a signaturehabanero pepper margarita with habanerotequila, Cointreau and fresh citrus juice. Finishup, and cool your palate down, with someof the delicious house-made horchata (ricemilk flavoured with sugar and cinnamon) andcookies.

But it’s not just food that makes Vancouveran ideal destination to kick back and relax -drink is as much a part of the city’s leisureculture as its vibrant culinary scene. And whileyou can’t legally drink in its many parks andbeaches without risking a fine, its wealth ofcraft breweries, cocktail lounges and wine barsmake up for this archaic licensing approach.

Gastown, a cool, cobbled portside districtwhere downtown meets the eastside of thecity, is your best bet for interesting imbibing,housing venues keen to showcase Vancouver’smany locapours. The Alibi Room has one ofthe city’s widest selections of locally brewedbeer, while close by at the cosy, Europeanstyled Six Acres (housed in Vancouver’soldest brick building) rustic small plates aretaken with glasses of carefully chosen winesfrom the nearby Okanagan Valley, or ‘Napa ofthe north’, as it’s also known. We loved thesubtly salmon-pink-hued Nichol Pinot Gris2012 with its refreshing aromas of ripe peach,apricot and gooseberry. New world, steepedin local flavour and good to look at—a lot likeVancouver itself.

Little Black Book

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Follow Rosie’s updates on Twitter@rosiefoodie and her blog Rosie’s debut cookbook, Fresh: 100Delicious Recipes From Market to Table, willbe published by Hardie Grant in spring 2015.

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