Hubby and I were sticking around in Vancouver this Christmas this year and were looking for something nice to do on Christmas Eve. While our families back East, it would just be the two of us so we were in the market for a date night that would really get us into the Christmas spirit after both working right up to Christmas Eve.
A trip to VanDusen gardens for their Festival of Lights followed by a dinner at Shaughnessy Restaurant seemed like just the ticket. The Festival of Lights is an annual tradition at the Gardens and is a spectacle to behold. Lights are strung up along every inch of the garden and there is a Dancing Light Show over the pond every half-hour. Patrons will also be treated to singing from guest choirs, a "candle grotto" in support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a neat lego display, and puppet show, a model train and, of course, Santa himself! There is not much that you will not find while touring the Festival of Lights and, for $14.25/adult ($7.75/child), everyone should experience it at least once.
Shaunessy Restaurant is located within the Garden and is open throughout the Christmas season for daily lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, as well as brunch on the weekend. Dinner is a nice complement to a visit to the Festival of Lights. The dining room looks right over the garden, making for a lovely holiday setting. Hubby and I went for the special Christmas Eve dinner which has a special festive menu. We made a reservation for the latest possible time (7:30pm), and I highly suggest reserving at least a few days ahead as this seems to be quite a sought-after night for dinner (only a few walk-ins are accepted). While we did have to wait about 20 minutes past our reservation time to be seated, the service was otherwise good thanks to our excellent server. Even this late into dinner service, he was energetic, enthusiastic and very personable.
The Christmas Eve menu (which, in looking at the website, will be repeated again on New Years Day) was a two course prix-fixe menu for $50. There was 5 choices for both the appetizer and the main, with a nice variety of meat, fish and vegetarian. I decided to go vegetarian for the evening with a Roasted Kaboucha Squash, Pear and Christmas Soup to start, which was quite tasty apart from a rather rancid-tasting creme fraiche "drizzle" and an awkward garnish of fried potato strings.
For my main, I had the Braised Kale, Sweet Peppers and Basil Scented Goat Cheese Strudel. I applaud them trying to do an "outside the box" vegetarian dish with quinoa, tomato relish on the side, and although the plate was a bit of a "mishmash" of different elements, the flavours were all there.
Hubby started with the Pan Seared Fresh East Coast Scallop, which came with a corn and tarragon puree and potato medallions. This was a decent dish but not overly exciting or memorable.
What was memorable was Hubby's main- the Maple Syrup Glazed Roast Turkey with Mushroom, Brown Butter and Sage Brioche. And unfortunately, they are not fond memories of the the dish that should have been the star of the show. The turkey was way overcooked (as Hubby accurately stated, he could have bounced it off the wall) and the vegetables were mushy and bland. This was an all-around bad plate.
To sum up, the Festival of Lights at VenDusen Gardens in a must for those who have not yet experienced the Christmas Magic that it brings. Fortunately, it runs until January 4th so there is still time to check it out (line-ups are apparently much shorter after Christmas). As for Shaughnessy Restaurant, I have had much better food at this price point. Although I am glad to have had the experience of dining in the pleasant holiday setting, we will not be returning.
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