Ensemble Tap

Restaurant: Ensemble Tap
Cuisine: American/Pub Food/Burgers
Last visited: December 13, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 990 Smithe Street
Price Range: $10-20

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

Food: 4-4.5 (based on what I tried)
Service: 3
Ambiance: 3.5
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Bar/Pub/Restaurant
  • Chef/Owner Dale MacKay
  • Top Chef Canada’s winner
  • Gastropub
  • Gourmet pub food
  • Reasonably priced
  • Very casual
  • Spacious
  • Good for the game
  • TV’s
  • Extensive beer list
  • Wine/Cocktails
  • Open late daily
  • Mon-Sun Lunch & Dinner

**Recommendations: Pulled Pork Sandwich, Tap Burger, Bangers and Spaetzle, BBQ Beans

It was only May this year when Top Chef Canada’s winner Dale MacKay opened his restaurant Ensemble, and now there’s already Ensemble Tap. Only 8 months apart and 2 blocks away from each other, they share the same logo, chef, owner and almost the same name. But you can easily tell the twins apart because one speaks French while drinking wine, and the other speaks English while slamming back a beer. I guess I shouldn’t say “slamming” though, Ensemble Tap is much more refined than a typical pub. It’s more like a restaurant meets tamed sports bar and slightly more upscale, but not pretentious in its food and atmosphere.

I’m not a beer drinker, so it’s not normally a place I would go, but if good food is on the radar then it easily becomes my scene. I rarely go to a restaurant within the first month of its opening because I like to give it time to work out the kinks, but I was next door watching a movie and this was convenient for lunch. So I made the exception, and I’m pretty glad I did. I was quite impressed with the food and I was curious to try it for dinner, which hopefully had a better vibe.

The difference was day and night. Literally. The lunch time was almost dead, but it just opened and I assume it’s slowly picking up. However at dinner time the place was almost full and it’s a huge space! The ambiance was much more lively and energetic without being rowdy, and it was a comfortable and modern.

Ensemble Tap is a gastropub serving gourmet pub food with some global influences. It is a safe and sophisticated spin on comfort food. For what it is, everything is made well with quality ingredients. The food was generally very good and the prices and portions were fair which is all I ask for at a place like this.

Personally I prefer it to the Earl’s next door, and from what I tried, I liked it as much or more than Cactus Club and Joey’s (if I’m relating it to something most of us are familiar with). The food has passion, originality and details a chain restaurant might lack, but it’s still casual and familiar enough to be approachable to almost anyone. It even has its celebrity chef already too! Take that Rob Feenie! Just kidding, I have nothing against him. All in all my experience was good enough to make me come back twice in a week, but now I’m satisfied, although I wouldn’t mind coming back again.

On the table:

Heart Attack Bread – 3/6 (Good)

  • $8
  • It’s good, but not $8 good and I found it overpriced as a side.
  • I really bought into the name, but it totally wasn’t “bad” enough to be a “heart attack bread”. I’d have that as a snack without feeling guilty… but that’s me.
  • I was expecting some major Triple D action, with an overwhelming amount of cheese and at the very least a grease stain on that cutting board, but the cutting board was clean and dry.
  • It was basically home made garlic bread without home made bread.

  • It was small and I think it should be house made bread for the price.
  • It was a lightly toasted and crispy Ciabatta bread with a nice chew that wasn’t tough.
  • It was good bread and perhaps the same as the one from Meat & Bread, but better toasted like this.
  • It was described as a “double baked bread”, which just meant toasted, rubbed with garlic, topped with sauce, sprinkled with cheese and then baked again.
  • It was covered with a creamy white sauce that was super garlicky, but it wasn’t that rich or dense at all in toppings.
  • The garlic wasn’t raw, but still a bit spicy rather than caramelized and there weren’t cloves of it either, but it was very pronounced.
  • The white sauce almost seemed like a cheesy Alfredo sauce and I couldn’t get much actual cheese in it. If anything it was maybe a bit of Asiago.
  • If it was $4-5 I think it would be fair.
  • For a “heart attack bread”, I actually prefer the famous cheese bread at Hy’s Steakhouse. Now that’s a delicious heart attack!

**Pulled Pork Sandwich – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Apple-Horseradish Slaw, BBQ Beans, Fries $13
  • Pulled pork is probably one of my favourite things and it’s the famous item to order at both Ensemble locations.
  • This one is just a bigger version of the one at Ensemble.
  • For $13 and 2 sides it was very fair considering the area.
  • The burger isn’t huge, but it’s enough especially with the sides.
  • Fries3.5/6
    • The fries were seasoned, not too salty and every single one was nice and crispy.
    • They’re house cut with the skins on and they had a starchy dry texture that I’m not too keen on.
    • They were good, but not something I’d have to order a la carte.

