Restaurant: Secret Location
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/Tapas/Brunch/Desserts
Last visited: November 27, 2012
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 1 Water Street
Transit: Waterfront Station
Price Range: $20-30+ (Mains $18-27)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 4.5 (based on just desserts)
- Retail store next door
- Tapas/small plates
- Moderately priced
- Vegetarian friendly
- Gluten free friendly
- Monday-Saturday 11am to 7pm
- Sunday & Holidays 11am to 5pm
- Monday-Friday 8am-late
- Saturday-Sunday & Holidays 9am-late
- Sat-Sun 10am-3pm
**Recommendations: Elements of a Tart, Cheesecake Mosaic, Ice Cream & Sorbet Selection
I’m not sure if it’s really a “secret” anymore… or if it ever was. The space is massive and it’s easy to find despite it not having much signage. It is located in a prime area of Gastown in downtown Vancouver, BC and it opened quietly in June this year. Secret Location operates as part high end retail store featuring independent local and international designers, and the other part is their chic cafe and restaurant. The outside might not look like much, but the inside is a taste of swanky London bars and boutique cafes. It breathes luxury, and at times it can feel pretentious, but it is really nice.
The place is very posh and stylish, but almost to the point where I was afraid to touch anything. It was like going into Tiffany’s. It is very spacious, but its all white design doesn’t give it a cozy feel and there are a lot of seats to fill. There was a host at the door, but I felt like I needed a membership to get in. You don’t, but it is a bit intimidating and I don’t imagine being the only one that feels this way. I’m sure they have their own clientele though, but it’s quite niche.
It was not exactly the most inviting place even though the staff were friendly; although it helped that I had an “in” and was able to meet everyone. I’m actually friends with the pastry chef Kira Desmond, so while that makes me biased, I’ll still be completely honest. Yes, it had signs of being a “hipster restaurant”, but I care more about the food than the perceived image.
On this occasion I was invited to try Kira’s desserts so I can’t comment on the rest of the menu. The desserts are pretty incredible though and I’m not just saying that because I know Kira. I even went with another pastry chef from an award winning fine dining restaurant in Vancouver for guidance and he too was impressed.
It is a very well organized and creative dessert menu with few items that are finely executed. At times there were so many components that things got lost, but it was elegantly plated with an undeniable femininity. It was very sophisticated in thought and the flavours were innovative with attention to details and textures. The techniques were modernist and the desserts non-traditional, so it suited the theme of Secret Location overall. I still had my favourites and while I didn’t love everything, it was certainly raising the bar for desserts in the city. I would still be confident to recommend it as a great dessert spot for a special occasion.
The part I find confusing is I don’t know whether it is a “special occasion” spot or just an upscale cafe-restaurant. It had elements of fine dining, but it wasn’t, and I don’t know if it was trying to be. It has top of the line silverware and dishes and Kira’s desserts are at that fine dining level, but for a cafe type restaurant it is not expected. It is not a bad thing, but there is a disconnect.
I did find the desserts pricey at $12 which is along the lines of fine dining restaurants, but after trying them and seeing them I could understand why. Her desserts are very intricate and require intensive labour and she is using really high quality ingredients. A regular customer doesn’t go in knowing this stuff though so the restaurant will have to rely on word of mouth unless it becomes more approachable to the general public or someone walking by. I get wanting to be “secret” or having an “image”, but I hope it doesn’t get in the way of showcasing culinary talent.
Note: The following dessert menu is the summer/spring menu. It is only available until December 8. The menus are seasonal, but there were complications in implementing the fall/winter dessert menu hence the delay.
On the table:
**Elements of a Tart – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- Coconut & Caramelized White Chocolate Whipped Ganache, Macadamia Crumble, Coconut Tuile, Passion Fruit Curd, Basil Fluid Gel, Huckleberry Compote, Breton Sable $12
- If you like tropical and fruity desserts than this is perfect for you. It was inspired by a dessert at Alinea.
- It was a deconstructed fruit tart and it was beautifully plated.
- It was quite small and it was “quality over quantity”, but the quality was there.
- I tried each component separately and each one delivered to the ingredient it was made from. It was natural and honest in flavour.
- The coconut and white chocolate ganache was fluffy and creamy and so fragrant with coconut and not too sweet.
- The passion fruit curd was smooth and consistent and shaped in perfect quenelles and it had a good balance of sweet and tangy.
- I liked that there were vanilla beans in the passion fruit curd as well and it made it so much more aromatic and floral.
- The tart shell was not just a plain tart shell, but a crisp and buttery caramelized sable with a fine crumb that melted in my mouth like a sandcastle.
