What’s the first thing you do (besides laundry) when you get back home after 24-hours of flying? Go out to dinner, of course!
We had just a one night “stopover” in Vancouver between Mendoza and the Okanagan—the perfect opportunity for a quick look at newly opened Espana (1191 Denman St., 604-558-4040).
Espana is right in my hood. And that makes it all the more appealing. Add to that the one-two punch of Neil Taylor (ex-Cibo) and Ed Perrow (also ex-Cibo, and La Brasserie) and I was pretty sure that even a brief, if somewhat jet-lagged visit would still add up to treat, perhaps even more so. In fact, it was just what the doctor ordered.
It’s gratifying to see an arrival of such calibre on this stretch of Denman, which, aside from such as stalwarts as Raincity Grill (and the sleek new Cactus Club) has seen a gradual decline in worthwhile dining in recent years, given the onslaught of fast food options that cater mainly to the beach crowd.
Last time we were in this room it was under another name. And decidedly underwhelming, to put it politely. These guys have turned things around on a dime.
The new owners have spared no elbow grease whipping it into shape by themselves. The feel is airy and spacious, thanks to a cream colour scheme that sets off the beautifully crafted Ironwood bar (made by a friend on Pender Island), which runs the length of the room. Another nice touch is the large mural, drawn entirely in pencil, by another friend, Jay Senetchko, including, among others, “Manuel” of Fawlty Towers fame.
“Well, you couldn’t do a mural for a Spanish restaurant run by two guys from London and not have Manuel,” the artist told Perrow.
No open plan here, the kitchen and stores are concealed up a few stairs at the back of the narrow space.
The idea to do a Spanish room has been a dream for some five years now, says Perrow. But things really only came together when he went to work at Cibo and shared his business plan with Taylor.
Unlike in London, says Perrow, there’s been a shortage of good Spanish dining in Vancouver for some time now. He’s also a big fan of Spanish wines, which he feels (and we agree) are under-appreciated. Needless to say, chef Taylor shares his enthusiasm on both counts.
With Taylor in the kitchen (it pays to remember that Cibo was named En Route Magazine’s best new restaurant in Canada 2009) and the highly professional and always affable Perrow out front) this newest West Ender promises to be a potent force.
The flavours are bold, the menu nicely balanced with plenty of authentic as well as inventive tastes; and the wines are intelligently chosen and also well priced.
Even though you could label this a tapas bar–at least in the sense to which any restaurant that operates under our suffocating licensing laws can aspire—Perrow says the plan is to offer larger plates as time goes on, starting shortly with paella…
First tastes that impressed: a warm wilted spinach Catalan salad with pine nuts and raisins (that proved a good match for our glass of affordable Armonia Verdejo); vibrant and zesty garlic toned, brightly flavoured Andalusian gazpacho; perfectly textured, stove top finished onion and potato tortilla; and wonderfully rich sautéed duck livers, with hearty, contrasting rustic chorizo with quail egg on a bed of lentils—seductively matched with a glass of Lustau Don Nuno Olorosso (sherry).
Elsewhere you can find crispy squid with mint yogurt, grilled scallop with romesco, spiced lamb with baba ghanoush and an array of charcuterie and cheese offerings, with most plates priced on the easy side of $10.
Our advice? Beat the lineups and get in soon. And we’ll likely see you there, as we can’t wait to go back to try more—and further research the sherry list.