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Restaurant: Le Gavroche
Cuisine: French/Contemporary/European/West Coast
Last visited: September 27, 2010
Location: Vancouver, BC (Robson Street/West End/Downtown)
Address: 1616 Alberni Street
Price Range: $50+

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3.5 (based on few items I tried)
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4.5
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Since 1979
  • Fine dining European cuisine
  • Authentic French menu
  • Contemporary French menu
  • Local ingredients
  • Seafood/Meat/Exotic game
  • Seasonal menu/specials
  • Hidden gem
  • Quaint/Cozy/Intimate
  • Extensive wine list
  • Private rooms available
  • Some table side prepared dishes
  • Traditional old fashioned service
  • 4 course tasting menu $55
  • 5 course tasting menu $65
  • Every Wed. 3 course lobster dinner $39
  • Every Sun. 3 course prime rib roast dinner $39
  • Street parking
  • Lunch/Dinner
  • Review 2

**Recommendations: Duck Confit, Coquille St-Jacques, Boeuf Bourguignon, Les Souffles for 2

Le Gavroche opened in 1979 and is sandwiched between 2 old office buildings in a quiet area of downtown, Vancouver. The restaurant is set in a 2 level Victorian style house and it’s known to locals within the area, but not really outside of it. I guess it can be considered somewhat of a hidden gem. I had heard of the name Le Gavroche before, but I actually didn’t know its location or anything about the restaurant until this visit.

From the outside, and even the inside, Le Gavroche reminded me of Lupo Restaurant + Vinoteca, Old Surrey Restaurant, La Belle Auberge and Mis Trucos. All of these restaurants are located in heritage homes and they have a cozy and quaint atmosphere that’s unique from most restaurants.

It’s actually a large restaurant with ample seating upstairs. The antique furniture and paintings speak of a mature clientele and I was scared it was going to be a bit stuffy similar to the ambiance at Hy’s Steakhouse. I felt like I was going for dinner at someone’s house and the setting is quite intimate and ideal for special occasions. It’s perfect for a wedding rehearsal dinner or a 50th wedding anniversary party. The crowd it attracts is actually quite random, however its regular clientele seemed to be 45+. It was decently busy on a Monday evening with most diners appearing to be regulars.

On this occasion I was invited to attend a media dinner organized by Ryan Bazeley so the food was complimentary. As always there are no expectations for the outcome of my post and I will always be honest. That being said, I cannot comment on the service that I received either.

Le Gavroche is perfect for wine lovers and owner Manuel Ferreira keeps the cellar stocked with vintage European and American wines.

The lower floor of the restaurant features a private dining room which is ideal for private parties and dinners.

The menu can be seen as either unique or a shot gun approach. The left side are the “Classics” featuring traditional French cuisine, and the right side are the “Creations” showcasing contemporary French cuisine with European and West Coast influences. It’s actually very extensive for a restaurant of this style and it seems as though they are testing out the market by playing with the menu. My guess is that they want to keep the traditional favourites, but still keep up with the current scene… and please, attract new customers.

The traditional French dishes sounded very authentic and caught my interest as authentic rich French food is rare to find in the city. However, I’m curious to how it compares to one of Vancouver’s favourite and best French restaurants Le Crocodile. As for the French inspired food I would probably head to Chambar Restaurant, DB Moderne, or any place more modern before coming here. I just don’t know how well the atmosphere suits contemporary as much it could be a good direction to go.

Overall I found the food good, but it didn’t seem good enough for fine dining French and was teetering on old fashioned. It’s fine in the case of paying tribute to French classics, however I found most the flavours bolder on paper than in actual flavour. The dishes I had were a bit timid and there’s better food for these prices so I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I’d be.

I came here on my own terms on my own pocket as well after this event – please see my post here.

On the table:

Complimentary Bread

  • I can’t confirm if it was made in house.
  • It was served warm and it was good quality.
  • The crust was hard rather than crunchy and the bread was airy and chewy like ciabatta rather than a baguette.
  • A great French baguette is at Bistrot Bistro, but it’s not complimentary.

Amuse Bouche

  • Complimentary one bite appetizers. I’m not exactly sure what each one was because they change daily.
  • Most restaurants of this style will only give you one amuse bouche, so it was exciting to get 3 here.
  • Left: It was a mushroom pate on top of a sliced cucumber. Beside it was a prawn with fresh mango sauce.
  • Middle: It was a spoonful of avocado salsa, which is a condiment that’s perfect with ahi tuna or nori chips, not eaten alone. It was great when I ate it with the prawn and mango.
  • Right: Seared duck on crostini. The duck meat and skin were very chewy and the skin wasn’t crispy at all. It had a fruit relish on top which was nice though.

