With a green heart and waterfront views, it’s not surprising that Vancouver is at the centre of a culinary revolution.
Driving through Vancouver at dusk, its Manhattan-esque skyscrapers emanating a homely glow, you can’t help but notice the mountains. A few shades darker than the evening sky, they tower over the city, reminding you that in this marvellous metropolis nature is never far away.
Given its proximity to the natural world (and the subsequent allure of foraging and regional fare), it’s little wonder that Vancouver’s foodie scene is rather revolutionary. With daring chefs and a bumper larder, menus inspire and flavours are anything but expected. But before delving into this realm of restaurants and food trucks we must first meet the city that makes it all possible.
As an introduction to Vancouver I spent a morning with Alfred Esmeijer from Vancouver Private Tours and Charters, a man able to recall the story behind almost every building we visited. Together we admired the Law Courts, designed by architect Arthur Erickson to look like a 55 storey building placed on its side and covered in greenery, and the Marine Building, an Art Deco dream adorned in gold and creatures from the deep. Nearby the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, frequented by everyone from Edith Piaf to Nina Simone, reminds you of the 1920s when art and music flourished, despite prohibition’s best efforts. The Burrard Bridge is another Deco delight best admired from Granville Island. Once a hub of industry, Granville Island is now home to a vibrant food market and a collection of artist galleries and studios, performance art venues, ever-smiling buskers and cement silos painted like people.
Across the city public art and green spaces abound, the most iconic of which is Stanley Park. Larger than New York’s Central Park, this 1,000 acre oasis is hugged by Vancouver Harbour and English Bay, brims with fir and cedar forests and is best explored by bike which hotels, like the boutique Loden, will gladly lend to guests. Luxurious and pet-friendly, the Loden flaunts elegant earth-hued interiors and soft furnishings that invoke the colours of the natural world. Floor to ceiling windows and an abundance of mirrors invite the city’s natural light into the opulent rooms, while from cloud-like beds – there is a selection of pillows so slumber is guaranteed – you can look out over the Downtown rooftops. For a comfortable and decadent experience I’d recommend ordering room service from the hotel’s French bistro and making a night of it.
To explore Chinatown, I joined Judy Lam Maxwell from Historical Chinatown Tours. Meeting in Sai Woo, a restaurant that has existed, in various forms, for over 100 years, we wandered into aromatic pharmacies selling everything from ginseng to dried gecko and learnt about the world that exists behind Pender Street’s history-rich facades. There are 12 recognised association buildings in Chinatown, each linked to various societies, be they clan, county or political organisation, and initially established to fight discrimination and help new arrivals, drawn to Canada by the Gold Rush and the promise of work with the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Today, they function almost like retirement communities, yet it’s not difficult to imagine how vital they once were, promoting the idea that you’re stronger as an extended family and that if it’s possible to help others, then that is exactly what one should do.