Chambar Restaurant (Belgian/French)

Restaurant: Chambar Restaurant
Cuisine: Belgian/French/International/Eclectic
Last visited: January 31, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown/Downtown)
Address: 562 Beatty Street
Phone: (604) 879-7119
Transit: Stadium-Chinatown Skytrain
Price range: $30-50+ ($28-$32 mains)

1Poor 2OK 3Good 4Very good 5Excellent 6FMF Must Try!

Food: 4.5-5
Service: n/a
Ambiance: 4
Value: 2.5
Overall: 4.5
Additional comments:

  • Since 2004
  • Chef/Owner Nico Schuermans & Karri
  • International/Pacific Northwest
  • French food with Belgian influences
  • Ecelectic/innovative menu
  • Casual fine dining
  • Lively atmosphere
  • Local favourite
  • Award winning
  • Parent to Cafe Medina next door
  • Parent to Dirty Apron next door
  • Cocktail/wine bar
  • Extensive craft/Belgian beer list
  • 18% gratuity for groups of 8+
  • Ocean Wise
  • Open daily 5pm-12am
  • Reservations recommended

Recommendation: The Blue Fig cocktail, Bellevue Hotel cocktail, Moules Frites (either Congolaise or Coquotte) with bread roll for dipping, Duo de Pétoncle et Porc, Le Canard aux Epices, Tarte Au Citron

Chambar Dine Out (1)It was one of the earlier restaurants in Vancouver, BC to pioneer the “casual fine dining” and “modern fusion” concept while doing it right. It started off as a humble neighbourhood gem which gradually grew into “the place to be”, and now it is a classic. Alongside sister restaurants Cafe Medina and the Dirty Apron Delicatessen which came after, the three restaurants pride the dead end of Beatty Street as local favourites in the city.

Chambar is classic without being old fashioned or stale, and they have managed to stay consistent while expanding their mini empire. Before Vancouver’s restaurant scene exploded with so many culinary delights it was one of my favourite upscale restaurants. They definitely have the formula down in a restaurant competitive city, and some of Vancouver’s successful restaurateurs got their early start here – see Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, L’Abattoir, and Cadeaux Bakery.

It started off as a Belgian inspired French restaurant, but I almost consider it more eclectic and international. I really dislike saying the word “fusion” because most restaurants claiming to be are not, or simply bastardizing every cuisine in hopes to create something ” new and unique”, but this one does it tastefully. Although classic it also sets itself apart with approachable Belgian, North African and Middle Eastern influences which are rare to find in French cuisine in the city. (Diva at the Met also does this, but still with a very different approach).

Chambar draws influences from various cultures while sticking to flavours they are familiar with. The menu is seasonal and culturally influenced while incorporating a little farm to table. I do find it on the pricey side for what some of the dishes are, but they provide a lively yet sophisticated atmosphere. Followed by a well kept menu with popular mainstays and seasonal specials, it has a solid reputation and thrives on a loyal clientele.

I can’t really say much more though because I happened to visit it during Dine Out Vancouver. I have said it before, but I have my biases with the festival (see here) and I was hoping to order a la carte, but the price fixe Dine Out Menu was the only one available. Many restaurants offer their regular menu as well so it was a bit unexpected, but each item was also available a la carte. The menu was still designed for the event and it included some regular menu items as well as dishes exclusive to the festival.

Since I have been to Chambar outside of the Dine Out context, I can confidently say I would come back. I compare it to a beautiful cashmere sweater that ages well and never goes out of style, but it is easy to forget with new fashions (or restaurants) always coming up. However when I remember to try it on again, it always fits regardless of age. It has European charm with Vancouver feel and it is elegant yet comfortable.

There is nothing really fancy, modernist, adventurous or “cutting edge”, but the food is just done well and done right. Although I do not get to revisit restaurants as often as I would like, I somehow feel confident in the consistency this one brings. I don’t know if I get excited, but I certainly look forward to the opportunity to revisit and they provide a reliable dining experience that is easy to recommend.

**Note: On this occasion I was dining with View the Vibe and there were a couple compliments from the chef, but otherwise this meal was paid for. This dining experience was personal and may not be representable of Dine Out or a regular night.

