by Andrew Morrison | Just before their first friends and family service went down last week I poked my head into the new Forkhill House Irish Bistro at 1616 Alberni Street to check on progress. The restaurant is now in soft opening mode, but the doors are unlocked and they’re pulling pints (mmm, O’Haras Stout) and serving food from what appears to be a pretty interesting menu. For some background on the place, here’s what I wrote about it last month when we first got word of its imminence:
The address has been picked up by industry lifer Jeff Lenz (ex-Joe Fortes, Cibo) and his wife Jamie. With the help of chef Tannis Smith (ex-Irish Heather) and assistant GM Alex Dewar (ex-Cibo), they aim to open Forkhill House Irish Bistro at the end of February following after a quick reno and staff up.
“Jaime and I have been looking to get into our own spot for over two years now and are very excited to be taking this space,” Jeff says. “We love what has been done with the Badger, our vision is to take it to the next level. There is a strong Irish connection in our family, with a lot of tradition surrounding food. We plan on elevating the service and menu, without being pretentious. Our idea is an Irish inspired restaurant, not pub.” I don’t think that means they won’t have Guinness, stews, soda breads and ploughman’s lunches. On the contrary, it’s my understanding that they’ll offer such standards as starting points. It’s early days yet so I don’t have all the details on the menu, but I know there’s more to Irish cuisine than the greatest hits that have so far crossed the Atlantic, and that’s exciting.
What’s with the name? “Forkhill is the name of the village where Jaime’s ancestral family was raised, with a strong connection to her father who passed away in 2014.” Jamie explained to me in an email exchange last week. “This historic house still exists on the border of northern and Southern Ireland. During the famine the family would help the community by feeding the townsfolk from a massIve cauldron, asking in return a fair day’s work.” (As you can see in the photo above, Jamie – at left – rocks her Irish bone fides pretty effortlessly.)
It’s all happening very quickly. They took possession of the space yesterday at noon and already they have their sleeves rolled up. The plan is for 102 seats split between upstairs and downstairs with a dozen on the patio. They’ll be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week with operating hours as follows: 11:30am to 3pm for lunch; 3pm to 5pm Happy Hour; 5pm to 10pm-ish for dinner.
Fans of the pub it is replacing, The Fat Badger, will be happy to know that Forkhill doesn’t look or feel hugely different. The decorative notes have all been swapped out – old family photos and milieu-hinting items (crockery and such, all painted off-white to blend with the freshly painted walls) have replaced the chalkboard menus – but for the most part it remains as genuinely cozy as I remembered it with its mix of buttoned-down banquette seats, communal high-tops and short, L-shaped bar all drawing extra aesthetic warmth from the central fireplace. I’m sure there are many other differences I missed because they were still setting up the room when I was in, but that’s beside the point, which is that it felt familiar, comfortable and good. I’m really looking forward to digging into the menu, especially the Scotch Eggs to see how they compare to those once beloved at the Badger. Have a look/read below, and take good note: St. Patrick’s Day – March 17th – is coming up fast; I can’t think of a better date to raise a glass and toast Forkhill’s arrival than that.