- I loved the textures and the crispy coconut tuile and crunchy macadamia crumble. It gave the dessert a nuttiness and it was all toasted and caramelized so well.
- It wasn’t too sweet overall and I could have licked the plate clean.
- The only thing I could not taste was the basil fluid gel.
- There were so many things going on that some of the flavours got lost and started cancelling each other out.
- I could only taste the coconut in the beginning so there could be a better balance in components.
- It was a very delicate, fresh and fruity dessert with very aromatic and light flavours.
- I kept thinking about it days later and I would hurry and order this before they take it off the menu! Last day to order is December 8.
**Cheesecake Mosaic – 5.5/6 (Excellent!)
- Sweetened Shortcrust, Almond Sponge, Pistachio Cake, Pistachio Cheesecake, Poached Cherries, Cream Cheese Mousse, Almond Streusel, Kirsch Reduction, Sour Cherry Sorbet $12
- If you like nutty desserts and especially pistachio than I would highly recommend this.
- I love pistachio and nuts, so this fit my palate beautifully.
- This was almost like a fruit, nut and cheese plate in dessert (or cake) form.
- Even if you don’t like cheesecake there is a good chance you’ll like this.
- It was a very light cheesecake and not really like a cheesecake at all.
- It was an intense 8 layer cheesecake and each layer was spread even, but I couldn’t taste each one.
- It is unusual to serve a cheesecake with sorbet, but it was still good.
- The sour cherry sorbet was tart but not sour, and a bit too sweet for me.
- The sorbet was better with the cake and it gave the cake acidity and amplified the tartness.
- The cheesecake was made with mascarpone and cream cheese and it was whipped into a mousse. It was very mild, light, creamy and fluffy.
- The sour cherries were folded into the mousse and I don’t know how they didn’t bleed.
- I did wish the sour cherries were Amerena cherries instead of regular sour cherries, but it still tasted good.
- I couldn’t really taste all the layers in every bite, but the cake was creamy and very nutty with real pistachio flavour.
- Pistachios are expensive and so many places skimp on them or use pistachio extracts, but not here. It was almost the dominant flavour in this.
- They were very generous with the pistachios and the almond layers just enhanced the whole nutty aspect.
- The shortcrust had naturally softened, so alone the cake had little texture.
- The crunchy texture came from the pistachio and almond streusel on the side which was amazing.
- That pistachio and almond crumble was my favourite part and I could eat that like cereal.
- I think there was a sour cherry yogurt (?) sauce on the right side of the plate, and it presented a bit shaky, but it didn’t affect the flavours of the dessert.
- It wasn’t a rich and dense cheesecake, but it was well balanced and I didn’t get tired of eating it.
I had to get a close up of that pistachio and almond streusel crumble. I could just eat bowls of it.
- Ladyfinger Sponge, Espresso & Manjari Chocolate, Mascarpone Sabayon, Chestnut Wafer, Chocolate Meringue, Cocoa Nib & Cognac Ganache, Raspberry Beet Sauce $12
- I was a bit on the fence with this dessert and it wasn’t my favourite even though I love Tiramisu.
- It was a very modern take on a Tiramisu and to the point of not really being a Tiramisu at all.
- There was an expectation from the name, but for me it was more like a chocolate mousse cake than Tiramisu.
- I was also caught off guard by the raspberries since it was supposed to be a seasonal menu, but there was a delay in the Fall/Winter menu. This is from the Summer dessert menu.
- For non-seasonal raspberries they were actually pretty good though. They were sweet and not seedy and I was surprised.
- Again the plating was really nice and there were many components, but I’m not sure they ever came together although good individually.
- The chestnut wafer crepes were slightly random on top of the dessert, but they were interesting and quite dense.
- I lost the chestnut flavour and the crepes were a bit chewy with crispy chocolate pearls folded into the chestnut puree.
- I wasn’t keen on the crepe rolls, but if they were plated on their own and executed differently I would try them again.
- The Tiramisu log was free of any visible flaws, but the chocolate mousse was slightly boozy and slightly grainy if you really paid attention.
- The mascarpone and vanilla sabayon was made with no eggs and it was very light, but I couldn’t really taste the mascarpone or vanilla. I could see the seeds, but I could have used more.
- I prefer a stronger mascarpone flavour in a Tiramisu and this one was more chocolate, espresso and cognac forward.
- The espresso dipped lady finger sponge at the bottom was a very thin layer so it was mostly the two kinds of mousse.
- Both mousses had no eggs so they were not heavy and very light.
