DINER: Pape & Iranzad Pick Up Ex-West Chef David Gunawan For New “Wildebeest”

November 21, 2011.

by Andrew Morrison | Early last month we revealed that restaurateurs James Iranzad (Cartel, Abigail’s Party) and Josh Pape (The Diamond) had secured 120 West Hastings with plans for a new joint arriving in 2012. There was no name or chef at that point (they’d only just signed the lease), so the news was “info-light”. In this week’s copy of the Westender, I have written a piece on the place, revealing a whole bunch of details, including a glance askance at the first menu and cocktail list drafts (mmm, bacon bitters). The paper doesn’t come out until Wednesday, so until then, here are the Cliff notes…

First off, the name is Wildebeest, which I really dig. It comes from the Afrikaans term for “Wild Cattle”, which is what the 17th century settlers to the Cape Of Good Hope called the ugly-looking creatures loping around the back veld. Assume it means Wild Beast (a clean Dutch translation), which is cooler. But I digress. The chef is none other than David Gunawan, who left his executive role at South Granville’s West last year to toil at Belgium’s Michelin-starred In De Wulf. Yup, he’s coming home. They’ve also picked up the sommelier services of Lindsay Ferguson, formerly of Salt Tasting Room (also a co-owner of the Re-Up food truck), not to mention the branding talents of Glasfurd & Walker (see L’Abattoir, Bao Bei, Scout Magazine). They have also confirmed that the basement will see a 40 seat wine lounge, complete with 12 bottle oenomatic machine (stoked). For more, check out the article coming out on Wednesday (I’ll link to it here the moment it goes online). If you need a reminder of the concept, read our earlier notes:

The 100 block of Hastings is on the edge of the DTES proper. It’s been cleaned up a lot in the last year or so, with the scaffolding of renovated buildings having recently being peeled away and SFU Contemporary Arts’ toned and modern buttocks now poking out onto a sizeable stretch of its northern sidewalk. The spot is the main floor of a south side “Heritage B” building just west of Nuba, Meat & Bread, La Taqueria, and Revolver. Newcomers Acme Cafe and Save On Meats are on the next block east (Sean Heather’s Bitter should open there later this month, too). It’s a pretty perfect address, and I trust they got it for a relative song seeing as the block isn’t quite ready – but is nevertheless destined – for prime time. My read is that they couldn’t have chosen any wiser, and that 115 seats won’t be too tricky to fill. After having the rough food concept explained to me, I imagine the kitchen will dish the kind of gutturally expressed but nevertheless refined comfort food that would appeal to carnivorous chefs on their nights off. Think chops, steaks, whole fish, off-cuts, small plates and so on. Think Andrey Durbach, Heidi Noble and Eleanor Chow sitting next to Adam Pegg, Lucais Syme, and Nico Schuermans at the bar drinking proper drinks and being very glad that someone else is doing the cooking. Think Toronto’s Black Hoof and LA’s Animal expressed in Vancouver’s uniquely awesome vernacular (one still hopes for tongue on brioche and BBQ pork belly sandwiches). As for look and feel, I picture a totally feasible set of seeming contradictions: casual but exacting; unpretentious but expert; composed but boisterous; communal but intimate. These guys are two of our best young pros, and they’ll likely attract a top drawer set of staffers, despite the informal set up. The early sketches I’ve seen depict a bar height banquette backing up to the brick and running the length of the wall to create a narrow service corridor between the facing high chairs and the deeply set, 12 seat bar (overseen by Pape, naturally). An open kitchen follows the line of the bar and leads to a proper chef’s table at the rear. It’s a basic composition, but it will lend itself to the desired communal feel of the concept. Back at the front right, the plans call for a short staircase being cut into the floor that will lead down to a 500 sqft, low-ceilinged area with potential for 20 seat private dining. That’s all well and good, but this downstairs space is too cool for exclusivity (reminiscent of a miniaturised Calabash basement). A lot of potential. I’m hoping it morphs into a wine lounge with snacks on unbooked nights.

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