Artist's rendering of English Bay Cactus Club, supplied

As a long time West Ender, I like to think I have a vested interest in what happens at English Bay. For me, it represents the very heart of the city. In a way, it’s the ‘essence’ in Vancouver’s quintessence.

To put it mildly, there was quite the kerfuffle when Cactus Club landed the Park Board deal to build a new resto on the site of the old concession. No surprise there. English Bay is Vancouver’s scenic gateway, so a lot of people were (and still are) concerned.

Cactus Club salmon and scallop ceviche, Tim Pawsey photo

We had a tour of the new building (that’s close to completion) the other day.

While there’s no denying the new structure is larger than its predecessor, it’s still relatively low profile, as Cactus Club has gone to considerable lengths to minimise the impact—such as tunneling right under Beach Avenue to accommodate the (pretty compact) kitchen. That in itself is quite some feat.

Right now the city is building a drop-off bay, so there won’t be any traffic issues to speak of. Part of its sustainable mandate, Cactus Club (which is a member of Green Table—a Where Vancouver – Green Table Award winner and follows one of the country’s more aggressive sustainable mantras), actively encouraging its English Bay customers to take transit or walk. And, for those who bike, there are bike racks—in addition to secure bike racks for employees, along with private shower and change area. Plus, there’ll be a plug-in for hybrid and alternative energy vehicles.

Cactus Club's Rob Feenie, Tim Pawsey photo

The building is fully LEED certified, from the tips of its green roof to the rainwater collection system on the lower level that will irrigate it. And no. There’ll be no consumable plants of any kind grown up top, although a small herb garden is being planted to one side of the deck.

Our first tastes of CC’s executive chef (aka ‘food concept architect’) Rob Feenie’s dishes planned for the English Bay menu have us convinced that Feenie and CEO Richard Jaffray absolutely comprehend the significance of this particular Cactus Club. CC manager-sommelier Sebastien Le Goff will be bringing in some pretty interesting wines, and there should also be some decent local small breweries on tap, with possibly a couple of taps in rotation, to make it absolutely appealing.

Cactus Club (prototype) mini-tuna burger, Tim Pawsey photo

From the preview of possible plates tasted, we’re pretty sure that Feenie’s Ocean Wise Albacore tuna sandwich could become a hallmark dish, as should the West Coast salad of spot prawns and tuna tataki with mango and artisan greens. The vibrant cilantro, mint and chili tweaked scallop and salmon ceviche is a keeper too, while the rich and velvet textured butternut squash soup has us recalling a long-ago English Bay Café* ad slogan: “Waiter, there’s a sunset in my soup!”

Butternut squash soup, Tim Pawsey photo

There’s no question that, despite the remarkably compact and well planned structure, the view—at least directly south from Denman Street—is now more Cactus Club than English Bay. I’m not going to weigh in further on that discussion, except to say that I think this Cactus Club will be a huge success, in that it will bring some seriously good tastes with a regional focus right to the beach. I wonder, though, if CC may have missed out on a great public art opportunity by not using LED exterior panels whose colours could change to blend in with the surroundings by day, and present a subtle light show at night.

Who knows? Maybe it might still happen …

(Updated to reflect opening delay. Now expected by mid-March)

*The English Bay Café is now the Boathouse.

Cactus Club English Bay interior near completion, Tim Pawsey photo