Restaurant: House Guest
Cuisine: French/West Coast/Pacific Northwest/Eclectic
Last visited: January 12, 2012
Area: Vancouver, BC (Gastown/Downtown)
Address: 200 – 332 Water Street
Train: Waterfront Skytrain
Price range: $20-30 ($15-20 mains)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
- West Coast cuisine
- Eclectic comfort food
- Seasonal menu
- Moderately priced
- Hipster/hip vibe
- Late night hot spot
- Good for groups
- Cocktail/wine list
- Reservations recommended
- Thurs. 5pm - Late
- Fri. 5pm – Late
- Sat. 5pm – Late
- Sunday Brunch
**Recommendations: Duck Donair, Crab Tater Tots & Tarragon Remoulade. See my brunch post for them here.
4 times! FOUR times! Actually no, 6 times! I tried twice without a reservation too. It’s also closed Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and only open for dinner Thursday-Saturday, with a Sunday brunch, so it’s not the most convenient or accommodating restaurant.
I’ve been trying to make reservations to try House Guest since mid-December and I finally got my foot in the door. Mind you it was Christmas so they were busy, but still; and to top things off they only accept reservations by e-mail. They have a phone number, and it rings, but that’s as far as you’re going to get. Hard to get. Yes, they play that game very well, but as one of the newest and hottest restaurants to hit Gastown, they can, and I was persistent.
Finally. A restaurant that can hopefully hold the spot! It took over the old McLean’s which was previously So.cial at Le Magasin. Although the location is huge and on the main strip it still remains very hidden and discrete. With tinted windows and the tiniest signage, which is essentially just a symbol
“NXG”, or I mean “HXG”, I don’t even know if it’s called “House X Guest” or “House Guest”?
With the opening hours, reservation/phone system, ambiguous website, and now the name(s) of the restaurant, I could smell “hipster, but don’t call me hipster” from across the street. I couldn’t even call you “hipster” even if I wanted to though because you don’t pick up your phone! I’m half kidding and half hoping they sign up for opentable.com (unless that goes against hipster rules?).
Anyways the inside wasn’t as dark and mysterious and actually quite stylish and refined. In a nutshell it was for the hipsters that have a little more money and prefer dining on the second floor rather than the basement. I mean that quite literally too because the basement here seems more like the unused lounge.
The vibe was night and day with a slow start and a loud finish. It started off feeling more like a restaurant, but by 8pm it quickly transformed into a packed night club with a DJ. It felt like Montreal or New York, and it didn’t bother me since I expected it. The food didn’t come secondary, but I would say it could be more impressive if you think about it coming from a nightclub context.
It got to a point where I didn’t know who was serving and who was dining. The staff and the customers looked the same and I couldn’t tell one pair of black rimmed glasses to the next. Someone would pick up a plate and I didn’t know if they were cleaning it or wanting to sample it. It was all quite quirky and the theme continued to the ladies washroom. If you use the right sink the hot water comes from the right handle and the cold water from the left. It might have been like that before the restaurant change, but it added to the overall quirkiness.
I knew about House Guest when it opened in October last year and the menu sounded right up my ally. It was a more unique interpretation of “comfort food with a twist” and everything sounded innovative and indulgent which is what I like. However the menus are seasonal and I missed out on the old menu which sounded more catered to my tastes. The new menu is a bit more tamed and not as decadent, although still rich.
I was slightly more inspired by the concept and menu descriptions than I was with the outcome of some of the dishes, but I did appreciate the creativity and intention. Everything is made in house except for the macaroni noodles and Israeli cous cous, but I was still expecting a bit more in flavour and execution, and sometimes the ideas were ambitious for the price. Occasionally there were sacrificed ingredients and a few dishes tasting too simple and feeling slightly overpriced, but generally it’s a fun place with a playful menu.
At the end of the meal I learned that the chef is Kayla Dhaliwall, who I actually met at the 12th Annual Healthy Chef Competition last year. She was on The Well restaurant team and she is now running the kitchen at House Guest. It was an unexpected surprise and on that note she did bring out a couple complimentary dishes at the end of the meal (which I’ve noted), but otherwise everything was paid for and I came unannounced.
On the table:
- Gin, orange bitters, lemon, egg whites, cointreau, rhubarb bitters $10
- You can ask for it sweeter or more tart and I don’t think there’s an official bartender so it may vary.
- It was strong with orange and it tasted quite simple for $10. It was more or less like an orange and lemon juice with gin.
- I was hoping it would be a bit more foamy with the egg whites and it was good, but for $10 it was okay.
- Pimento mac‘n’cheese croquettes / red eye ketchup $9
- They were served with a Red Eye Ketchup which basically tastes like a BBQ sauce.