  • **BBQ Beans5/6 (Excellent)
    • The beans are delicious and I’d actually consider ordering these a la carte! I loved them!
    • They had some pulled pork in them and they were ultra creamy and thick and almost like a rich stew or sauce.
    • They were almost the texture of mashed potatoes and gravy and they just coated your mouth like refried beans.
    • There was a nice sweet and smoky balance, some onions and lots of flavour.
    • It didn’t have a whole lot of pulled pork, but since they didn’t call it “BBQ Pulled Pork Beans”, I considered it an unexpected and much appreciated bonus!
    • Forget the regular ketchup, I was dipping my fries in this and spooning it onto my pulled pork sandwich as if it were BBQ sauce!
    • The best baked beans I’ve ever had were Aunt Judy’s Beans at Nordy’s BBQ & Grill.
    • Totally different, but the Chain Gang Chili at Be’wiched was also an excellent play on pulled pork and beans.

  • Pulled Pork Sandwich4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
    • Apple-Horseradish Slaw
    • Again, this is a bigger version of the famous Pulled Pork Sandwich he offers at Ensemble.
    • It was not a huge burger, but it was enough and was piled high with lots of pulled pork.
    • The pulled pork wasn’t smoky in flavour and was slightly sweet, but not too sweet or acidic.
    • It was quite soppy, but I prefer mine soppier and even dripping with sauces and juices.
    • The meat was half shredded with a few random chunks, and it wasn’t too lean or overly fatty, but in the middle and quite moist and juicy.
    • There was a good balance of sweet and tangy and was a bit mustardy.
    • The tangy vinegar wasn’t apparent and there was no real kick as the horseradish was quite mild.
    • I liked the fresh, crunchy, lightly dressed and tangy slaw, but I couldn’t taste the apple and I wanted more horseradish too. It would probably be enough for most though.
    • The white bun was very soft and fluffy and made in house which I really appreciated. It was not sweet, eggy or rich, but just light, airy and well made.
    • It was the perfect ratio of meat to bun.
    • It was a very good pulled pork sandwich and I liked it better than Re-Up BBQ Food Cart’s Pulled Pork Sandwich. I liked Hubbub’s Pork Sandwich more overall although it’s a different style of pulled pork entirely.

Brisket Sandwich3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Kraut, Russian Dressing, Swiss, Green Salad $13
  • For $13 it was reasonable, but I don’t think this sandwich is the highlight here.
  • The salad was lightly dressed with what seemed like a basic vinaigrette.
  • If you’ve had a smoked meat sandwich before, you’ll be tempted to compare them and you might not enjoy this as much. It’s apples and oranges, but the meat seemed comparable.

  • The brisket sandwich was basically a Reuben, and if they called it that I wouldn’t be surprised.
  • I thought it was actually going to be slices of brisket rather than smoked meat.
  • It wasn’t really smoked meat because I don’t think they have a smoker, but it was a good try.
  • The brisket wasn’t very marbleized and it wasn’t dry, but it was just savoury without any depth in flavour.
  • The slices were shaved quite thin and they were tender, but it wasn’t what I was expecting and the quality of the cut was okay.
  • I did like the grainy mustard and kraut and the Russian Dressing almost tasted like Thousand Island with a good amount of relish mixed in.
  • I pretty much lost the Swiss cheese and it was good, but I wouldn’t order it again.
  • The toasted bread is not made in house, but I did like the marble rye switch up from the standard rye.

**Tap Burger – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions, Swiss, Fresh Horseradish, Fries $15
  • $15 for a burger and fries at a place like this is really decent.
  • I wasn’t offered the house made ketchup at lunch, but I jumped on it when it was offered at dinner.
  • The housemade ketchup was a mix of ketchup, dijon, mayo and a bit of cayenne pepper for spice.
  • It was the texture of a tomato bisque and it was nice and creamy with a nice sweet, tangy, and spicy combination.

  • The burger was basic in components, but very good!
  • I’m more passionate about the one from Oakwood Canadian Bistro and StackHouse Burger Bar, although this was the best value.
  • It was a very meaty burger with a thick patty which comes fully cooked, but it wasn’t dry and quite juicy and moist.
  • It was a very messy burger and it drips sauces and juices, which I actually like.
  • The bottom part of the bun got soggy, but the majority of juices did stay locked in the patty.
  • I loved the thick slices of tomatoes and the raw red onions and caramelized sweet onions, but I lost the cheese and barely noticed it.
  • I was surprised there was no bacon, but you can pay extra to get it on the regular Ensemble Burger.
  • The sauce tasted like the house made ketchup meets a Thousand Island and it had a bit of a kick.
  • I liked the texture of the soft bun, crunchy veggies and meaty patty and it was a quality burger with a good ratio of ingredients.
  • It was not a burger you need to rush to try, but it was a very good and satisfying burger.

