Restaurant: Secret Location
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest/Tapas/Brunch/Desserts
Last visited: March 29, 2013
Location: Vancouver, BC (Gastown)
Address: 1 Water Street
Phone: (604) 685-0090
Transit: Waterfront Stn Eastbound
Price Range: $20-30+ (Mains $18-27)
1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: FMF Must Try!
Food: 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 8am-5pm
- Tuesday-Friday 8am-late
- Saturday-Sunday & Holidays 10am-late
It was my revisit to Secret Location since late November last year – see my initial thoughts on it here. Reading back at my post I still feel the same except it is more welcoming after it broke the ice with some recent promotions (eg: participating in Vancouver’s Hot Chocolate Festival). People are warming up to it and the “exclusive” vibe it had is less intimidating. The ambiance and staff haven’t changed, but it loosened up on the “let people come to us” attitude and it seems more inviting now.
Sitting inside the ultra chic and spacious cafe I could still see several people pressing their noses up to the windows curious to see what was inside, but too scared to actually come in. Part of me wanted to run over holding my dessert plate showing them what they were missing out on, but I refrained. I’m confident things will change once Spring/Summer arrives and their outdoor patio is in full swing. It will convince those walking by it is not an exclusive members only club or art gallery.
If you’ve seen the style of the restaurant and attached retail store then you know they won’t hold back on decking out the patio too. There is an undeniably stylish and luxurious theme they really commit to. It stands out because it isn’t very representable of Vancouver. It is more London and European than Vancouver so it isn’t easily understood by locals.
On this occasion I came for afternoon tea which turned into a dessert spread. It wasn’t too surprising though considering I’m friends with the Pastry Chef Kira Desmond. Having tried about 6 of her desserts now, I am becoming more and more convinced her desserts rival some of “the best” in the city. I really hate saying “the best” anything, but her desserts are pretty fantastic and modernist in style. There are ones I like better than others, but for the most part she is committed to her craft and she starts with premium quality ingredients. That, in addition to her labour intensive techniques, ongoing list of components, and time consuming presentation, it is easy to understand why her desserts are at fine dining prices ($12). I’m not sure if it needs to be for the clientele and type of restaurant, but I would happily come here even just for desserts. She is a secret weapon and hidden talent in Vancouver let alone at Secret Location, and it is exciting seeing her reputation grow.
On the table:
- Sorry, these were only available up until Easter Monday, but I had a delay in writing this post. I still want to write about it though because I liked her take on them.
- They were $2 each or complimentary with all coffee, tea, hot chocolate or hot beverage purchases from the espresso bar.
- They were baked fresh everyday and served with 3 pieces of Valrhona’s new Dulcey White “Blond” chocolate and a side of butter.
- The Hot Cross Bun was served room temperature and I would have preferred warm, but it was still good.
- These Hot Cross Buns are made with wild dried blueberries, dried apricots, candied orange peel and Meyer lemon zest.
- All fruits are soaked in Cognac, which I kind of found a bit of a waste since the Cognac gets cooked out, but I’m not keen on boozy fruit anyway.
- The Hot Cross Bun was supposed to be a cross between a stollen and a pannetone, but I found it closer to a pannetone.
- If you remember my stollen post when I tried 18 stollen, I didn’t rate stollens that came across as Hot Cross Buns very highly; but these were not as dense or rich as a traditional stollen.
- I like my Hot Cross Buns a bit fluffier and more buttery, but it was nice these weren’t too rich or sweet and I could have them for breakfast.
- They were a bit shy with the fruit, but I liked the non-traditional dried apricots and dried blueberry combination.
- I know a lot of people don’t like dried fruit, but these dried fruits are not the horrid red and green jellies. They are real.
- On that note these are not house dried fruits and it would have been better if they were, but the restaurant only opened last year so they couldn’t prepare for this.
- The candied citrus zest was detected, but not overpowering and I got a hint of fresh nutmeg and sweet spices in the background.
- She used Sri Lankan Celon Cinnamon which has a sweeter and more floral flavour than Mexican cinnamon which is a bit spicy.
- It was a very lightly spiced Hot Cross Bun and it was slightly over baked and could have been more moist, but I did enjoy it very much.
- The top was quite sweet, but it worked since the yeasty bun wasn’t very sweet at all.
- The traditional cross on top was my favourite part and I didn’t expect it to be.
- The thicker parts of the cross had baked until crispy and crunchy and it tasted like a dulce de leche meets white chocolate glaze.
- The sugar crystals had caramelized and crystalized in the oven so it gave crunchy texture to the soft bun which I loved.
- It was made from butter, flour, eggs, sugar, Valrhona Dulcey (caramelized white chocolate), Meyer lemon zest, and nutmeg.
- The buns are finished off with a brush of caramelized white chocolate glaze which got all ooey and gooey like a cinnamon bun once I let it warm back up in the sun.
