I’ll admit it, I am a food snob. And to make matters worse, I just moved back to Vancouver from 2 years in Europe. While I was metaphorically licking my wounds and weeping over the loss of readily available organic raw milk, a dear friend rolled her eyes and told me to “get to Chambar!”. I made my way over on a beautiful, summer September evening. The sun was slowly setting and the clouds were a shade of pink almost worthy of a painting. I was hungry and excited to see what all the fuss was about.
I opened the door and my friend Naomi and I were greeted by two genuinely friendly hostesses, which if you have ever been to France, you know just don’t exist! We strolled through the lounge and I was instantly drawn to the sexy, new york style exposed brick walls, gothic wooden beams and vaulted ceilings. The lounge opened to a beautiful dining room where we were then seated and handed a sturdy menu. The subtle french music whisked throughout the room and I sunk into the luscious red leather booth. I glanced up and instantly fell in love with the exquisite blown-glass light fixtures by Vancouver designer, Omer Arbel.
Now, as a caveat, I don’t drink alcohol. However, I do love a good “virgin” cocktail. I asked for a Caesar, my first in years – I was eager to be reunited with my old friend and it did not disappoint. Not too spicy, but not bland, either, just the right bite, and the glass was perfectly rolled in a savory rim salt. Oftentimes, in other more downmarket establishments the rim is crusted with a dusty and downright discouraging spice mix. However, Chambar’s was thoughtful and complex. My friend ordered the Gatsby’s Garden, made with Zubrówka vodka, green chartreuse, fresh lemon, strawberry bitters and beautifully crisp sparkling wine. The general manager, Justin Tisdall, has been noted to keep the bar stocked with glacial ice which he receives in a frozen chunk each Sunday and carves it into delicate wedges.
As we sipped on our beautifully crafted drinks, we browsed the menu which was fun, a bit daring and overall extremely appealing. Some of the more notable dishes being the tomato coconut cream Congolaise moules frites, slow braised lamb shank tajine and spiced foie gras terrine. Chef-owner Nico Schuermans, who runs the restaurant with his beloved wife, Karri, have poured their heart into the menu and created a fantastic display of Belgian-inspired dishes.
For a main, I went with the Moules Frites avec vin blanc, because who can resist butter, white wine and leeks simmered together? While the physical amount of mussels was less than in Belgium and France, the size and the quality of the mussels themselves more than made up for the size of the dish. These were mussels with muscles, not shriveled little mollusks. Not only this, but they had the oceanwise stamp of approval ensuring that the mussels were sustainably harvested.
I am a bit of an oddity. I enjoy the sauce as much as the mussels themselves. I slurp it up like a soup when all that is left is a pyramid of empty shells. Chambar’s sauce was delicate with leeks that were extraordinarily fresh tasting. And let’s not forget the fries. In Europe they are fried twice; crisp and light brown on the outside, piping hot and almost flaky on the inside. I almost cried with these fries, double fried and absolutely heaven-sent with not too much and not too little salt, they were just like being back in Belgium.
I can say with certainty, Chambar is a beautiful restaurant I would be overjoyed to recommend it to friends. They have an exhaustive knowledge of what beverages pair best with certain foods and present their opinions in a fresh and relaxed manner, not with authoritarian smugness. It truly is a fantastic combination of two worlds; the service is welcoming and thoughtful (as is the Vancouver standard) while the food is truly of Belgian quality.
I would happily attend for a brunch with friends on Sunday, whilst eating my Liège waffles and sipping a mimosa, to enjoying a quiet evening with a potential new love interest, enjoying the Roasted Halibut while showing off my knowledge of wines while sitting beside the beautiful eclectic cellar.