On the table:

Chambar Dine Out (3)**The Blue Fig6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Oven roasted fig infused gin, side of Stilton blue cheese. A Chambar classic. $11
  • Most cocktail enthusiasts in Vancouver have likely tried this, but it was my first time although I’ve heard many rave reviews about it.
  • If you like salty and sweet than this is ideal, and if you prefer a cheese plate over a traditional dessert than this would be perfect.
  • It was a fig infused Beefeater gin martini and by itself it was very sweet so the Stilton is a must – one sip of cocktail made you want a crumble of cheese.
  • I’m not keen on super inventive martinis and I prefer a good quality gin, but this one was original and not overly ambitious.
  • The cocktail was aggressively sweet so it was a very sip-able cocktail and it paired well with the aggressively salty Stilton.
  • The cocktail had flavours of almonds and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was from orgeat syrup.
  • I could taste orange and the sweetness of the fig just made it fruity instead of floral.
  • The gin was also a bit spicy and the finely crumbled Stilton had a little cracked black pepper, so they balanced out nicely.
  • The stilton left a creamy and salty mouthfeel which would melt away slowly with the fruity sweetness of the cocktail. The spice came in the aftertaste.
  • I wouldn’t order it all the time, but I could imagine having sporadic cravings for it.
  • It was an excellent cocktail and cheese pairing.
  • Another cheese and cocktail pairing I had was the red beet & goat cheese at Sidecut – see Feel the Beet Cocktail.

Chambar Dine Out (4)Meyer Family ’11 Reimer Pinot Noir

  • Okanagan Valley, BC $14/glass $57/bottle
  • It was a very good 100% pinot noir from BC and I was really impressed with it.
  • It was plump and juicy with plums and dark cherries and not very oaky with a nice tartness.
  • It wasn’t too spicy and it almost went with everything and I would be able to enjoy it alone and/or with food.

Chambar Dine Out (5)Foie de Canard “Villa Lorraine” n/a

  • Spiced foie gras terrine, port reduction, kriek granita & truffled brioche french toast. $18 a la carte
  • This is hard to “rate” because it was presented as the amuse bouche instead of the full appetizer size with all the components.
  • This is one of their signature appetizers on their regular menu and it was a recipe Chef Schuermans learned at Villa Lorraine (a two star Michelin restaurant in Belgium).
  • Chef Schuermans was given permission to take the recipe the day he opened his own restaurant, so he did and the rest is history.
  • I think the background story raised my expectations, but the foie gras terrine didn’t translate as well in an amuse bouche context.
  • It was a foie gras mousse instead of a terrine and it was very whipped and airy and heavy with cream.
  • The texture was consistent and smooth, but it was very mild with foie flavour.
  • It was very creamy and buttery in flavour and there was probably more potential as a full appetizer, but regardless I was missing the umami of the foie.
  • The Smoked Chicken Liver and Foie Gras Parfait at Le Parisien and the Duck Liver & Foie Gras Pâté at Boneta are also very similar if you like this.
  • It is apples and oranges, but my favourite style and execution for foie is this – see Seared Foie with Pears in Textures.

Chambar Dine Out (7)Carpaccio de Thon Rouge3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • Yellow fin tuna carpaccio, mint and cilantro pistou, lime and chili mayo, jalapeño dressing, grated grano padano.
  • I was hesitant with cheese on tuna sashimi, but it ended up being okay although unusual.
  • I would have loved lighter sauces, or the sauces on the side rather than dolloped directly on the tuna, but they were good sauces.
  • I can be a bit of a purist and I like to taste the quality and freshness of the tuna, so adding sauces according to taste works well for me.
  • The mint and cilantro pistou was almost like an Indian mint chutney and there was a nice zing of lime for freshness and acidity.
  • The lime and chili mayo tasted like a spicy sundried tomato and roasted chipotle aioli.
  • The mayo was slightly aggressive (but not hot) for the tuna, so it was enjoyed sparingly.
  • I loved the crunch of minced jalapeño to give heat and texture, but I would have loved something crispy too.
  • It was very flavourful and when I had everything in one bite it was savoury, tangy and two types of spicy, but it kind of overpowered the fish at the same time.
  • The Bull’s Blood microgreens were used a bit sparingly for the portion of the tuna, but I liked them for colour.
  • It was a new interpretation for tuna carpaccio in a city dominated by Asian versions of it, so it was something different and still good, but I liked other things better.
  • This was made exclusively for Dine Out Vancouver, but their regular menu usually features some version of a tuna carpaccio that is typically well received.

