by Andrew Morrison | As we hinted last night on Scout’s new Tumblr, the long wait for Wildebeest at 120 West Hastings has ended. The highly anticipated restaurant from Josh Pape and James Iranzad (with former West chef David Gunawan at the kitchen helm) will open for its first official service this Tuesday evening. They did their soft run yesterday with friends, family, and a few large, a la carte bookings (40, 12, oh my!), and it appeared to all go off without a hitch. We left thinking – and we suspected this when we first got wind of the project last year – that Vancouver had a new glory on its hands.
The large, high-ceilinged room sports a homey, coastal industrial feel with plenty of wood and iron (courtesy of Union Wood Co.), and though I wouldn’t compare it to any single aesthetic, in a squint it might come across like an amalgam of homage – reminiscent of Revolver, Chambar, L’Abattoir, and The Diamond. Not a bad mix. It’s a look that gels especially well when writ so large (110+ seats), and while it’s broken up into tidy sections – lounge, waist and rear – it all comes together like a riparian package that flows comfortably (the trick is helped along by a good soundtrack and tolerable acoustics). The downstairs wine bar is not yet finished, and it’s doubtful for Tuesday, when the main floor restaurant and bar will almost certainly be bum-rushed like a Bellingham Costco. It will start as dinner only, with brunch service coming soon.
Whatever you do, don’t let the meaty name fool you. Wildebeest’s menu is appealing on many fronts. Adventurous carnivores who are red in both tooth and claw will certainly be satisfied (behold the chicken butter, the cotechino sausage, the sweetbreads, etc), but those keen on lighter and more vegetal fare are in for treats, too, like an heirloom radish salad with malt crumble and beet sorbet, or a sorrel gazpacho with lemon-infused yellow cukes. It’s a chef’s restaurant to the core, and I’m not just saying that because customers are invited to buy six packs of beer for the kitchen (for real: the $9 option is just below the 15oz dry aged ribeye). You’ll find no kids meals or defeatist genuflections to convention, only exacting exercises in originality, with some more daring than others. The plates don’t really reach for any particular cuisine type, standing instead like the inventions of well seasoned, Michelin-trained cooks envisioning sugarplums just after smoking fat joints of imagination. In a pinch I’d pin it to a blend of French and West Coast, but what does it matter? Nothing disappointed, and with prices for most dishes in the $5-$15 range, it all translates to the customer as tremendous value.
I’ll save further comments for when it’s properly open and I’ve paid a few bills, except to say that Wildebeest is very probably going to rock the bells. It has all the requisite ingredients for an instant hit (including lots of familiar faces on the service team), so I’m predicting a full, happy house out of the gate. While you await the dawning of D-Day, take a look at what we ate, drank, and saw before spreading the good word…
Andrew Morrison lives and works in Vancouver as editor-in-chief of Scout, food columnist at the Westender, and National Referee & Judge at the Canadian Culinary Championships. He also contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and television shows on local food, culture and travel; collects inexpensive things; and enjoys rare birds, skateboards, cocktails, shoes, good pastas, many songs, and the smell of camp fires.