Coquille St-Jacques - 4.5/6

  • Coquille St-Jacques, dry Vermouth $15
  • This was an hors d’oeuvres from the Classic Menu and it’s pretty big and hearty and more like an appetizer. The portion is unexpected for a restaurant like this.
  • I was very surprised to see this traditional French appetizer on the menu and it’s the only place I know that serves it.
  • It was 3 medium sized scallops with sauteed mushrooms served on a bed of mashed potatoes with white wine cream sauce and topped with deep fried leeks and bread crumbs.
  • This was glorified comfort food, but it looked and smelled richer than it tasted.
  • The top was almost like a gratin, but I couldn’t see or taste the essential Gruyere cheese element and I wish it had more of a baked crust.
  • What’s better than mashed potatoes with butter and cream? Except maybe MORE. No, seriously… it needed more.
  • The mashed potatoes were a bit starchier and not as buttery or creamy as they should be, they also lacked salt and maybe even some garlic.
  • The scallops were tender, but could have been more seared with a crust.
  • The crispy deep fried leeks were the only things that were well salted. Every bite had to have some leeks, otherwise it was bland.
  • I actually would have preferred deep fried shallots because the the pile of long sharp strands of leeks were a bit rough for the dish.

**Duck Confit5.5/6

  • Duck confit, pecan flour crusted, creole spices, wilted spinach salad, Cassis sauce $15
  • This was an hors d’oeuvres from the Creations Menu. I thought the Coquille St-Jacques was big! This was honestly enough as a main and I would come back for it.
  • I recently posted on Creole food from Shoal Creek Saloon and The Boiling Pot, which were not great experiences. So when I heard “creole spices” I was nervous, but excited since I love innovative dining and really love duck confit.
  • This is perhaps the most tender duck I’ve ever had. It is a must try here.
  • The meat was falling off the bone and melting in your mouth delicious. However the crispiness didn’t come from the skin, but instead the pecan crust which could have been more crunchy.
  • The skin wasn’t chewy, but had a thin layer of fat that shredded away and melted in your mouth. It was almost like a lamb shank.
  • It was sweet and savoury and the pecan crust brought a nice nuttiness although the Creole spices were mild and not spicy as one would expect.
  • The sauce was almost like a sweet molasses with a rich wine flavour from the Cassis. It wasn’t reduced that well, but at least the flavour was there.
  • I loved the duck confit at the recently closed Tapastree and Salade de Fruits offers a great one as well, although not as tender as the one here. Actually the duck from The Irish Heather is a strong contender, although not a confit.
  • The wilted spinach had no flavour and it would be nice sauteed in the Creole spices. Ideally I would have preferred a starch, like mashed potatoes to soak up the sauce. I would order that as an entree.

Palate Cleanser

  • Home made lemon sorbet served in a frosted glass.
  • It was very tangy and quite sweet and could have used some basil or lime leaves.
  • It’s fine dining so I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Lamb Rack - 4/6

  • I think this is a seasonal special for around $39
  • On the regular menu they offer: lamb rack mustard crusted, mint gnocchi, rosemary garlic jus $39
  • I don’t know if it’s from the Classics or Creations Menu, but it didn’t seem like either.
  • It’s the favourite here, but I think it’s a bit pricey at $39 and this wasn’t the most tender I’ve had it either.
  • It was quite tender, but hard to cut through and each piece was a bit inconsistent and it could have used a better seasoned crust.
  • The game taste was mild so I didn’t mind it and the sauce was a sweet and tangy sauce made with red wine and it was more reduced than the Cassis sauce.
  • It was good, but not particularly memorable as a place I would come back to just for the lamb.

  • Ratatouille - 2/6
    • It came with a side of ratatouille which was inside this Turkish crisp that actually tasted like the crispy won ton crisps you put on top of congee. It doesn’t have much flavour.
    • The ratatouille was disappointing and I like the one at Bistrot Bistro better, although that doesn’t say much either.
    • It’s basically a tomato based stew made with fall vegetables. It had bell peppers, onions and zucchini, which was a bit bitter and it was almost like vegetarian spaghetti sauce rather than ratatouille.
    • It was topped with asparagus, green beans, a chunk of carrot, a chunk of beet, and a chunk of parsnip. I found it a bit random and just a way to fill the cup.

The Dessert Menu

They offer a selection of home made French desserts and I was actually surprised to see so many options. They all sounded delicious and apparently the Gateau Lili La Puce (flourless almond & meringue layer cake) is the signature dessert. That’s the one that appealed to me most too and I would go back just to try it – I actually did, see here. The soufflé and the poached pear caught my eye as well… okay they all caught my eye, but this is what we were served. I went back for the soufflé too – see here.