- My favourite part of this dessert was the Caramelia Milk Chocolate gelato on the side. That alone is a must try.
- I prefer dark chocolate to white and this was incredible.
- The gelato was ultra creamy and tasted like it just came out of the gelato maker.
- It was a perfect quenelle and not a scoop which is ideal for gelato. Gelato should not be “scoop-able”.
- It was obviously a housemade gelato that was handcrafted and made in small batches.
- It was possibly the best gelato I’ve had to date in Vancouver.
- Bella Gelateria is excellent, but this one would give it a run for its money.
- It was almost a chewy gelato (in a good way) and it was so smooth and made with excellent chocolate.
- It was the perfect balance of caramel and chocolate and it was consistent in texture and beautifully rich.
- Kira only uses Valrhona chocolate which is one of the best chocolates to use.
Chocolate Praline Crunch – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)
- Rice Krispy Praline, Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate-Caramel Cremeux, Caramel-Hazelnut Mousse, Cassis-Blackberry Sorbet, Lime and Blackberry Coulis, Blackberry Compote $12
- This was the heaviest dessert and for the chocolate lovers.
- It was rich, but there were so many components again that you wouldn’t get bored of eating it.
- The artistic presentation was there again and so were the berries, but as I mentioned, they are late getting out their seasonal menu.
- This dessert had great attention to textures and there was something creamy, crispy, crunchy and juicy.
- It was a modern take on a classic chocolate and raspberry dessert and there was a good sweet and tart balance.
- The Cassis-Blackberry Sorbet was incredible and she generally does a fantastic job with the gelato, ice cream and sorbets.
- The cassis flavour was in your face and super rich and flavourful. I could order that alone.
- The fruit flavours are all natural and the small batches of sorbet, ice cream and gelato taste like they are made daily even if they aren’t.
- There was a chocolate cake and hazelnut crumble and Rice Krispy Pralines for crunchy and crispy texture.
- It was another one of those “less is more” things, but I couldn’t taste the lime and blackberry coulis and some of the components got under-appreciated or overwhelmed.
- The flourless cake was not just a “flourless molten lava chocolate cake” so that was a nice surprise.
- It had a rather thick and crispy feuilletine crust (my favourite part), cakey layer, chocolate-caramel cream and then a thicker layer of chocolate-hazelnut mousse.
- It was a very creamy and rich cake and a bit mousse like again.
- It was very well made caramel cream and mousse and the chocolate again is all Valrhona chocolate so the quality is top notch.
- I did enjoy the dessert, but I didn’t find it as memorable as the tart and cheesecake, although I would still recommend it for a chocolate lover.
- The standard was already quite high after the first two desserts, so this last one had a lot to live up to.
- It would be nice to see a warm and cold component to this dessert, or perhaps even no fruit since there was already the raspberry chocolate Tiramisu.
- This was just a sample of what’s to come on the Fall/Winter dessert menu.
- I loved this and again I will say that Kira’s ice creams, gelatos and sorbets are some of the best in town.
- I hate saying anything is “the best” because it is all relative, but this is right up there along with “the best(s)”.
- Humphry Slocombe made Candy Cap Ice Cream a few years ago and I also tried it at Absinthe in San Francisco.
- The Candy Cap Mushroom is naturally a bit sweet and it tastes like maple with a bit of earthiness to it.
- This wasn’t too sweet and again it was smooth, ultra creamy and tasted like it was fresh out of the ice cream maker.
- It had no greasy mouthfeel and if you didn’t know it was mushroom you would think it tasted like maple walnut.
- I could taste the mushroom though. I wouldn’t have minded even more mushroom flavour, but for the majority of people I think this would be good.
- L’Abattoir in Gastown is also making a candy cap mushroom mousse.
- I’ve had an amazing Porcini Mushroom Toffee before at Dude, Sweet Chocolate as well.
- Mushrooms in dessert work really well if done properly and here it was done properly.
- I can’t wait to see what they do with this Candy Cap Mushroom Ice Cream although it’s good enough I would order it alone.
If everybody knows about it, can it still be considered “secret”? 🙂
Not necessarily my thing but, based on the pictures… Doesn’t the cheesecake mosaic look like the berry pistachio from Bakery Nouveau? And that praline dessert looks like what the students from PICA produce for sale in their bakery… Oh, well, it might be just my imagination, given dessert ain’t necessarily my thing! 😉
LOL, KH ! 😀
Mmm I’m usually not the typical dessert person except for creme brulees but these look great and perfect for a drop in after dinner! I like how much effort they put into making them beautiful too 🙂 have you tried their brunch?