Smitty’s, Gibsons.

May 9, 2013 (NOTE: this place has changed. See October 2015, below).

A dockside eatery named after the marine repair shop that used to occupy the premises sounds like it could be the soul of authenticity. But this place is the soul of glitz. We’ve been here five times or so over the past several years, always hoping that it will find its identity as a little gem of a seafood restaurant here in our retirement community of the BC Sunshine Coast. Each time, it’s felt like a work-in-progress: everybody trying hard to come up with good food and service, always falling short, but doing their best and promising better. This time, nobody was even bothering to pretend.

I don’t know the owners, but I have the impression that they are beautiful people. I’ve got nothing against beautiful people, but beauty is as beauty does. Somehow they managed to get the place on the Food Channel recently, and so imagining a renaissance like maybe a new chef or something, we headed down there for dinner. Down, because you have to descend 40 or 50 stairs to the Gibson’s dock, the location of the old repair shop and now the restaurant, and of course climb back up again afterwards.

So sad. If it’s food, service, wine list, and a lovely experience you’re after, you might as well try to find them where they fix outboard motors. The restaurant is packed with (may God forgive me) noisy affected people, and although the menu and wine list have two or three good things on them, none of them is available, unfortunately, your server informs you with a pointedly less-than-genuine apology.

Having no reservation on a Thursday night, we were sat at the bar where we had a dozen little oysters which were the high point, served with real shredded horseradish and a variety of sauces that included mignonette. Tasty… Then came “halibut fritters”, which was just bad-quality fish and chips, the fries soft and near-room-temperature, the fish…well… overcooked deep-fried white fish in batter. There was a seafood pasta that tasted exactly like raw shredded garlic in water which had been soaked in some fish. No substance. Just dreadful really.

There were a Sancerre and a Chablis on the wine list, $75-$80, neither of them available. The Italian pinot grigio we opted for was an alcoholic flavoured water.

The server lady was in a hurry, acting like she was in a cinderella New York big-time success story bistro that can’t be bothered with people who aren’t on the hot list and haven’t recently won an academy award. This in a place that pretends to be real, live, local fishy, and down-home but after five or six years in business can’t produce a meal within shouting distance of institutional quality. Steer clear, unless you want to see and be seen by the type of people who like their authenticity sprayed on like gold paint. 2/10.

October 2015.

Huge change! 

I’m not sure why we went back here, we were so unhappy with it before, but it was lunch on a sunny late-October day: everything is different.

Instead of a Big City Princess slumming in the boondocks the atmosphere comes straight on no-BS hardass, working-class, down-at-the-dock. And the food is much much better. There is absolutely no pretense. The guy behind the bar (we discover in conversation) is the owner, whose forearms are tattooed. He shows me how to shuck oysters, and discusses the food candidly. The oysters are delicious with multiple sauces, but we also couldn’t resist trying the fish and chips which had been so horrible last time. These are perfectly delightful, crispy and flavorful fries with hot crunchy morsels of quick deep-fried halibut. Delicious dipped in their tartar sauce.

Clientele is local contractors, a couple of obviously local middle-aged couples and a boat full of 30-year-old guys from the UK. The music is black blues, moderately loud. People are sitting on the outside deck, sunshine is streaming through the windows, and a serious let’s-get-the-goods-on-the-table commitment reigns.

Since last visit, what was a narcissistic false-upscale silliness serving dreadful slop has become a real simple local fish house with good service, real atmosphere, and respectable straightforward food.

Amazing! Food 7.6, service 8.0, ambience 8.4, value 7.8. As they say at Molly’s Reach up the stairs, “We’ll be back!”

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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