Restaurant: Bel Cafe
Last Visited: December 3, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Downtown)
Address: 801 West Georgia Street (at Rosewood Hotel Georgia)
Train: Vancouver City Ctr Stn Southbound
Price Range: $10-20
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 3.5 (based on items in this post)
- Pastry Chef Wayne Kozinko
- Chef David Hawksworth
- Sister to Hawksworth Restaurant
- Single origin specialty coffee (49th Parallel)
- Artisan teas
- Seasonal menus
- Freshly baked goods/pastries
- Gourmet sandwiches/soups
- Full table service/take-out
- 6:30am – 7:00pm Monday to Friday
- 7:00am – 7:00pm Saturdays, Sundays & holidays
**Recommendations: Cookies n’ Cream Macaron
The holidays are here and Christmas is just around the corner and restaurants and cafes have prepared for this magical time. I definitely consume more sweets, treats, pastries and desserts at this time of year than any other time, and I have butter oozing out of my pores to prove it. Either that or butter has taken on characteristics of onions and I can’t get the smell off my hands. It is indeed “happy holidays” and I’m all for these tasty celebrations.
On this occasion I was invited to sample the line of holiday treats featured at the chic and European influenced Bel Cafe, which is baby sister to Hawksworth Restaurant. I think by now everyone is familiar with both establishments unless you have been living under a rock. With countless awards and accolades, including being named Restaurant of the Year by Maclean’s magazine, and recently receiving the Pinnacle Award: Chef of the Year by Foodservice and Hospitality Magazine, it was and never will be the underdog.
While this incredible success would be a dream for many restaurants, it does become risky because you raise the bar and create higher expectations from your customers. People either love you, or hate you, or think you’re over rated, but they don’t expect anything less than the titles earned and they won’t let the little things go. Or perhaps I’m just speaking for myself? Regardless, I am fully supportive of a restaurant that is achieving success as long as it deserves it and is keeping up with set standards. More importantly is that it is continuously trying to improve and get better. Let’s face it, “the best” doesn’t exist and if it did then it’s just downhill from there.
I have to mention high expectations because I go in with them every time I visit Hawksworth Restaurant or Bel Cafe. I think it’s natural to do so too regardless of having tried anything, because the hype is loud enough that you can’t ignore it. However going in with high expectations usually means there is more chance of disappointment because you expect everything to be “the best of the best”. While I was not necessarily disappointed with this experience, I think with their reputation they could bring more to the table.
On that note they still have a nice looking holiday menu and festive stocking stuffers that could suit almost any palate. It featured classic Christmas goodies house made with good quality ingredients, so while you won’t really go wrong with anything, you just might not be overwhelmed by it either. I think this is the first year they have really emphasized a holiday menu and I can appreciate any restaurant getting into the spirit.
On the table:
- With caramel whip $3.10
- So I started off with something light… *sarcasm*.
- It was certainly not instant and it was almost a dessert with all the added toppings (which are optional).
- It was made from fresh apples which are naturally quite sweet, but there was a sharp tartness and acidity to offset the sweetness.
- It was a decadent apple cider and more sweet than tart and actually a bit too sweet for me.
- I could taste lots of cinnamon, but it wasn’t spicy or overpowering and it was very rich in flavour for an apple cider.
- $3.60 (House made eggnog & 49th Parallel coffee)
- They also have a spiced rum eggnog latte available.
- The eggnog is made fresh everyday and this is a house favourite.
- I find people either love or hate eggnog, but this could even work for eggnog haters because it’s not that rich and creamy.
- Most people find eggnog too rich and creamy, but I actually prefer the richer eggnogs.
- This one seemed like it was made with less eggs and it was on the thinner side.
- It was milky more so than creamy and thick and I think it was a no-cook eggnog with less heavy cream.
- I think there was a hint of vanilla in it is well and it was mildy aromatic and not strongly spiced.
- It was not dessert like, but it was still sweet, although not as sweet as the apple cider.
- I could taste more espresso (49th Parallel brand which is excellent) than eggnog, but it was rather light with a subtle nutmeg flavour.
- Personally I preferred this to the apple cider.