- It’s actually a mixture of Ketchup and coffee and I think this one had some HP sauce, BBQ sauce or Worcestershire sauce because it had a nice kick and depth to it.
- The coffee grounds are completely dissolved so you can’t taste the texture of coffee, but there was an intense smokiness and earthiness.
- There was a well rounded bitterness in the aftertaste, which I really liked.
- As much as I liked the sauce, it ended up overpowering the mac and cheese croquettes.
- I love deep fried mac and cheese, but I expected these to be much richer and cheesier.
- They were hot with a crispy and thin panko batter and that was good, but the mac and cheese was a bit buttery more so than cheesy in flavour.
- It wasn’t stringy or creamy and the noodles were a bit soft, but that’s usually the case for deep fried mac.
- I could only taste orange cheddar cheese and I was hoping for a richer cheesier sauce even if it required a thicker rue or maybe just additional cheeses.
- A smoked cheddar might have worked to stand up to the Red Eye Ketchup.
- The Parmesan shavings would have benefited more from being melted into the filling rather than used as a garnish.
- They were well seasoned with a gentle heat from the pimento seasoning on the panko crumbs, but more cheese please!
- Black & Blue actually used to make a really decadent deep fried mac and cheese croquette with a truffle & white cheddar cream sauce for dipping. The sauce really made it!
- Chilled prawn guacamole / smoked tomato / blue corn chips $13
- I usually wouldn’t order guacamole at a restaurant because it’s something I can make at home, but I heard good things about this one.
- The guacamole was just okay and quite literal, but the real highlight was the smoked tomato emulsion underneath the guacamole. That’s what really brought the dish to life and made it good.
- The guacamole was creamy with pureed and roughly chopped avocado, chopped prawns, and a bit of tomato, and I found it quite ordinary. It wasn’t heavy with lime or cilantro and it was missing some acidity, brightness and overall flavour.
- The tomato emulsion ended up being the acid and it was also really smoky and a bit garlicky with perhaps some chipotle mayo because there was also some heat. I really liked this!
- The guacamole just tasted really simple and it was a bit small for $13.
- I know there are prawns to justify the price, but the prawns were just cold prawns and they kind of took a back seat.
- I would have loved grilled prawns and an avocado dip, but that would be even pricier.
- Currently the blue corn tortilla chips are also being made in house too.
- If you like this idea I do have a recipe for a Pistachio, Avocado, Sour Cherry & Black Sesame Dip with Prawns.
- Bacon wrapped lobster sausage / pretzel crust / lemon mascarpone waffle $16
- This jumped off the menu, but for $16 I questioned how much lobster there was going to be. I didn’t expect much, but it sounded delicious!
- I’ve had the notorious Fried Chicken & Bacon Waffles at Hash House a Go-Go and it’s a real Southern treat that has made it’s way to Vancouver… finally!
- I loved the idea, but I expected something very different.
- The waffles were really flat, thin and crispy throughout and I couldn’t taste the lemon or the mascarpone in them.
- I would have preferred the waffles more traditional, fluffy and airy light, with a crispy outside and cakey soft inside.
- I thought there was going to be lemon zest in the waffles and a mascarpone dollop on top, but it was much more of a savoury dish than a sweet one.
- Even so, I was hoping to taste the rich creamy mascarpone with a slight tang in the waffles.
- I found it kind of a waste to deep fry lobster and turn it into a sausage, so it probably would have worked better with just the typical chicken.
- I did enjoy the salty crunchy crispy pretzel crumb crust, but the inside could have been crab and I wouldn’t have been able to tell.
- The lobster was quite hidden and the filling quite mushy with what seemed like minimal lobster flakes.
- There was a nice piece of thick bacon wrapped around the lobster before it was deep fried, but it didn’t really do anything or help the lobster shine.
- The bacon might have been better just candied and crumbled on top of the whole thing.
- The waffles were crunchy and so was the lobster sausage so I was just hoping for a bit more texture overall.
- The sauce tasted like a house made mayo and having it with waffles didn’t really do anything for me although it was okay with the lobster.
- I think a maple brown butter sauce, lobster hollandaise or a mint crème fraîche would have been suitable if it wasn’t going to be a dollop of mascarpone. I just saw the dish going in a different direction.
- Duck Confit OR White Beans & Truffle Falafel / sheeps Feta / herb & citrus tabouli / “tatziki” $15
- Duck confit of course! I love duck confit and it’s a must if it’s on the menu.
- It’s not big and it’s a bit pricey, but it’s duck confit so I get it. It was also really good though and not comparable to a $5 donair on Granville Street, although those are good too!
- It was wrapped in a very soft homemade grilled naan and there was a good amount of duck.
