I knew when I walked into The Fat Badger (1616 Alberni St., Vancouver) for the first time that it would stir my emotions. After all, there are few buildings in Vancouver with which I have a stronger connection than this West End house on Alberni Street, in which Jean-Luc Bertrand established Le Gavroche, in 1978.
I was shocked when Jean-Luc Bertrand died in 1997 but forever grateful that his long-time business partner (and now also my good friend) Manuel Ferreira took over the reigns so ably. Manuel (who sold the restaurant in 2013) has since gone on to shape the winning ways of Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek.
When I sat at the Fat Badger’s bustling bar last week I realised that I was only a couple of feet away from the (pre-bar) site of the table that we used to sit at over a glass of wine, to chat about the latest inside news in the restaurant business.
With the room and kitchen in extremely capable hands, it was all surprisingly gratifying.
Here’s what I wrote in the Courier …
FAT BADGER RAISES THE BAR ON BRITISH STYLE PUBS
Badger of honour
In a city where restaurants can come and go in the blink of an eye, you’d think the recent demise of Le Gavroche would have garnered a little more attention. However, the 1978 room established by the late Jean-Luc Bertrand in one of downtown’s few remaining 19th century homes (successfully nurtured until a couple of years ago by his business partner Manuel Ferreira) quietly closed its doors early this year.
The good news? In its place we have the Fat Badger (1616 Alberni St.)
Even though we’ll never know what Jean-Luc would have made of a “gastro-pub” supplanting his long running “Le Gav,” I suspect he might have appreciated the subtle irony. And if he’d been with me when I dropped by the other night, maybe he would have been tickled pink at the bustling, pubby feel. And even more impressed by the food on offer.
The shift from formal French to informal British is emblematic of what’s been happening in the U.K. There was a time not that long ago when the classic British “local” was the last place you’d go in search of a decent bite. All that changed with a shift in drinking habits and greater emphasis on food — brought home in great part by the fact that more Brits were travelling and appreciating good food elsewhere. In less than a generation “English Cuisine,” once an anathema, has gained new-found respectability.
Rather than emulate “classic” pub fare, Fat Badger chef and co-owner Neil Taylor borrows some of those originals (such as chicken and mushroom pie, Scotch eggs, and fish and chips) but then weaves in a whole lot of delicious, locally inspired plates.
A few faves: Whiskey-cured spring salmon with pea shoots, dill, mustard and crème fraîche, crispy pork belly with black pudding, colcannon and a trio of Yorkshire puddings with roast beef, gravy and horseradish. I’ll be back for another taste of the superbly textured and flavoured rabbit, duck and squab terrine, and a pint of Fuller’s IPA.
Speaking of beer, it has opted to be faithfully British, with a respectable lineup on tap that encompasses the best of Fuller’s, Guinness, Kilkenny, Smithwick’s and more, along with a decent range of bottles and cans such as McEwan’s, Newcastle Brown and Old Speckled Hen, with fair pre-tax pricing by the pint or half-pint.
“Ultimately, it’s about people getting together for good food and drink,” says co-owner Ed Perrow. “We’re aiming for a British style pub, with no TVs, no neon signs, a good draft beer selection, some nice wines and great food, using all local ingredients.”
I’d say they’ve nailed it.