This is my last post about Vancouver and then it’s back to food in London! As Father’s Day is coming up, I thought I’d take my father and brother out for dinner in Vancouver as I won’t see my father on the actual day itself. It was a toss-up between West (considered to be the best restaurant in Vancouver) and Market by Jean-Georges (a newcomer to the Vancouver restaurant scene but run by Jean-Georges Vongerichten) but in the end, Market won out, mainly because my wallet had been hit so badly the previous week.

Market bills itself as a “destination” restaurant – I found this very cheesy but went along with it anyway – why not? It’s located in the new Shangri-La hotel in Vancouver and is the first Vancouver restaurant of Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The restaurant is separated into four different areas: the terrace, the cafe, the bar and the formal dining room. When I booked, I was only given the option of the cafe and dining room – I suppose the terrace was already fully booked. Anyway, I chose the dining room.

We arrived about 20 minutes early to our reservation that night. Though the dining room was half empty, we were told our table was not ready and would we like to sit at the bar? Sure, we would!

[Break for humorous story. Two very skimpily dressed girls entered the restaurant just before us – I mean, looking like they just threw shirts over their bikinis and walked in. I entered the waiting area just in time to see an older couple ask the hostess what the dress code was for the restaurant. The hostess reassured them that what they were wearing was very suitable for the restaurant’s business-casual code, which they were. The lady replied, “Oh, I was asking because…” and then waved her hand not-very-subtly towards the two young ladies. I almost burst out laughing. End humorous story break.]

At the bar we ordered a few drinks off the bar menu – a cherry yuzu soda for me, a Thai Rye for my brother, and a glass of a red wine that I’ve forgetten for my father. Along with the drinks, the barman brought over small bowls of rosemary popcorn and glazed nuts. These were topped up when we’d munched our way through them (how did that happen?!). My soda was alright.

Cherry Yuzu Soda and a Thai Rye

Rosemary Popcorn and Glazed Nuts

When our table was ready (actually, it was ready when we arrived – I guess they were hoping not to overwhelm the kitchen with orders), we were brought to it along with our drinks and snacks. After being seated, we waited a good 5 minutes before menus were brought to us – very odd for a restaurant appearing to aim high. Luckily, it didn’t take too long for us to decide what we wished to eat.

My father started his meal with three Oysters on the half shell, Mignonette ($3 each). When he sees oysters on the menu, he’s sure to order them. The Mignonette turned out to be a shallot vinaigrette; a cocktail sauce was also served on the side. Three different oyster varieties were brought to him and he enjoyed each and every one.

Oysters

For their appetisers, my brother and father both had the Dungeness crab cake, ginger-lime jus, marinated cucumber ($14). A large crab cake chock full of crab meat was served with slices of mango and the cucumber. The bite I had was quite good and they both cleaned their plates.

Dungeness Crab Cake

I started my meal with the Foie gras brulee, Meyer lemon-pineapple jam, rose seasoning ($16). A disc of foie gras pate sat on a circle of toasted brioche and its top was sprinkled with sugar and caramelised. Its rich creaminess paired well with the sweet-tartness of the jam. The rose seasoning was dusted onto the plate but I wasn’t sure what it added to the dish.

Foie Gras Brulee

My main course was the Slowly cooked Arctic char, mashed potatoes, sugar snap peas, truffle vinaigrette ($23). My large fillet of tender char was cooked to medium (the waitress explained when I ordered that this was how the chef rolled) and sat on top of an equally generous serving of smooth mashed potatoes. The truffle vinaigrette was drizzled around the mound in the middle and while it was too strong by itself, it paired nicely with the char and potatoes.

Slowly Cooked Arctic Char

My brother, who loves fish, went with the Pacific halibut, snow peas, almond broth, chili oil ($25). A large bowlful of fish in a creamy white broth was brought to him. I couldn’t taste the chili oil but I only had a small bite. My brother did enjoy it and would have drunk the broth too if it hadn’t been so rich.

Pacific Halibut

My father, who loves beef, chose the Soy glazed short ribs, apple-jalapeno puree, rosemary crumbs ($22) for his main course. He liked it though the bite I had was a little chewier than I expected for something that flaked so easily after its long slow cooking.

Soy Glazed Short Ribs

In case there weren’t enough vegetables, my brother also ordered the Grilled asparagus, lemon juice, olive oil ($7) on the side. I loved the char on these stalks but I found the asparagus itself a bit flavourless – possibly due to being picked a long time ago? I am spoiled by the lovely asparagus from my farmers’ market!