Chambar Dine Out (9)Champignon et Chevre – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Roasted mushroom soup, goat cheese croquette, pickled frisée and tarragon.
  • This was an excellent mushroom soup and it delivered beyond the menu description.
  • The soup was poured at the table upon serving.

Chambar Dine Out (10)Half sized portion.

  • It was an earthy mushroom soup with depth and it was likely made well in advance which is ideal.
  • It was made with button mushrooms, Portobellos and oyster mushrooms.
  • Mushrooms have a natural umami and roasting them just developed their flavours and intensity.
  • I could taste the natural caramelization of the mushrooms and onions and it was not just thickened with cream or flour.
  • It was creamy with texture of puréed mushrooms and the goat cheese croquette was richer than the soup.
  • The panko battered croquette skin was a bit chewy and inside was a thick, pungent, salty and rich scallion and herbed goat cheese.
  • I think it was supposed to be an interpretation of a “goat cheese crouton”, but it wasn’t quite crispy (even before the soup was poured over top).
  • I wish the soup was hot enough to melt the cheese so it would incorporate into the soup, but the two still worked together.
  • The tarragon was obvious, but not overwhelming and the cinnamon and anise marinated beet garnish was the perfect contrast in texture and flavour.
  • I also loved the mild bitterness of the pickled frisee which enhanced the tarragon and also contrasted the salty bite of cheese.
  • I was very pleased there was no drizzle of truffle oil on top, and it was just pure and natural in mushroom flavour.
  • I would have loved whole mushrooms in the soup too, but it was still very well enjoyed.

Chambar Dine Out (6)**Duo de Pétoncle et Porc 6/6 (FMF Must Try!)

  • Seared scallops, crispy pork belly, Belgium endive, watercress purée, lemongrass rum caramel. $17
  • ;slkdfn’aspofn’! Oh gosh! This was the most memorable course of the night. I loved it!
  • It was “bacon wrapped scallops” 2.0, but also way better than any bacon wrapped scallops.
  • I’m not even keen on bacon wrapped scallops because the ingredients have different cooking times.
  • The scallops get overcooked as people try getting the bacon crispy and this was leaps better in terms of execution, flavour and concept.
  • The scallops were seared on both sides with a natural caramelized crispy crust on both sides. I really dislike single seared scallops.
  • They were plump, fresh and sweet scallops that were perfectly cooked, tender and well seasoned.
  • In between each scallop was a piece of 12 hour sous vide pork belly which was about the same size as the scallop. It replaced the bacon.
  • The pork belly was amazing and after being sous vide they were seared until crispy on the exterior.
  • The fat was well rendered and creamy without being gelatinous or chewy and the meat was tender and moist and the whole thing cut like butter.
  • The scallops were sauced in a well reduced syrupy lemongrass rum caramel. 
  • It was a sweet and aromatic sauce with a good amount of citrus, orange and lime flavoured yuzu for acidity and balance.
  • There was also a minty watercress purée in between and combined with the yuzu it cut the richness of the pork belly.
  • It was such a juicy dish and it was aromatic, sweet, savoury and tangy at the same time and it hit all my taste buds at once.
  • I would have loved a piece of chichorron (deep fried pork crackling) for every piece of scallop and pork belly bite, but I savoured the one I had.
  • The chichorron was perfect for contrasting texture and it was sprinkled with a seasoning spice that tasted like sun dried tomato powder meets Buffalo seasoning.
  • It was sour and spicy and it just gave the scallops another dimension of flavour without overpowering it.
  • There were so many components, but I could taste every layer and the scallops still shined as much as the pork belly.
  • Put cauliflower puree under this and include the Belgian endive (which was missing) and I could have it as a main.
  • It was labour intensive, globally inspired, but based on simple flavours. It was so good I still think about it.

Chambar Dine Out (16)**Moules et Frites – Congolaise5.5/6 (Excellent!)

