West End’s New “Plant-Forward” Exile Bistro Set To Launch This Thursday

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by Andrew Morrison | The West End will land a new and very interesting eatery called Exile tomorrow. The 20 seater is located at 1220 Bute St. off Davie in the old House of Empanadas spot.

The owner is Vanessa Bourget, a young import from Quebec with some 14 years in the trade. You might remember her hosting the Holistic Cocktail Bar in The Waldorf’s hideaway back in 2012. Most recently, the Holistic Nutritionist and Chartered Herbalist was Head Bartender and Creative Beverage Director (respectively) for Nuba and Heirloom Vegetarian.

I took a walk-through the other day and was immediately struck by how much it reminded me of The Acorn.  Maybe it was a trick of the light, but the look – marked by dark stained wood, angled mirrors, and bespoke polyhedron light installations – appeared to be virtually identical to that of the celebrated vegetarian restaurant on Main Street. Indeed, I’d cry bloody foul if the two restaurants didn’t share the same designer: Scott Cohen (see also Les Faux Bourgeois, the Waldorf redux, Pronto, and remember Gastropod). If Exile served Argentine steaks instead of “plant-forward” cuisine, it might be less of a bang on the head, but the ingredients – like Acorn – are foraged or sourced almost entirely from small local farms.

And yet – despite the overt similarities – I’m not at all convinced that Bourget’s goal was to copy or even emulate any other restaurant. Far from it. Judging from her obviously dedicated affections for healthy foods, I expect everything about Exile to be entirely genuine. And I further trust that Cohen – as a designer – is in the midst of fleshing out an aesthetic in a series of interiors that began with Acorn. Exile was merely next, and whatever comes after that should count itself lucky. So if/when a knee-jerk reactionary diner next to your table says “These guys totally ripped The Acorn off,” politely let them know that the two restaurants share the same designer. Either that or just stare at them with crazy eyes and growl until they run from the place afraid, leaving you to feast on their leftover beet bacon, rabbit liver, and foraged pistou.

The menu from Northwest Culinary grad Lina Caschetto (ex-Fable, Wildebeest, Cuchillo, Les Faux Bourgeois) focuses on fermentation, curing, dehydration, pickling and preserving. It will also incorporate sustainable, land-based aquacultured trout and a selection of game meats such as elk, venison, boar and duck. Caschetto is also part of the Elementa culinary crew, which is sort of a loose brain trust of young, fiercely talented cooks who – by individual reputation – I believe will one day serve as the core of the next generation of Vancouver’s best and most exciting executive chefs and restaurateurs.

Also in the kitchen is former Nuba cook Kaylie Barfield and Caschetto’s Elementa cohort, Melanie Witt, who most recently toiled at Wildebeest and Montreal’s Lawrence. Front of house manager Camille Flanjak, I’m told, is a master forager “whose obsession with plants, mushrooms and permaculture has been an invaluable resource” to the restaurant. Bourget, of course, has not only designed the list of apothecary-inspired cocktails, but also made room for some small batch beers and a selection of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic wines.

Exile clearly has talent, purpose, and drive up and down the ranks. By accident or design (it’s unclear), it also looks to be an all-female operation, which is definitely a rarity in the restaurant world. Its ethical bent doesn’t come across as preachy, and the cooks are only absolutist in their sourcing. “This is not a vegetarian restaurant,” Bourget points out. “It’s a considerate restaurant.” To wit, they avoid the top four mono-crops (corn, wheat, soy, canola), and don’t use pork, beef, or chicken. As for the general absence of seafood from the menu, Bourget says “We wanted to give the ocean a break.” With the philosophy, cooking methods and ingredients employed “exiled” from the norm, naming the eatery was easy.

Exile will function as a healthy artisan cafe in the day Monday through Friday and as a restaurant and bar Wednesday through Sunday evenings. They will also serve a weekend brunch, complete with vegan french toast, root vegetable hash, boar bacon, and 49th Parallel coffee. The complete dinner menu is below, with prices ranging from $6 to $16. We wish them well.

‘Oyster’ mushrooms, bloomed seeds, seaweed & spirulina
Naturally fermented and pickled vegetables, sprouted nuts
Levain rye bread, infused oil & vinegar, cultured butter (V)

Seed pate & nut cheese, stone fruit
Pemmican: wild berries & cured big game (M)
Cured rainbow trout, fennel choucroute, cashew cream, smoked roe (F)
Farm House ‘lady jane’ cheese, hot pepper brittle (v)
The mushroom soup (VE option)

Foraged & cultivated plants, nori
Roots, foraged & cultivated
Shoots, coconut oil & smoked salt
Fermented buckwheat porridge, beet bacon & foraged pistou (V)
Game saucisse, lentils, rabbit liver, apple, horseradish (M)

Cast iron broth pot
Game meats, seasonal sauces, roots & shoots | Choice of bone broth (M) or mushroom bouillon

‘Cake in a jar’ – our daily whim
Apple, nut crumble, honeycomb & nettle sorbet
Maple pie, dates & chocolate buckwheat soil
Handcrafted vegan chocolates

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  • Vanessa Bourget, Lina Caschetto, Melanie Witt
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There are 4 comments

  1. Glad to see a resto here not afraid of land aquaculture seafood. Sustainable aqua and agriculture along with sea mammal hunting is probably the most gentle way to feed ourselves with where we have found ourselves. Yes, seal hunting in season is really gentle to the earth and no, our east coast friends do not club them.
    I’m a vegetarian but will totally try this spot!! Seating looks a little cluttered however.

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