Chefs Makoto Ono and Amanda Cheng are opening a new restaurant together in the old Thai Star location at 1629 Yew Street in Kitsilano. The culinary power couple is doing so with the backing of Julius Dong, who supported Ono when he opened Gastown’s PiDGiN with Brandon Grossutti back in 2013.
They’re calling it Mak N Ming – a play on their names and their popular Instagram account (Ming being Amanda’s proper name). The intimate eatery will be a considerably smaller and bar-less affair (850 sqft) with just 28 seats and a tiny, two person kitchen. The goal will be to follow a more formal, more personal, more refined, more Japanese-meets-French interpretation of the Pacific Northwest than what we’ve yet seen in Vancouver. That means tasting menus, some a la carte items, wine over cocktails, no open kitchen, and no share plates. Think of it as a quiet corner shrine to cuisine.
In a recent conversation with the team, I brought up the long shut Lumiere restaurant on the West Side, thinking it could stand as an exemplar of what they might be aiming for at Mak N Ming. This prompted a surprised chuckle from Makoto, who filled me in on the challenge as he sees it, which is more like threading a needle between Lumiere’s legendary fine dining chops and say, the more relaxed and playful approach we saw from him at PiDGiN. “I really miss Lumiere,” he told me. “We want to pay homage to it.”
He definitely can. Don’t forget that Makoto was the first ever Canadian Culinary Champion (2007); that he launched the eponymous “Makoto” in Beijing and the celebrated “Liberty Private Works” in Hong Kong; and that he’s the son of famed chef Sadao Ohno, who ran one of Canada’s best sushi houses – Edohei – for a quarter of a century (and yeah, Makoto worked there too). The guy has crazy skills.
But they won’t dare go the whole stuffy hog. It’s a fine balance. Vancouver diners may not suffer formality gladly any more, but that doesn’t mean we’ve all suddenly surrendered our taste for excellence. We roll in our own weird way. If it’s really good, we’ll go. But if the perception of value isn’t there and it makes us feel uncomfortable or like we’re being duped in any way, it will be damned to the void. They appear to know this well, and are planning accordingly.
They took possession of the space last month. I’ve only seen the outside so far and assume the interior is currently a shambles. The good folks at Milltown Contracting are doing the build, and local architects Scott & Scott are doing the design. This latter point bodes especially well, as every food-forward room they’ve done to date has been uniquely beautiful, a facet this project requires to thread said needle (see Bestie, Torafuku, Kin Kao, Mister Ice Cream). They’re aiming for an end of summer opening day, and we wish them very well.