  • Mussels, tomato coconut cream, smoked chili & lime, cilantro. $23
  • The mussels are their signature dish and they offer them in 3 flavours.
  • This was, and still is, my favourite one followed by the Coquotte – although apples and oranges.
  • The Coquotte mussels with smoked lardons is probably most popular, but it was not featured on the Dine Out Menu ($24 a la carte).
  • The third kind of Moules et Frites is the Vin Blanc mussels ($23 a la carte) and I find them too boozy, but the other two I would order any day.

Chambar Dine Out (17)If you don’t order the mussels at Chambar I find you’ll often leave hungry while spending a fair amount. This has always been the best value at Chambar and it is a generous portion. Regardless of what your budget is, I strongly recommend ordering these as a shareable appetizer or main.

Chambar Dine Out (18)

  • There must have been about 30 mussels and none of the shells were closed.
  • Each one was fresh, plump, juicy, meaty and cooked perfectly.
  • With the sheer volume of moules et frites orders they get, they have the recipe and cooking time down to the T.
  • Congolaise is supposed to represent the flavours of the Republic of Congo, a country in Central Africa.
  • The broth was intense and one spoonful hit you with a burst of flavour.
  • It was mild medium spicy, very zesty and tangy with lots of acidity from lime juice, chunks of tomatoes and tomato juice.
  • It almost tasted like a Thai curry meets an Indian marsala, and Central African flavours do share similar ingredients and spices.
  • The coconut, basil and chili heat was more Thai and the cumin and tomato was more Indian, but all were also African.
  • This was not “authentic”, but it did take on flavours of Africa for a Pacific Northwest palate.
  • It wasn’t rich, heavy or thickened with cream, but just scented with coconut cream and the cream was not obvious in texture.
  • The coconut cream gave it sweetness and the smoked chili gave it depth.
  • The toasted cumin was very fragrant, smoky and obvious and the chili spice was warm and flavourful and not hot and pinching.
  • The heat was gradual and it was full of shallots, garlic, onions, coriander, fresh basil leaves and cilantro.
  • I loved how aromatic it was and I would have loved the basil leaves whole instead of chiffonade, but it added freshness regardless.
  • It was a very zippy broth and a little went a long way, but it was perfect for dipping with bread more so than fries.
  • I could drink the broth on its own even though it was very aggressive and the coconut cream just helped round it out.

Chambar Dine Out (13)Pommes Frites – 3/6 (Good)

  • These are included with the mussels or they are $6 a la carte.
  • Traditional Belgian frites are twice fried and I’m not sure if these were, but it didn’t seem like it.
  • Belgian fries use the bintje potato which has a waxy and silky flesh.
  • The bintje potato is simillar to a Kennebec or Yukon Gold Potato, but these frites were made with a standard PEI potato similar to a Russet.
  • They were hand cut, semi crispy and fried upon order, but they were a bit too starchy for me.
  • They were a bit overfried and dry for my liking, but they weren’t bad either.
  • It was maybe drier so they would be better for dipping into the broth, but I prefer them executed to be enjoyed alone too.
  • The garlic aioli was super thick, rich and home made and that part I loved.
  • The fries were good, but I do prefer the Belgian frites at The District in North Vancouver or the ones at West – see West Fries.
  • Many think of the fries as the “test” of a Belgian or French restaurant, along with the complimentary bread.

Chambar Dine Out (19)Bread Roll & Smoked Paprika Butter – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • $3
  • I usually expect complimentary bread at restaurants of this calibre, but I also wasn’t surprised it was extra which is typical in Vancouver.
  • The bread was not starter bread though, it was bread made for dipping into the mussel broth.
  • I loved the bread with the mussels more so than the frites or having it alone.

Chambar Dine Out (20)

  • The bread was served warm with a crusty exterior and it was quite rustic.
  • The inside was fluffy, but not that soft and a bit denser.
  • It was not a baguette, but more like a sourdough although not sour.
  • It was very absorbent bread which made it perfect for the mussel broth.
  • It was a levain style of bread, but it didn’t have the saltiness or fermented flavour, but it was not bad.
  • The paprika butter was too bitter for me and I tend to be a purist and enjoy a simple high quality butter, and perhaps paprika and sea salt on the side.