- 8 cookies for $10
- The photo above I got from their website.
- There were noticeably more hazelnuts on those than the same sable cookies I tried at the cafe, so I’m not sure if it’s a consistency thing or if the recipe has changed.
- I was already satisfied with the amount of hazelnuts I had on my cookies, but for me the more the merrier so the ones above looked even better.
- These sable cookies were more like shortbread. They are similar, but there are noticeable differences.
- Sable (meaning “sand”) is a classic French butter cookie sometimes made with the addition of egg yolk.
- The crumb is unique and supposed to be very delicate, tender, and crumbly like fine sand.
- I prefer sable cookies that are so tender that they melt in my mouth like sandcastles, but these were a bit denser with a coarser crumb.
- I think it was because the flour was mixed with hazelnuts crumbs, which I loved for a more nutty hazelnut flavour, but it affected the texture.
- They were crispy and still somewhat soft, but the crumb wasn’t buttery or even that sweet at all. I wouldn’t really call it a sable cookie.
- It was more nutty than sweet and the hazelnut quality was very high and I could taste some nutmeg in there too.
- Candied and caramelized hazelnuts are good, but the natural flavour of plain toasted hazelnuts are underrated. I loved how their flavour was showcased so simply here.
- It was a sophisticated cookie for the adult that prefers non-sugary cookies and it would be appropriate as a coffee/tea time snack and not necessarily a dessert.
- $16.80 (serves 8)
- It was not my favourite thing, but for a fruit cake it was solid.
- If you are a fan of Christmas Fruit Cake than this could be considered a very good one.
- If you don’t like Christmas Fruit Cake there is a chance you actually still might like this one.
- I know the stereotype around Fruit Cake and I used to have it too, but my food philosophy is “try it until you like it”. You never know when you might be convinced.
- Forget the old Christmas Fruit Cake with the disgusting green and red fake cherries, this is different and artisan.
- It was loaded with dried fruits like rum (or brandy) soaked raisins, currants and candied orange and lemon peel, but it wasn’t boozy at all.
- I couldn’t taste any traditional brandy and the candied citrus seemed made in house from real orange and lemon peels and it was good quality.
- The cake part was very moist and almost like marzipan (ground almond paste), but there were no nuts in this Christmas cake (there is marzipan paste on top though).
- I always like Christmas Cake with lots of nuts which is traditional, so that was the thing missing most in this one.
- The raisins were plump and usually I prefer all golden Sultana raisins, but this one had regular dark raisins as well.
- Every bite had something chunky and chewy and it was very orange-y in flavour with warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves.
- For a fruit cake it was considered light and not that rich and buttery, and I don’t even think there was molasses, but it was still very dense.
- The thin sheet of icing on top was actually marzipan which is classic and way better than any plasticky fondant I would peel off.
- The marzipan was a bit thin on almonds and almond flavour, but it was okay.
- Personally I prefer stollen to fruit cake and it’s no secret that Four Seasons across the street makes an excellent one (see here), so I think it was a smart idea to offer a Christmas cake instead.
- On the other hand Thomas Haas modelled his stollen after the famous Four Seasons one (he originally learned it from there) and I actually like his the best now, although they are very close. See my post for Thomas Haas Stollen.
- Last year I tried 18 stollen to find the so called “best” or just my favourite. See Follow Me Foodie to the Stollen Smackdown!
- Yule Log $33-50.40 (Needs 24 hour notice)
- Bûche de Noël or Yule Logs are traditional French roulade cakes that are found all over Europe during Christmas.
- This wasn’t a roulade cake, but a modern version of a Yule Log.
- Most Bûche de Noël are almost like Swiss roll cakes which I can find quite boring and never really saw the value in, so I liked this layered version better.
- This tasted better than it looked.
- On the surface it might look pretty, but for a Yule Log I was a bit disappointed with the presentation and the berries were non-seasonal.
- I missed the intricate details on the surface which should be made to look like bark on a tree stump.
- Classically the end of the cake is sliced off to make a stump and the visual presentation is the novelty and significance in a Yule Log.