Poached Peach - 4.5/6

  • Poached Okanagan peach, vanilla ice cream, raspberry sauce, pineapple, and whipped cream $8.50
  • This dessert was a seasonal special.
  • It was very light and simple and there was no place for it to really go wrong, unless the peach wasn’t tender. Yes it was very good, but it usually is so it’s not necessarily special hence my 4.5/6… like they could have added some nuts and it would have been a 5/6.
  • The peach was tender and I could use a spoon to cut through it.
  • It was nice and warm, but you couldn’t taste any nutmeg, cinnamon or anything. It was a very basic poached peach.
  • It was topped with a home made vanilla ice cream with vanilla bean seeds that I could see. The texture was almost like a semifreddo and it had an icy texture.
  • The best poached fruit dessert I had was at The DistrictRed Wine Cassis & Cardamom Poached Pears with Vanilla Gelato – oh god…
  • The Old Surrey Restaurant also offers a poached peach dessert and in many ways it’s very similar to Le Gavroche, although overall Le Gavroche is way better.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Elaine September 29, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Hmmm I am interested in the Lobster menu…

2 ^_^ September 29, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I enjoyed my meals here equally as at other one that has a Filipino chef working hard in the kitchen. ^-^

3 Mijune September 29, 2010 at 3:02 pm

^_^ – which kitchen is that?!

Elaine – I hope it’s better than Timmy Kitchen ;)

4 vivian September 29, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Have you been to Crocodile? That’s still my all time favorite for formal french. Everything from the service to the food is top notch

5 Bow September 29, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I think time has caught up and surpassed Le Gavroche ; the ratatouille seems like a desperate attempt at fusion. The amuse de bouche look sad and I never eaten coquilles st.jacques with a bed of potato . This place has taken to advertising in the Mingpao newspaper…business is slow in classic cuisine( William Tell is closin’), and people can’t afford the $5K wines in the cellar anymore. it’s really hard to maintain standards with so many restaurants and so few people( the Plaza Hotel, NYC, has 10,000 seats and fills them).

6 Mijune September 30, 2010 at 11:42 am

Vivian – not yet! but I sure want too. I love the formal French service… or any good service for that matter lol. They did that here too :).. serving ladies first and serving on the right etc. Thanks for commenting!

Bow – You always know what I’m trying to say, but you say it better than I do lol. The first sentence is correct. Although there are versions of coquilles st.jacques with a potato gratin topping that’s I’ve seen. Yes Vancouver is not exactly that “high end” to sustain so many high end restaurants.

7 Bow October 1, 2010 at 3:38 pm

The Chambar, Mis Trucos, Cafe Barcelona, DB Moderne, La Buca, La Quercia are the new standard bearers of fine dining(and there are others); add the Gaia. The best inexpensive French Bistro food is at Au Petite Chauvignol. The best French food is at Le Regalade in West Van because the food is authentic,fabulous, generous portions and reasonably priced. I’m not impressed by Le Crocodile…but opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one.

8 KimHo October 1, 2010 at 4:14 pm

Bow, I am not sure some if some of the places you have listed would be considered “fine dining” (*), as they are more one the lines of small plates (Mis Trucos or Cafe Barcelona). Also, I am not sure if Au Petite Chauvignol would be considered bistro in my books; it is more of a charcuterie “restaurant” (not sure if that makes sense; if not, a deli with tables). For inexepensive French bistro food, I will have to say Bistrot Bistro, Salade de Fruits or Jules Casual French Bistro (for this one, stick to their prix fixe, though). But, at the end of the day, I am not into fine dining anyway…!

(*) And that brings one of the biggest oxymora: casual fine dining!

9 Bow October 1, 2010 at 5:03 pm

I agree with your selections Kim…I should have said that fine dining is no longer limited to a classic menu.

10 GioD November 7, 2011 at 4:53 pm

In traditional high end french restaurants the bread is served warm and butter room temperature.

11 Mijune November 7, 2011 at 7:37 pm

@GioD – thank you. Yes I’d consider Le Gavroche not really high end, but still fancy.

12 LL February 10, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I ate at this restaurant years ago….back in the 1980s I believe, because the then owner stayed at our Resort in the Okanagan and he invited us. It was lovely and at that time the restaurant was actually called “Lili La Puce” after his nickname for his youngest daughter. I haven’t been back there since. I am wondering if it is a new owner??

13 Mijune February 10, 2013 at 11:14 pm

@LL – Hi there! I know the owner is Portuguese, but I’m not sure if it is the same one you are referring to.

14 LL February 11, 2013 at 2:05 pm

No, I don’t think so.

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