- The duck wasn’t too salty and it was moist, juicy, tender and well shredded.
- The wrap had actual pieces of fresh orange segments in it which really helped contrast the rich duck giving it a bit of juicy zing and freshness.
- Orange and duck also go hand in hand so I loved how it was played here.
- It was a very fresh wrap and I could taste all the components of the salty rich sheeps feta, a little tabouli (which used Israeli cous cous instead of the traditional bulgur) and the fresh tzatziki yogurt.
- If anything I wouldn’t mind some raisins for a bit of sweetness.
- I could also taste some whole toasted fennel seeds being used for a slight licorice aroma and I loved the French meets Middle Eastern theme.
- The salad was well dressed with duck fat dressing (brilliant), some sliced radish and topped with lots of crispy salty fried onions and duck cracklings (more brilliant) which was the best part… the fried onions and cracklings with the wrap was even better. The salad was delicious though!
- Charred cauliflower / potatoes lyonnaise / nicoise olives /cauliflower puree / grana padano $14
- I told you I had a decadent palate! I love braised short rib, so I requested short rib for an additional charge.
- It was a toss up. Short rib flatbread or duck confit flatbread? I had the duck confit donair so I decided to go with the vegetarian flatbread and add the short rib!
- The braised short ribs were in pretty large chunks and the flatbread was made in house which I liked.
- The short ribs were moist, but not juicy and they used to be offered in sliders and in a short rib poutine, but unfortunately they’re both taken off the new menu.
- I really don’t know if I would like this Cauliflower flatbread as much without the short rib.
- This would have been even better with a drizzle of tzatziki from the duck donair, and with the added short rib the tomato emulsion would have worked too!
- I was hoping for more texture and everything was quite soft so I wanted something crunchy or crispy like fried capers, fried onions or toasted pine nuts since the flatbread wasn’t crispy.
- It was pretty hearty with the slices of buttery Russet(?) potatoes on top of the flatbread and I couldn’t taste the cauliflower puree or grana padano.
- It wasn’t a cheesy or saucy flatbread and I was hoping for more cauliflower puree or perhaps a hummus spread for more flavour and texture.
- I love the pieces of charred cauliflower which gave a nice nutty flavour and the bite of salty olives and sprinkle of basil was also great.
- It was still pretty simple and the interesting part would have been the cauliflower puree, but I couldn’t really taste any.
- Oh god. Thank goodness chef brought these out!
- I can’t believe I almost left without trying them, although I would have ordered them had they been on the menu.
- These are from the old menu and not on the new menu, but they still make them so you just have to ask.
- They’re made in house and likely the best tater tots you’ll try. Bacchus also made good Saffron & Tomato Taters as an amuse bouche, but these were fantastic!
- They were crispy, salty and well seasoned and the inside was creamy and smooth with what seemed like a mixture of melted mashed potatoes and minced potatoes.
- The potato filling was so creamy and rich and it almost seemed like a pommes puree.
- I think there was some pimento in them for a bit of heat, but I enjoyed these more than the PMC (deep fried pimento mac and cheese appy).
- To be honest, I couldn’t taste much crab although there were minimal flakes of it in each tater tot, but for $7 it doesn’t really matter and they’re still delicious.
- The tarragon remoulade tasted like a lemony tartar sauce (that’s essentially what remoulade is) and it kind of tasted like dill mayo too. It was good with or without the dip.
- Personally I would have dipped these in the tomato emulsion from the prawn guacamole appy.
- Fried churros, spiced sugar, dolce de leche, red velvet sauce
- It’s usually a choice of 3 sample sized desserts for $12, but the dessert menu wasn’t it full gear yet so chef brought these out complimentary.
- I loved the presentation and I’m a sucker for anything served in miniature dishes. The mini paint pails tempted me to paint the wooden plank… but I didn’t.
- I like churros, but I’m not crazy for them. They’re super easy to make, but for what they are, these are very good!
- The churros were fried completely crunchy, which is actually authentic. I do like the ones with the soft doughy centres as well, but those are a different style.
- They were nicely dusted with sugar and cinnamon and the added chili was a great touch!
- They weren’t too sweet or spicy, but the heat came in on the second bite. It was very subtle although noticeable even if you didn’t know it was in there.
- The caramel sauce was delicious! It was a homemade dulche de leche and it was thick, creamy, sweet and rich and fluid enough as a dip for the churros.
- The red velvet sauce was too thin and drippy, but the flavour was good. It tasted more like espresso than chocolate though and I was hoping for more chocolate.
- I’m excited to see the new dessert menu, but this type of restaurant would be a great place to introduce Vancouver to Chocolate Potato Doughnuts or even PB&J Bon Bons.