Tastiness Factor: 9/10
Locavore Approved? YES- The folks at Chambar are huge proponents of sustainability, in all aspects of their business. With regards to their food, they use locally-sourced ingredients and insist on using only Oceanwise seafood. They also care a lot about the environment, and have admirably become Vancouver's only carbon-neutral restaurant.
Chambar has been a beloved restaurant in Vancouver for many years so there were understandably many sad much sadness when when they announced last year that they would be closing their doors. Fortunately, everyone was able to breath a sigh of relief upon learning that they would open their doors a few steps down the road, this time with a patio, a cocktail bar and a sizeable lounge space. In addition, they would extend their hours to include breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Hubby and I had visited the old space on several occasions and had always enjoyed our experiences. We were therefore eager to go and see what this "new and improved" Chambar was all about. With our busy lives and with all of the other new restaurants to try in this city (a good problem to have!), we were a bit late making a reappearance but finally made our way there last weekend, about 7 months after they reopened in August 2014.
Our first impressions were very positive. The new space is undeniably beautiful. At first glance, it appears quite refined with dark wood paneling and leather booths. On further inspection though, there are several funky and playful accents, including some chunky, colourful light fixtures. The room is HUGE, with a second smaller room tacked on the back of the larger main room containing the bar. There is also a large downstairs space. There are a number of seating options, including booth tables at the front, a long high-top table by the bar and booths at the back. All in all, the space is very efficient as it seats an impressive number of guests in a variety of arrangements without making the space feel at all crammed. They obviously need to make good use of the space considering how popular Chamber is. Not surprisingly, it was filled to the brim when we visited on a Saturday night, and it was still packed when we left after 10pm.
The service, just like the space, is very efficient- in a good way. While our server was friendly and approachable, it was clear that she was very experienced and therefore could juggle many tables at once with ease. She knew the menu well and was able to answer all of our questions effortlessly. There were also several other servers that came to our table to refill water and clear plates, as well as do those "extras" like pushing in our chairs and folding our napkins when we left our seats. We even had a manager drop by to see how we were enjoying our appetizers. Furthermore, our cocktails and food arrived in perfectly-timed succession despite the crowd. This place operates like a well-oiled machine.
Chambar has separate menus for breakfast, weekend brunch, lunch and dinner. The menus are changed up at regular intervals to reflect seasonal availability, although daily specials are not offered. Their dinner menu is divided into "amuse gueule" (aka amuse bouche), petits plats (small plates/appetizers), mules frites (yes, it deserves a section of its own!), grosses pieces (mains) and accompagnements (sides). They also offer a nice selection of house-made cocktails, a diverse beer list and an extensive wine list.
Here is what Hubby and I enjoyed on our recent visit:
Moi et Fernet- This was my first foray into the world of fernet and Hubby warned me that it may be too bitter and too floral for my liking but I decided to put my trust in Chambar's new cocktail bar and give it try. Fortunately, this cocktail was very well-balanced, with a perfect mix of bitter from the fernet, sour from the grapefruit and a hint of sweetness.
Ploughman's Old Fashioned- This was Hubby's pick. This was quite different from your regular Old Fashioned as it contained rum and was sweetened with wild honey.
Sweet potato bread- A note to all bread lovers- do not expect a free basket of bread to be brought to your table unless unprompted. If you are craving carbs, you will have to order the "pain du jour" from the "Amuse Gueule" section of the menu and it will run you 8$. Although this is a little steep (in my opinion), you do get a mini loaf of bread that can be easily shared, unless you are Hubby and eat the whole thing to yourself. Although he enjoyed his whole meal, this bread, served with whipped butter and sea salt, was among his favourite eats of the evening.
Le Jardin de Beeterave- I think that by now, I definitely have earned myself the nickname "Queen of the beet salad" since I order it pretty much without exception every time it shows up on a menu. Chamber's version was certainly was unique and whimsical with a savoury sorrel sorbet (be sure to eat it quickly before it melts!) and beautiful colours from the beets and a granola for some crunch. The only element I was not as fond of was the orange blossom yogurt as I thought it clashed with the other flavours and I thought that there was perhaps a little too much going on on the plate. Kudos to them though for putting a thoughtful spin on the run-of-the-mill beet salad.
Thon Tropicale- Hubby had his eye on the pork belly appetizer but when the server recommended the tuna, the raw fish-lover in him could not resist ordering it. This turned out to be a wise decision, as this was a stellar dish in both appearance and taste. The beautifully fresh tuna (Oceanwise, of course!) was front and centre, and was accompanied by a coconut-jalepeno remoulade underneath and a clever puffed rice element on top.
Passe-Pierre et Morue- I was debating between this dish and their vegetarian main but I too opted to go with the server's recommendation and chose the sablefish. This beautifully composed plate had two small piece fish atop an outstanding miso-mustard sauce. On one side, there was a little mound of sea asparagus (usually a garnish) as a side which I loved. On the other side was a Japanese sweet potato puree which I liked at first, but found a little over-sweet and rich but the end. Overall, this was a phenomenal dish.
Moules Frites (Congolaise)- If you are a fan of mussels, it is imperative that you order them at Chambar as they are a house specialty. They offer 3 varieties, and are brought to the table in a small dutch oven. As expected, these Congolaise mussels with tomato coconut cream broth, chilies and lime were spectacular. As if the mussels themselves were not awesome enough, they were served with a bowl of perfectly crisp fries and a dijonnaise dipping sauce. Are you salivating yet?
Based on our visit, it appears as thought the new Chambar, which was pretty darn good before, actually has managed to improve upon its old self. While the food and service are as consistently great as ever, the new space is what really knocks this new version out of the park. Chambar has, for obvious reasons, always been among Vancouver's top restaurants and the new Chambar can easily challenge any of its contenders for the #1 spot in the city.