- Open face challah, pulled Dungeness crab, cilantro hazelnut pesto, baby arugula and spiced pear vinaigrette $15
- This was okay, but I appreciated it much more because of the challah bread which is made in house. It was the highlight for me.
- The bread I wanted to buy alone and I could eat it alone too. It was so soft and fluffy and almost like brioche, but not as rich or buttery.
- The challah was lightly toasted and there was a generous spread of cilantro hazelnut pesto.
- I could have used more hazelnut in the pesto and maybe even on top too for texture and flavour.
- I couldn’t tell it was cilantro pesto and I thought it was just an herb pesto. It wasn’t aggressive in cilantro flavour and I like cilantro.
- The sandwich lacked texture so the whole thing was a bit soggy and soft although the flavour was pretty good.
- The Dungeness crab was all pulled and a bit mushy so I would have preferred chunks.
- It was mixed with some mayo so it was a bit like crab salad and it was well seasoned with salt and lemon juice.
- It came off a bit pasty and I couldn’t tell if it was all crab or crab and shrimp.
- There was a decent amount, but it wasn’t the highlight and I thought it should have been.
- The salad was simple with arugula and beets, but I couldn’t taste the spiced pear vinaigrette and it just seemed like a basic lemon olive oil dressing.
- I just wanted to add crispy bacon, an egg, or avocado to this and for $15 it was reasonable, but also a bit small. It’s not something I’d have to revisit, but it was good.
- Vanilla bean Ivoire panna cotta, hibiscus, rhubarb, Sicilian pistachio micro sponge, buttermilk sorbet $12
- This makes me so happy just looking at it! So beautiful!
- I loved this dessert and it is my favourite dessert Kira has made so far from both visits.
- It helps that every ingredient was right up my ally and I love pistachio, vanilla and nutty flavours and this had all of that.
- It was fresh and somewhat light. It was a spring dessert and the textures and flavours were all there for me.
- It wasn’t too sweet, but it was still very much a dessert and it was elegant, feminine and just gorgeous to look at and eat.
- Ths Sicilian pistachio sponge cake was obvious with real pistachio flavour in the beginning and end and it was so light, soft and fluffy.
- The sponge cake was microwaved for light, airy, and somewhat chewy texture.
- By microwaving it, the cake steams rather than bakes and gets very moist. I love the technique despite negative connotations with microwaves.
- Hamid from Diva at the Met makes the legendary Mussel Coal the same way too.
- The cake was a sponge for the sour rhubarb puree and minced hibiscus rhubarb which was poached a bit too soft, but still good.
- I lost the hibiscus gel in all the components so I’m not sure if it was necessary because there was enough going on, but it was still pretty.
- The Tahitian Vanilla Bean and Ivoire Panna Cotta was excellent and it was in a little quenelle beside the buttermilk sorbet.
- The Panna Cotta was bursting with vanilla bean seeds and flavour and it was so fragrant and strong with vanilla which I loved.
- It hadn’t quite set yet so it was melting and almost the texture of mousse, which was somewhat intentional.
- Kira uses a stabilizer that is not gelatin so the panna cotta is not gel or jello like at all.
- The texture is very soft and fluffy and almost like mascarpone cheese in texture.
- It is ultra creamy and rich and there was no greasy after taste and it was almost like a caramelized white chocolate and vanilla bean pudding.
- It was sweet, but not overly so and just perfect with the sponge cake and tart and floral hibiscus notes.
- The buttermilk sorbet I actually could have used more of and it was almost the palate cleanser on the plate.
- It needed the sorbet to break up all the flavours and things going on, but I ran out of it too quickly for how much was on the plate.
- I would have liked another quenelle of it somewhere because it just helped me taste more combinations of flavours.
- It was tart, but not sour and very light and refreshing.
- The wafers were chestnut wafers which helped for crispy texture and they were quite nutty too.
- The brown sugar streusel gave crunch and texture and it was the only thing with gluten on the plate which could easily be omitted.
- There were also Sicilian pistachios and pistachio powder, but I lost the pistachio powder unless I had it alone.
- It was nutty and floral and each component was delicious alone as well as together. I would highly recommend this.
- Banana & olive oil cake, Dulcey blond chocolate, pineapple confit, Marcona almond, banana passion sorbet $12
- This was featured in Elle Magazine as to why I wanted to try it, but it didn’t quite hit the spot especially after the epic “There’s No Place Like Home”, which there isn’t.
- It was a cute play on the name and it was meant to highlight Valrhona’s new Dulcey blond chocolate which it did very well.
- If you are a fan of white chocolate then this is perfect for you because it is very white chocolate forward and therefore quite sweet and rich.
- I am a dark chocolate fan although I still like white chocolate and I like it better with fruity tropical desserts.
- This sounded better to me than in tasted although it did not taste bad.
- I just saw it differently and was expecting something much lighter and tropical.
- The plating reminded me of summer and daffodils and it really committed to the title and again was very Kira in style.