**Bangers and Spaetzle4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • House made Sausage, Tarragon Spaetzle, Mushroom-Onion Pan Gravy, and Onion Slaw $17
  • It was the sausage platter I really wanted (many rave about the Thai sausage on it), but then I saw this.
  • It was classic pub food and if I’m going to order a version of “Bangers and Mash”, this is how I want it. It was fancy!
  • I definitely wouldn’t want this to myself because I’d get a bit bored, but it was a big portion and shareable.
  • It was pan fried spaetzle, and they were semi crispy, but pretty good and chewy. They were lightly seasoned with some spices and it was a nice change from the classic mashed potatoes.
  • I love mashed potatoes, but it can get old fashioned and this was much more Vancouver in style.
  • I could have used way more of that mushroom-onion pan gravy because it was the sauce for the spaetzle and sausages.
  • The sauce didn’t taste like mushrooms though, but there were some button mushrooms although not many.
  • The sauce was rue based (butter and flour) and it tasted like a creamy, rich and thick buttery bechamel sauce or pommes puree and I could have sworn there were mashed potatoes in it. I love bechamel like sauces so I was a fan.
  • There was some mild flavour of grainy mustard in it too and I just wanted way more sauce in general because it was so good.

  • It comes with 2 stubby house made all pork caraway sausages that were plump, juicy, and not too fatty or too lean.
  • It had a snappy casing and the caraway seeds were whole and toasted so the spice was in your face and strong.
  • You almost have to love caraway to enjoy this and I don’t think anyone could ever call them bland because they were incredibly flavourful.
  • It was very strong in spices with a hint of licorice from the caraway and tarragon in the spaetzle, so it might be a bit acquired since they’re so aromatic.
  • The onion slaw was a mix of pickled cucumbers and onions and that was a refreshing contrast with the strongly spiced sausages and rich sauce.
  • If you like meat and potatoes this will be a nice change up, if you don’t like meat and potatoes you still might like this, and if you’re okay on them, I’d recommend you to try this!

Dessert – Yeah yeah I didn’t skip it, don’t worry… I just didn’t have it here because I was off to try 18 stollens at the Stollen Smackdown.

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ensemble Tap on Urbanspoon

14 Comments

  • Sherman says:

    I like Dale MacKay’s new spot. Better than going to a chain restaurant for sure. However, that Heart Attack Bread would give me a heart attack with the price. WTF?

  • Vincent N says:

    I’m big pull pork fan and the fact there’s potential for the pulled pork to better than Re Up is a good thing. I love pull pork and always trying to look for other places that make a great one.

    But I am very impressed that they opened up a second location in such a short time. It’s not typical in the restaurant industry but it seems like they had some good financial backing. Fun post to read.

  • Linda says:

    i’ve always wondered about ensemble… and now that ensemble tap is here, it’s a good opportunity to scope it out first and see how it measures up! thanks for all the good recommendations, definitely makes ordering easier 🙂

    surprisingly the prices here aren’t too bad considering it’s owned by a top chef.. i LOVE spaetzle so i think i’d definitely try that dish out… the pulled pork looks good too but the fries looks a bit sad… i dunno why lol

    the brisket sandwich totally looks like a reuben and if i didn’t read your description first, that’s exactly what I thought it would be! 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @Sherman – yes I was sticker shocked… as to why I couldn’t hold back and called you to rant lol.

  • Mijune says:

    @Vincent N – Aw thanks Vincent! I’m actually not keen on the Re-Up one… I thought it was good, but wasn’t super amazed. Give this a shot and let me know what you think. Love pulled pork! The bred makes a difference too… you need good bread for a good pulled pork 🙂

  • Mijune says:

    @linda – the good thing is is that it comes with the fries so at least it’s nothing you really have to pay extra for and you’ll be able to try them regardless. Really you expected a reuben? I thought it was was going to be more like a BBQ house beef brisket sandwich with thick slices of Texas style BBQ brisket! That’s the best! 🙂

  • Vincent N says:

    @Mijune I totally agree. I think the bun makes a big difference in pulled pork sandwiches. It’s more a texture thing that complements pulled pork.
    In my opinion, if you’re at Rogue don’t get their pulled pork. Just does not work.
    But I’ll let you know my thoughts when I try it out.

  • Mijune says:

    @Vincent N – yes please do! Yeah the bun can make it or break it! thanks Vincent!

  • Vincent N says:

    So after weeks of delay, I tried it out. In my opinion it’s a good pulled pork sandwich and few half of the people in our dinner party ordered it. I would recommend it to people for sure. It was moist and extremely tender. I would say it’s the second best one I had. I think for me about Re Up and Ensemble is that Ensemble is good if you like a meaty flavour that’s tender, and Re Up if you like more zest and tangy flavours.

    You know what was funny. I told them that we were a Yelp Party near the end of the meal and the manager came right over in 10 seconds. It was kind of weird.

  • This is a very comprehensive review, thank you! I was curious about what Dale has been up to since he won Top Chef Canada.

  • Mijune says:

    @Kale – kale tastes good to me too! Thank you for the wonderful comment! I hope it’s not your last visit!

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