DINER: Modern Chinese “Bambudda” Eatery Set To Bring Nouveau Dim Sum To Gastown
by Andrew Morrison | Remember the massive old Canvas Lounge spot at 99 Powell St. in Gastown? It was a beautiful space, but it was only ever used for special events and parties. I distinctly remember staying down from the mezzanine a few years ago at some packed, super shitty Heineken-esque soiree and asking myself two questions, “What the hell am I doing here?” and “How are they making this work?”
It lasted longer than I thought it would, closing last year without much of a whimper.
Fast forward to this month, and the 8,000 sqft. space has been split into two addresses by the landlord, with one larger than the other. Both have already been leased. The bigger space, which is liquor primary, is apparently being turned into a nightclub (damn), which is to say that it’s the smaller spot that interests me. It’s slated to become a restaurant, and an interesting one at that.
It’s called Bambudda. It will be a 55-60 seat contemporary Chinese joint dishing mostly Cantonese-inspired plates (plenty of nouveau dim sum) in a more stylish environment than we normally see from the milieu; expect a more fashionable design, darker lighting a more relaxed ambience, an audible soundtrack, considered cocktails, et cetera (if you think that sounds a little like Bao Bei a few blocks to the south, I agree, except that in this case we’re talking about Cantonese rather than Shanghainese/Taiwanese). There will also be a sidewalk patio outside and a 400 sqft private room for up to 18 people.
Behind Bambudda is front of house lifer Ray Loy, who worked at “C”, Joe Fortes, and Bacchus before he became part of the opening team at Market by Jean George in the Shangri-La hotel, where he has been ever since (that’s him above, bottom left). His parents brought him to Vancouver from Hong Kong when he was an infant some 40 years ago. He was raised in Strathcona/Chinatown, and opening a restaurant has been a lifelong dream. Where does the name Bambudda come from? “It’s a mix of two of my favourite things.” Loy explains. “Bamboo and buddha”.
The chef, Keev Mah (with wok, bottom right) is a self-described “food nerd” who found a passion for the culinary arts in the kitchens of his grandmothers. Apparently, one grandma would cook Cantonese Chinese-inspired dishes with a Kelantanese-Malaysian slant and the other would cook Fujian-Chinese and Vietnamese-influenced food informed by her Nyonya-Peranakan heritage. Malaysian-born and French-trained, Mah worked at several restaurants in Vancouver (Hy’s, Malarkey’s, Circa) before landing this gig. He might be unknown to the fooderati, but I’m told he’s well travelled, well schooled, and a super keen perfectionist who likes to innovate.
Opening day is slated for the Spring (April at the earliest).
Andrew Morrison is the editor-in-chief of Scout and BC’s Senior Judge at the Canadian Culinary Championships. He contributes regularly to a wide range of publications, radio programs, and TV shows on local food, culture and travel. He live and works in the vibrant Strathcona neighbourhood, where he also collects inexpensive things and enjoys birds, skateboards, whisky, shoes, many songs, and the smell of wood fires.