At this point, with the more lax restaurant restrictions, both @shermansfoodadventures and I have yet to dine out at a nicer establishment. Therefore we were especially excited to visit the well received restaurant, “Barbara” on this night. We use the occasion to dress up, me with heels that I haven’t worn in over a year, and Sherman with slick backed gel hair, which he hasn’t coiffed in over 2 years. That is why it is such as shame that our big night out was tainted by a less than inviting experience. More on that later.
The restaurant is fairly small, equipped with 10 seats around the bar where the chef and bartender completed their craft before your eyes. Sitting at the bar allowed the chef to time the course to your pace. This setting is best suited to groups of two, as it allows the one chef and one bartender/manager to best serve their up to 10 guests at a time. Therefore reservations are required, and they take your credit card information, as cancellations come with a $50 charge.
And on the same token, the menu is fairly limited. There is no a la carte, your meal is set with 3 courses, and the promise of “extras to compliment your meal”, which also disappointed. (More on that later too.) You can choose between 3 options course by course. It is basically either a seafood, meat, or vegetables option. Between us, Sherman and I would try all the seafood and meat options.
We started with cocktails because the occasion called for it. The Violette Furaito was a mix of Bombay Sapphire gin, sake, creme de violette, lychee, green strawberry bitters, and lemon. What I imagined would be similar to a spring time lemonade was medicinal, but with a fruity finish. It gave me memories of cough syrup.
The Barb’s Shoemaker was a classic strong drink that looked like it too. Dewars blended scotch, cynar, noilly prat rouge, orange bitters, and soda.
This was enough to tide us over to our first course. However, when it came to our favourite part (capturing beautiful food in photos), we were halted. Knowing why we came all the way from North Burnaby to Chinatown, we were both prepared to wait our turns and help one another take the best photos they could of the food we would eat and review. However our chef told us only one or two photos allowed, but no photo shoots. I have never been limited by the number of photos I was allowed to take with my own camera, in my own seat, of food I was to pay in full for. This stance certainly dampen our mood before we even carved into our meal. To the point I had to push the food away, as I was not ready emotionally to eat. They claimed the reason was that the space was small, understandable. However, at that time we were only one of two couples seated. And the other two were on the opposite side of the bar and well out of ear shot, let alone camera background. (See photo below). Not to mention both Sherman and I pride ourselves on being quick and discrete, as bloggers we would like to eat our food warm, to be best able to review it.
Other than that, the chef didn’t not engage in us; where in this open floor plan we were able to make note of him connecting with his other guests. A personal discussion with each “table”, describing to them what he had just presented. Being the only ones to not get the intimate attention described above, we couldn’t help but ponder why.
So here we are foodies and food bloggers in a world where everyone is always taking photos and capturing moments, and the right photo can bring a restaurant some much needed press during a pandemic, we were told to stop and not use flash. (The later makes sense in every setting).
Our first seafood course was the Albacore with ceviche, watermelon, cucumber, and purple shiso. Luckily this was meant to be eaten cold, much like the tartare below, therefore our loss of appetite didn’t further spoil the $65 meal ahead. I liked their take on ceviche, something given new life with the likes of compressed watermelon. It was a flavour and texture that was hard to pinpoint, but lent itself well to the other ingredients. Strong individual flavours of herb and citrus paired well and did well to highlight the fresh fish, whilst jumping start your appetite.
The Beef Tartare was Blue Goose beef, espellette, cassis, pickled radish, crispy shallots, and spelt rye crisps. Another standard offering that stayed more true to the typical expectations, but with meatier chucks of raw beef. As for flavour, it was on the milder side, but with plenty of butter and it showed.
Next came the only “extra”. It had three elements to it, but you would expect a little amuse bouche to start and a small bite to tide you over between courses or cleanse the palette.
A bowl of Crispy potatoes and white bean tahini with smoked paprika and olive oil each, and a side of pickles to share. It was good, but didn’t land with the same sophistication as the dishes before and the others to come. Not to mention the items before were light, this was a fried and starchy dish. At least the potatoes were light: crispy on the outside and chewy at its centre. The dip gave it a nice garlicky flavour, and the pickles were the palette refresher I was calling for above.
For our second course we had scallops and chicken liver mousse. The scallops were accompanied by crispy pork belly, shisito peppers, and a lemon espelette honey. The scallops were well done, tender and soft. I wish the green shisito peppers were crispier though, to better contrast the seafood. It ate sweetened thanks to the sauce with the honey lending a marmalade-like quality to the mix. I was not absolutely sold on this, but at least the saltiness of the pork belly chunks helped to cut into things.
I liked the first bite of the Chicken Liver Mousse, but was quickly thankful to be sharing the full serving. The one half was already too much, a little oily, thick and creamy. It was rich with maple caramelized shallots, grapes, and honeyed walnuts over a toasted sourdough slice. The sweetness of the fruit did well to add some freshness and brightness, yet I still wanted half of the half and there to be a better ratio of meat spread to cracker.
For our last seafood course it was an Arctic Char served with hummus, a lemon brown butter, pine nuts, mint, dill, and a pomegranate vin. The hummus was a nice addition, adding a the flavour and spice. I would not think to pair fish with humus but it was good, thanks to how perfectly the fish was prepared. And then well concluded by dill and mint, a combo you didn’t know would work, but does. This stray from norm flavour pairing certainly left me wanting more.
Though overall, I preferred the Duck with roasted peaches, peach purée, and Tokyo turnips. At this point I know our chef is capable of bringing savoury and salty with sweet and fruity well; and this was a fine example of that. It is just a shame that it is not a full plate to be considered a full entree. Every element was well thought out, I would normally skip the leafy greens on the duck but given all the dishes before I knew to not avoid it. This is the type of meal you finish everything and are left wondering where is dessert.
There is only the seasonal granita available for dessert, with coffee and cream liquors available as well. At $7 for what is essentially saved ice, we passed. This would have been nice as one of the “extras”. A finesse to end the meal on.
At the very end of the meal the chef made his way to us to clear our plates, while asking if we were happy. Both Sherman and I are very honest, so sensing our hesitation as we considered what to say, he was quick to change his words to “satisfied”. To which we were able to reply, “yes”. The food was decent nothing new, but we were happy to have had it. The whole experience was just tainted by our photography reprimand. One of the main reasons why we choose the restaurant in the first place is because we wanted nice plates to capture. We didn’t get the experience we wanted and I don’t think the Chef did any more to give us a different one to make up for that. Therefore for those like us, who eat with our eyes and our stomachs this one might be worth skipping out on.
305 E Pender St, Vancouver, BC V6A 0J3