- The food was a bit too close to the edge of the plate though which I think was intentional, but for the style of dessert, closer in makes more sense.
- The dessert was deconstructed and the plating didn’t make it easy for the diner to get everything in one bite. It risked bits falling off the edge of the plate from scraping.
- The Banana Olive Oil Cake was made with premium extra virgin olive oil made from Picual Olives, but it wasn’t obvious in olive oil to me.
- The cake tasted artificial in banana flavour even though it is made with only high quality real bananas.
- It reminded me of banana cupcakes or banana flavoured tea cakes, but the banana flavour just didn’t come across as real.
- Kira told me she did not use any extracts in the cake.
- She finely dices ripe bananas (not black or overripe ones) and sprinkles them on top of the cake, but that detail and component unfortunately went unnoticed.
- The cake was almost like a pound cake and it was light yellow, but I wasn’t keen on it and it was a pretty significant part of the dessert.
- Not comparable, but my favourite banana cake to date is from Momofuku – see here.
- The whipped Dulcey Ganache and Dulcey Cremeux were both very sweet. It showcased the white chocolate in two ways.
- I do love the Dulcey chocolate which is the new brand of “blonde chocolate” from Valrhona (premium chocolate supplier), but it just got a bit too sweet for me and less is more.
- The flavour of Dulcey “Blond” chocolate is like shortbread. It is a nutty roasted caramelized white chocolate.
- It is as sweet as dulce de leche, but less caramel in flavour.
- The caramelized white chocolate piping looked like a blonde curl or something else not nice, and I’m not sure it looked the best visually.
- The sheet of pineapple veil (thinly sliced pineapple ribbon poached in a syrup with brown butter and vanilla bean) was more sweet than tart.
- The veil was in the centre of the plate and she tried to create a ravioli with it. It was almost like a layered cake.
- It was white chocolate ganache alternating with banana olive oil cake and pineapples and I found it got a bit messy and piled.
- I liked that there was texture to differentiate all the components I was eating, but it was mostly creamy.
- The pineapple confit was very sweet and a bit acidic and I think I just needed more acidity from something because everything was getting quite sweet.
- The Passion Fruit Banana Mango Sorbet helped a lot because it was light and refreshing and it stood out.
- It was another palate cleanser which broke up all the sweetness and it was the most tropical tasting component on the plate.
- It was very obvious with mango and it had the tartness and fragrance of passion fruit, but I lost the banana although it gave it the creamy rich texture.
- There were 4 fruit components, but the pineapple stood out most.
- The 3 other fruits just spread themselves too thin that it was hard to appreciate them or see their role in the dessert. They came and went too quick.
- There was also passion gel and Vanilla Bean Olive Oil Powder, but again I kind of lost them in the mix of everything else.
- The Toasted Marcona Almond Pâte Sucrée made for crispy and crunchy texture which I loved because again I am a very texture focused person.
- I really appreciated her using Marcona almonds instead of regular ones as well. It is pricier, but worth it.
- It reminded me of butter crunch but more crumb like and more sugary (being Pâte Sucrée) so the sweetness just intensified the already sweet Dulcey white chocolate components.
- The dessert was still very good, but just too sweet for me and I would have to share it. I love desserts (very obvious in this blog), but I don’t like them overly sweet.
- It was hard for any dessert to come after There’s No Place Like Home though.
- I sampled Kira’s peanut butter ice cream, but otherwise it comes in her Ice Cream & Sorbet Selection or with her “Room 237” chocolate dessert.
- This was amazing! It tasted like frozen peanut butter custard.
- I know it doesn’t look very peanutty or flavourful because it is not even brown or the colour of peanut butter, but it was full of flavour.
- She hand roasted the peanuts and made her own peanut butter for this. I expected nothing less from her.
- The ice cream was so compact, creamy and thick and it was just like gelato from Bella Gelateria, but even thicker, denser and creamier.
- It coated the roof of my my mouth and it was almost like lipstick (in a good way). I loved it!
- It started and ended on a roasted peanut flavour and it was so buttery and smooth.
- It was an egg based ice cream which is always ideal and it was so rich I would only want a small bowl of it… and by that I mean 3 scoops… with pretzels and Nutter Butters.
- It wasn’t too sweet at all and I wouldn’t mind a touch more salt in this even though there was a touch in it already.
- I would definitely order this again and I can’t think of a better peanut butter ice cream I’ve had.
- I like crunchy peanut pieces in peanut butter ice cream, but this one I could totally appreciate as a smooth PB ice cream.
Greengage Plums – I also sampled some Greengage Plums from New Zealand (origin from France) which were amazing. They were incredibly sweet like honey with a soft flesh reminiscent of kiwi without the seeds and the skins were very sour. They were beautiful plums that had an undeniably rich and rounded sweetness and Kira uses them as a garnish on her crepes she serves for brunch. It is considered one of the finest dessert plums.