Chambar Dine Out (11)L’Omble de L’Arctiquen/a

  • Pan seared Arctic Char, saffron and lemongrass risotto, peashoot and pickled vegetable salad.
  • This was from the table beside me, so I didn’t get to try it, but it looked good.
  • I did notice there was no starch though, so as a main entree it would be considered a bit small or incomplete.
  • This was the fish course on the Dine Out Vancouver menu.

Chambar Dine Out (12)Les Viandes Marocaines – 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Moroccan style braised shortribs, spiced lamb kafta, rainbow swiss chard, hummus, fresh pomegranate, pistachios, mint & parsley
  • I loved the concept, flavours and all the components to this dish.
  • I also really love shortribs and anything braised and I almost always order braised shortribs if it is on the menu.
  • Most of the time I like it because I like rich foods and it is hard to go wrong when braising anything.
  • Again, this did not really have a starch besides the hummus which doesn’t really count as a side, so I did not consider this a main dish or very complete.
  • I would have liked some cous cous or even stewed beans which are inexpensive, but would help bulk up the dish as a main.
  • That being said the hummus was excellent!
  • It was almost like a pommes puree and it was perhaps thinned out with cream. It was sauce like, but it worked with the meats.
  • The hummus was ultra creamy, very smooth and velvety and I just loved how rich the texture was.
  • The mint, parsley and fresh pomegranate salad was the sweet and tangy component to the dish and it was a refreshing take from an expected tabbouleh.
  • If I did not have the additional plates on top of my 3 course Dine Out Menu, I would probably still be a bit hungry even if I did not have a big appetite.

Chambar Dine Out (14)

  • The lamb kafta was shaped like a hamburger patty instead of a longer sausage like kebab.
  • It is basically a Lebanese style lamb meatball made with minced lamb and mixed spices.
  • There were about 10 spices, but none of them cancelled each other out.
  • It is mixed with mint, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, all spice, cardamom, onions, paprika, and either cayenne or chili flakes for heat.
  • The toasted spices are coarsely ground so I could bite into little bits of fragrant spices and I loved it.
  • I could taste the warm sweet spices, mildly spicy spices, smoky cumin and hint of cardamom.
  • It was not too gamey and it had a crispy char on the outside which I loved.
  • This was fully cooked but still tender and moist and almost creamy in texture.
  • I would have liked more raita or strained yogurt on top, but it was still delicious.

Chambar Dine Out (15)

  • The short rib was marinated likely overnight in a red charmoula paste which is a Moroccan marinade.
  • I think this charmoula was tomato based and it is always aggressively sour, salty and sweet, but not in an overpowering way.
  • The meat was seasoned with the same spices as the kafta: coriander, cumin, cinnamon, all spice, cardamom, onions and paprika etc.
  • The short rib was shreddable with the touch of a fork and it was very tender, but unusually lean which is rare for short rib.
  • The meat wasn’t dry, but it wasn’t juicy and a lot of the fat had rendered off. If anything it was on the drier side.
  • I prefer a fattier short rib (even better on the bone) and I did rely on some sauce for this.
  • If it was a lean short rib quality they were using I would have preferred it sous vide.
  • The sautéed rainbow swiss chard was cut in a chiffonade and served underneath so it was a smaller portion.
  • The charmoula/beef jus sauce had the sweetness of molasses and the acidity of lemon juice or tomato paste.
  • It tasted almost like a sticky tomato Moroccan stew and it was a bit syrupy and reduced.
  • It was sprinkled with Turkish pistachios for texture which I loved, and the meats also went well with the hummus and pomegranate salad.
  • The charmoula was a nice change from typical “red wine braised beef”, and I loved the Middle Eastern and North African flavours of this dish.

Chambar Dine Out (24)Rutherglen Topaque – This was a fortified wine and it was recommended because it works with a variety of desserts… and I ordered all three desserts available. It tasted like caramel or toffee with honey notes, but it wasn’t too sweet although very appropriate as a dessert wine. It had a long finish and was excellent with the cheese plate and chocolate dessert ahead.

