The reviews have been only so-so for this place, but the decor alone is worth visiting for. They are the newer dining option attached to the “Exchange Hotel”, in downtown Vancouver. This space was design specifically for their Mediterranean restaurant.

You are in awe walking in and climbing their spiralling staircase, up to the main dining area. They do have a secondary bar/lounge space downstairs, but the second floor with vaulted ceiling is the place to be.

I had arrived early and my girl friend was running late, so I was more than happy to spend the additional time waiting for her, by their bar. A handsome arch framed their tiered assortment, well stocked and well presented before a back splash of half circles, layered like scales. This spoke well to their aquatic theme. A chandelier of plastic fish floated over a table, large paintings of wild waves in varying degrees of blue drew your eyes to the wall, and a television screen broadcasting picturesque scenes of the Mediterranean furthered the mood. Turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, and not a cloud in the sky. The music, upbeat and lively, like at a tropical resort night club. All this made them a great place for a drink, or to begin a bar crawl at.

On the way to the single stalled washrooms, be sure to take in their raw bar. Back lit mirrors hang over a trough of ice. In it whole fish peak through, speaking to the freshness of their seafood assortment. We were sure to sample from this with their “chill platter”, but more on that below.

By the hotel entrance to the restaurant is a living wall, greens crawling around the name of the restaurant in white LED. Under it a Möet branded tub and life persevere, that I had to take advantage of as a photo op.

Back at the bar, I order my first cocktail of the night. The name spoke well to the drink: “holiday”. Made with summer fruits and bright flavours, this play on the margarita featured fresh watermelon purée, cazadores reposado, martini bitters, ginger, and fresh lime. It was finished with a coconut sugar, and a maldon rim.

My next cocktail was at our reserved table, the “Fig” was a strong drink, that delivered on its name. A smokey sipper with fig at its core, and an extra bite as garnish. Dewar’s white label scotch, fig syrup, angostura bitters, citrus oil, and fig garnish.

The cocktail after that was “Tart”. And unlike the “Fig”, this was a name that did not perfectly describe what you were getting in a drink. Like its colour, it tasted like lavender and flowers. Bombay sapphire, cassis, kefir, fresh lemon and lime, honey, egg whites, and black toasted sesame.

We then decided to try a Greek wine, for drinks 4 and 5. We reasoned out that it would be more economical to get a bottle to share, as opposed to ordering it by the glass. This was “Monograph” from Peloponnese, Greece; it is an Assyrtiko. This was what was suggested when we asked for something similar to pinot gris.

And although it is ill advised, we ordered a “Chill Platter” to accompany all our drinks. Normally you’d want some carbs or something more solid to balance yourself with. But my girl friend and I have an on going thing where we aim to try all the seafood towers in the city. This one comes with prawns, oysters, ceviche sashimi, pickled octopus, tartare, and accoutrements for $105. For those who need even more, you can add on a pound of crab for $45.

The prawns were large and juicy, but plain. They needed a dip, and we found it in the sauces for the oysters, on the top tier.

These were Kushi and Royal miyagi oysters. And normally I can barley tell the difference between types of oysters. But the Royal miyagi oysters were deliciously sweet, the sweetest I have ever had. I chased it with a very clean and crisp tasting kushi oyster.

The ceviche sashimi was very dill forward, it over powered the herbed paprika, salmon and celery for crunch. This is the type of seasoning I would expect in a potato salad.

I liked the tanginess of the pickled octopus, I just wish it wasn’t served cold. Its already chewy texture would be butterier if warmer.

The tartare was bland by comparison, especially when eating it with the cucumber. The caper gave it some salt, but it felt lost amongst the others.

The crab was very water logged, shredded and soaking in olive oil with tomato and parsley. It was also too acidic and vinegary for me to enjoy the natural sweetness of the crab.

The broad beans were a nice little palette cleanser. Served chill with feta for a sandy texture. It was best enjoyed with the hard pita points, made harder with its time in the ice.

Overall, there was quite a bit of food on these two tiers. Plenty to keep you causally nibbling for an hour plus. And when anything got too dull, the sauces and minuet served with the oysters, as mentioned earlier, was enough to do the trick.

Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this to someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
Given how much we spent on a seafood tower, I felt it should have lived up to the cost. And for that I wouldn’t necessarily clamour to visit again, but can safely recommend them for an amazing hotel bar to see and be seen at. Don’t deny your cravings.

HYDRA
475 Howe St, Vancouver, BC V6B 2B3
(604) 416-0880
hydracafe.com