I thought I would fall into a food coma, and if my mousse had been served with antlers it would surely have been the death of me. Vancouver is a foodie's paradise and the fun-loving, warm and approachable people translate into the city's vast selection of cuisine.
Home to some of the best seafood in the world (its high population of Asian immigrants assures the highest-quality sushi in the country), Vancouver also boasts a plethora of artisan products such as cured meats, cheeses, chocolate, coffee, caviar . . . the list goes on.
To sample such produce, Granville Island's public market is a foodie's utopia. With more than 50 permanent vendors and 12.2 million visitors a year (Rome's Colosseum gets about 6 million to put it into perspective) it is a delight to all senses. Our Edible Canada culinary tour guide and cook, Steve Duke, was a wealth of information from the Amando's Finest Quality Meats owner who started as a skin specialist to go on to be one of Vancouver's most celebrated butchers, to the Stock Market whose stocks are used by chefs and restaurants throughout the city.
"It's the only place I shop," says Duke, who runs No Fixed Address, an underground dining biz where groups of 10 head to a secret location where they are dished up a surprise six-course degustation - just one of many emerging food trends in the city. One of the Island's specialties is candied salmon, a quintessential British Columbian product which basically involves smoking the salmon then basting it with maple syrup. Delicious.
Rooftop gardens are big in this uber-sustainable city and not only do many hotels grow their own heirloom fruit and veg, but bee- keeps are also popular. The Fairmount Waterfront Hotel is one such five-star resort where up to 500,000 bees in five hives produce up to 1540kg of honey a year. To showcase its sweet nectar the hotel serves daily Hive Tea. Executive sous chef and head beekeeper Mark Wadsworth (it runs in the family from his grandfather to his father) has designed a delightful two-course menu of cheese followed by sweet treats such as thyme lemon lollipops, lavender honey-glazed almond cake, and bannock with honey butter.
While Gastown is the city's dining hub, an evening is not complete without a quick pre- dinner tipple at The Market in the Shangri La Hotel for a well-built cocktail. Try the Vancouver: Bombay gin, Punt e Mes, Benedictine, bitter truth orange bitters and orange peel, and wash it down with the bar's complimentary rosemary popcorn (genius) and rice cracker-crusted tuna, served with a citrus-based sriracha (Vietnamese hot sauce). Showstopper.
English Bay is a breathtaking beach from which to watch the sunset. Majestic mountains turn pale blue as the sky fades from yellow to pink. Watching such a sight can build up an appetite and new up-and-coming chef Nick Hipperson at Raincity Grill is serving up intelligent, wholesome and 100 per cent local food and wine. Pioneering the concept of the 100-Mile Menu, the restaurant showcases the best of British Columbia. Think halibut on a bed of wilted greens, black garlic emulsion and a chimmichurri sauce and fresh beet salad with goat's cheese cannelloni and crushed hazelnuts. The winning dish; bacon-wrapped rabbit stuffed with chanterelle mushrooms and braised leek in a hunter's sauce. It was bursting with flavour and from the oohs and aahs from the adjacent table, I was not the only one enjoying the fare.
"Using just BC produce is limiting but challenging," Hipperson says. "It's not only about showcasing BC's produce, it's about educating customers and getting them to into the habit of embracing local produce rather than imported." Much of Hipperson's influence stems from his grandmother. Both the rabbit and chocolate mousse dishes are her recipes, with his own twist. "We always ate whatever came from her garden," he says. "We have some of the best produce in the world, it's crazy not to use it."
Since I'd given the food scene a significant nudge it was time for another cocktail. Keefer Bar in Chinatown is an ultra-hip drinking hole where Chinese herbal paraphernalia lines the walls and you order from a list of Remedies and Cures. I knew I was in the right place when I read: "Caution: Almost all Keefer Bar cocktails are doubles . . . some are triples." Some of its "prescriptions" include Opium Sour (Makers Mark, grapefruit, tamarind, lemon, poppyseed tincture); or the Dragonfly (Dragonfruit gin, sake, lemon, ginger syrup, magnolia bark tincture). Need I go on?
We live in such a bubble in WA, believing we have the best of the best and it is not until we truly step out of it that it bursts and reality sets in. While the Vancouverites are quite modest about their cuisine, it is anything but. Edgy, forward thinking, eclectic. We are similar in so many ways, especially with our Asian influences, but what they have done with those influences sets them apart.
- Hermione Stott was a guest of The Canadian Tourism Commission, Tourism British Columbia and Travel Alberta.