Chambar Dine Out (22)Les Fromages – 3.5/6 (Good-Very good)

  • 3 yr old white cheddar (Ontario) & Sauvagne (Quebec) with hazelnut fruit bread and berry compote.
  • The cheese plate on the regular menu is a trio cheese platter with fruit compote, sultana & nut bread for $18.
  • They do not seem to change up the cheeses because I think I had the same varieties and accompaniments in previous years.
  • The Ivanhoe white cheddar wasn’t quite room temperature, so the flavour was a bit hindered and it was quite firm.
  • The Sauvagne (Quebec) was soft and creamy and it was very similar to a brie with a very buttery flavour.
  • It was a good contrast of cheese selection with house made accompaniments and fresh fruit.
  • The cheeses were good, but perhaps not as special or rare if you are into cheese and you may have tried them before.
  • Accompaniments included blueberry balsamic compote, candied marcona almonds, candied pecans, dried figs, and fresh slices of pear and red apple.
  • Typically it would be served with a cheese knife, but I don’t think they had enough to keep up with Dine Out orders.

Chambar Dine Out (21)**Tarte au Citron 4.5/6 (Very good-Excellent)

  • Frozen lemon soufflé, coconut dacquoise, toasted meringue, pie crust ice cream. $10
  • I really appreciate that they hire a pastry chef because not enough restaurants in Vancouver do, or have the budget for it.
  • This was my favourite dessert course although there was only one other option.
  • This was the love child of a lemon meringue pie and a coconut cream pie.
  • The coconut dacquoise was almost like a crumble meets a sponge cake and it was a bit dry and chewy.
  • I couldn’t taste the almond or hazelnuts or buttercream in the dacquoise, but together with the parfait it worked.
  • I wasn’t really as keen on the texture, but I liked the flavour.
  • The frozen lemon soufflé was very light, airy and fluffy and almost mousse like.
  • It was a classic French parfait (semi-frozen mousse) and it wasn’t sour or very sweet, but delicate and elegant.
  • The sweet part of the dessert was the toasted meringue layer on top which was as sweet as marshmallow cream.
  • It wasn’t torched until crispy, but it was a very well made meringue and the sugars were completely dissolved and it held its shape well.
  • It was a very good portion, but I always like the components to balance, so the ice cream ended up being a bit small.
  • The quenelle of pie crust ice cream was perfect and it sat on a crispy coconut and pie crust crumble.
  • The ice cream was custard based, smooth and almost like gelato and it really tasted like a nutty vanilla pie crust.
  • I would not mind a bit more salt, but that is a personal preference since it was not a salty or buttery ice cream at all.
  • The pie crust ice cream was so good I want to remake it at home – that’s when I know I really love something.
  • I love ice cream to start, but I’m quite particular about it.
  • It almost reminded me of the Brown Buttered Toast Ice Cream I made.

Chambar Dine Out (23)Pâté au Chocolat 2/6 (Okay)

  • Dark chocolate pâté, sour cherries, coconut sorbet. $11
  • This was their vegan/gluten free dessert option, but it wasn’t quite working for me.
  • I actually love vegan desserts because they tend to use lots of coconut, dates and nuts which I love, but in this case there was only coconut being used.
  • The dark chocolate pâté was very rich and dense and I could only have a couple bites. It was a “less is more” thing.
  • I would have loved some texture because the pâté was just one texture.
  • It was not a spreadable pâté, but a firm and thick ganache and it coated the roof of my mouth and lips.
  • The dark chocolate pâté was maybe about 60-65% dark chocolate and it was dry so likely made with raw cocoa powder.
  • I think it was mixed with coconut oil/butter (?) too, so it tasted quite coconutty although not greasy.
  • The coconut sorbet was very coconutty with a hint of lemongrass.
  • I found it good alone and quite refreshing as a sorbet, but it didn’t go as well with the dense chocolate pâté.
  • I probably would have liked this better with a richer coconut ice cream so it would be like a Bounty Bar.
  • The sour cherry was the seasonal “raspberry” and there were chocolate cookie crumbs too.
  • The tartness was to cut the chocolate, but even so it was a lot of chocolate pâté.
  • Compared to the lemon parfait it did not seem like the pastry chef’s natural style, so perhaps it was just to satisfy the niche market with dietary needs.

Chambar Dine Out (25)Complimentary Caramelized White Chocolate Cranberry Truffles

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