Grilled Asparagus

My father dislikes dessert and anything else sweet and so skipped dessert. My brother who similarly dislikes sweet things surprised us by ordering the Warm chocolate cake, Tahitian vanilla ice cream ($8). I can’t remember much other than it was chocolatey.

Warm Chocolate Cake and Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream

I chose the Butter cookie, coconut cream, raspberries ($8) as so many seemed to be passing me throughout dinner – it was very popular! However, while everything was just about perfect (perfect crumbly/crisp butter cookie, perfect frosting-like coconut cream, perfectly ripe raspberries, lovely raspberry coulis in the centre), there was nothing novel about this dessert. It’s just a cookie, with fruit and some cream.

Butter Cookie, Coconut Cream, Raspberries

There was nothing really wrong with any of our food but I’ve never been so underwhelmed by someone of whom I had great expectations. I’m not thick – I don’t expect Vongerichten to actually be cooking in the kitchen – but I do expect that there’s something in the makeup of the dishes that makes me sit up and really pay attention. I recently happened upon a review of Jean-Georges (the restaurant in New York) at Dos Hermanos and was very surprised to see the same dishes (the foie gras and the halibut) at that three-star (Michelin) establishment. I’ve had much better and more interesting food at La Trompette and even Wild Honey in London (both one star) and overall better service too.

Market By Jean-Georges
(In the Shangri-La)
1128 West Georgia St
Vancouver, BC
V6E 0A8
Canada

Market By Jean-Georges on Urbanspoon

I’ve just spent a long weekend in Helsinki with Blai; he was there for a course and I flew in to join him on Friday night. We had a lovely relaxing time but goodness, if one thing’s for sure, it’s that Helsinki is one expensive city. An average restaurant sells main courses for around 20€ and to eat anywhere cheaper, you’d be eating ethnic food. And I didn’t go all the way to Helsinki to eat Chinese food (though there was a cheap pizza or two – there are so many pizza places in Helsinki!)! Anyway, it was a fun weekend away, with much of our time spent at a few of Helsinki’s many cafes.

My penchant for street food led us to the Kauppatori (the market square by the harbour) on Saturday morning where I’d heard that there would be many stalls selling little bites. We saw many produce vendors selling many root vegetables, beans, peas in their pods, apricots, cherries, black and redcurrants and many many berries. June to August is the season for berries and here there were all kinds: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and the celebrated cloudberry. We purchased a litre of peas and proceeded to shell them and eat them raw, Finnish style, while we wandered the stalls.

Redcurrants and Blackcurrants

Helsinki is expensive and so we skipped most of the stalls selling traditional Scandinavian goods. I don’t really need a plain 5€ wooden butter “knife” nor do I require a reindeer hide (though it was tempting); I was more interested in the food! There were a few outdoor cafes selling baked goods and coffee and even more featuring huge pans with fresh seafood or reindeer meat.

Seafood

Bizarrely, “paella” featured at almost every stall.

Paella

We also spent some time in the Kauppahalli, the market hall housed in a wooden building, also next to the harbour, and marvelled at the range of sandwiches and seafood salads available inside.

Seafood

Reindeer Kebab Meat Pie

However, the allure of the hot seafood outside caused us to not even consider these. We went back outside and went to the stall that appealed to us most.

We chose a selection of the seafood which confused the man helping us as to how much he should charge us (keep in mind that I did ask whether we could have a bit of this and a bit of that!). Normally, you see, you choose one of the seafood items and it’s paired with vegetables and rice or potatoes for about 9€. As we were not starving, thanks to the lovely breakfast at our hotel, we wanted to sample a few things. In the end, he ended up charging us 10€ for the salmon roll with blue cheese and rose peppercorns (these red peppercorns are very popular in Helsinki), fried calamari rings, and little fried whitebait-like fish. I think we got a real bargain!

Plate of Seafood

Everything was extremely fresh and not at all greasy; the only oil coming out of it was that from the salmon and blue cheese. The salmon was delicious, despite my not being a fan of blue cheese, and the calamari was thick and tender. The small fish were highly poppable and between the two of us, pop we did.

If you’re in Helsinki, I highly recommend a visit there, especially for an affordable lunch. While my guidebook said that the market closes at about 3pm each day and is closed on Sunday, I found that opening times change for the summer (this doesn’t just apply to the market – we found that reception opening times also changed for our hotel). All the stalls were open even on a Sunday until 6pm. It might be worth it to check with the tourist office.

Kauppatori (market square)
at the eastern end of Esplanadi, just by the harbour

Kauppahalli (market hall)
just a little south of the Kauppatori