Hawkesworth, Vancouver

December 8, 2012

We were here once before about a year ago, and this outfit also catered a Confrerie summer lunch over two years ago. I remember the food at the lunch being varied, creative, and delicious. The dinner last year seemed not up to expectation, but expectation was high. The point of departure here is that this place, with the disappearance of Lumiere and (for us) some deterioration in the long-standing classy perfection of Bishop’s, is now considered the high-end destination in the city.

Too bad. Because although the service is good, the fun ends there. The room has no character and neither does the food.

Walking in, you could be in any pretentious restaurant in any big city, especially in Asia. Nothing could be more neutral than the off-white-on-off-white color scheme.  Bamboo etched in the walls and the glass chandelier evoke expensive ads I’ve seen for Mandarin Hotels. No wood, no stone… the only thing West Coast about the place is the deafening competing noise from the room next door where some law firm is having its Christmas bash.

Even though you can’t hear what they’re saying, all the servers are deferential, the waiter is personal and genuine, the sommelier obsequious but conversational (if not overwhelmingly knowledgeable) about the 1996 Burgundy we brought for our anniversary dinner. He either forgot, or elected (possibly because we invited him to taste the wine) to forgo the corkage charge. So the price of dinner was a welcome downscale $170. Nobody was frankly rude or patronizing, and apart from being hurried a little we felt well-treated.

The menu just isn’t creative. Fish, poultry and meat are represented by two or three choices each, and nothing leaps out. I have to confess I literally didn’t see the tasting menu because the lighting is such that reading the thing required me to tilt the menu toward a candle like a legally blind person. Checking the tasting menu out online, it doesn’t look much different from what’s offered a la carte.

Our starters were pork belly and sweetbread, which in the abstract made us salivate. But the pork belly was dry, suggesting the choice of cut was (either just negligently or for some hopelessly misguided health reason) too lean. It benefited from a sour Japanese mustard sauce but that didn’t rescue consistency or flavour. The sweetbread (“bacon cured”) was just tasteless. It was piled in the manner I thought had gone out of style about 10 years ago with beef shredded into tiny julienne and then fried “crispy” which converted it to annoying spicules that got stuck in my teeth and tasted like shredded fiberglass with salt on it.

Mains were a glazed lamb shoulder “confit” and roasted mushroom agnolotti. The lamb nothing but slow cooked lamb meat, the agnolotti more tasty but again somehow two-dimensional with just consistency and flavor of ordinary pasta and discernible but generic mushroom.

They charge for bread, warn you that you have to be out of there in two hours, and bring the first course before you finish your cocktail. We won’t be going back, and quite honestly are embarrassed that our gorgeous and beloved hometown, former domain of Ernst Dobeli, Umberto, Feeny, John Bishop, even Sam Lalji now can’t come up with anything better than this hollow international-catering charade as its culinary flagship.   Food 6.2/service 8.1/ambience 4.2/overall value 3.0.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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