- It didn’t have to have the stump or be decorated traditionally, but I did expect something more elegant than the chocolate sauce drizzle.
- I just know they could do better with presentation and it’s not normally served with the berries either.
- Fair enough Christmas is busy and it is about production, but for the price and their standards I think there should be more artistic presentation.
- On the other hand, it was my favourite tasting holiday dessert I tried at Bel Cafe and taste wins.
- I prefer dark chocolate to milk, but this was really good and I didn’t have to stop after a bite. I wouldn’t get sick of it easily.
- I love the combination of pears and nuts so I was very happy with this, but I wish the pears stood out more. It was more chocolatey.
- They used Valrhona chocolate too which is premium quality chocolate (better than Callebaut, Cacao Barry etc.).
- The milk chocolate made it less decadent and rich and it was actually a very light and moussey cake.
- The bottom was a walnut Génoise cake which is an Italian sponge cake made from eggs and it is naturally drier.
- The Génoise layer is traditional, but the addition of walnut crumbs in it was a bonus.
- The cake was layered with white chocolate and vanilla bean cream, walnut nougatine, caramel poached pears, and a thick layer of milk chocolate mousse.
- I could have used more of the walnut nougatine layer, but it was also the sweetest part.
- It wasn’t really a nougatine, but instead walnut pieces coated in a soft rich caramel sauce.
- They ended up being soft walnuts, but it still gave the cake some sort of crunchy texture.
- It was very light and not that chocolatey and the mousse was fluffy, smooth and not oily or grainy.
- It wasn’t too sweet at all and I could bite into random chunks of Bosc pears which were folded into the top layer of the mousse, but they could have been apples and I couldn’t get that pear flavour.
- I actually found the cake very good, but it was the lack of presentation for a Bûche de Noël that was harder to look past.
- Thomas Haas has a dark chocolate mousse, pear and soft caramel Bûche de Noël he’s been doing for a while too, but I haven’t tried it yet.
- Yule Log $33-50.40
- I haven’t tried this one yet, but the presentation looked much nicer although I’m not sure if it is sold like this. It’s not sold with the fruits.
- The big chocolate pieces on the log is how Thomas Haas garnishes his Bûche de Noël too and they both use good quality chocolate.
- The mushrooms are super cute, but I’m not sure if they come with them.
- I always like edible garnishes that compliment a dessert though so white chocolate mushrooms or marzipan mushrooms would be fabulous.
- 12 cookies for $13.80
- I can be very particular on my shortbread and I did expect more from this one.
- A traditional shortbread is made from flour, sugar, and butter, but modern versions may use cornstarch and rice flour for a more melt in your mouth texture.
- This one didn’t melt in my mouth and it was more crisp and firm with a coarser crumb.
- I couldn’t taste very much butter so these ones didn’t satisfy on their own and I was looking for that rich butter flavour.
- It was bordering a sugar cookie even though it wasn’t that sweet.
- The sugary part was just the vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg (?) caster sugar dusting on the outside.
- I would have never guessed there was ginger in this though and it was more cinnamon like in flavour.
- I also lost the vanilla flavour and the vanilla beans seemed only in the vanilla sugar dusting on the outside.
- I couldn’t see or taste any vanilla beans in the actual shortbread dough, but it would be great to have it inside and out.
- For shortbread I do prefer a crumbly, tender, soft, and sandcastle like shortbread, but even if the texture was different I would have loved more vanilla and ginger flavour.
- It was still a good cookie, but for a shortbread it didn’t have the impact I was hoping for and it’s probably not the specialty here.
- For comparisons sake it was firmer and less buttery than Mary Macleod’s or Coach House Shortbread Company which is probably one of my favourites…
- Up there with Coach House Shortbread in that “best of” category would be the Okinawa Matcha Shortbread from Cake-Ya although not a classic.
- The ones that make me want to cry they are so good are from Jenny Bakery – see her Butter Cookies.
- Also the polvorons from Goldilocks Bakery are ridiculously good, but they are not traditional shortbread, so don’t really count.
And if you’re a fan of Parisian Macarons they always have them all year round and I do like them here – see my post for them here.