I know this was mentioned earlier this morning in our weekly news round-up but I wanted to extend my personal congratulations to Makoto Ono, Amanda Cheng, Julius Dong and the entire team at Yew Street’s charming, bar-less, Scott & Scott-designed Mak N Ming for earning the No. 4 spot on enRoute magazine’s Best New Restaurants in Canada list.
The anointing by enRoute food writer Andrew Braithwaite puts the 28 seater on the same elevated plane as Kissa Tanto, AnnaLena, Bao Bei, Savio Volpe, L’Abattoir, Hawksworth, Cibo Trattoria, Farmers Apprentice and the many other BC restaurants that have cracked the list in the past. It’s a big achievement made bigger by that fact that this is the second time the trio has been instrumental in getting a restaurant listed (they were part of the opening crew with Brandon Grossutti at Gastown’s PiDGiN, which took the No. 5 spot in 2013). They were also the only BC-based restaurant to be ranked in the top 10 this year.
So what happens now? Will Mak N Ming get busier? Most definitely. Landing the big nod from enRoute immediately puts more bums in seats. It’s just a fact. I’ve seen it happen year after year. (Disclosure: I am one of the regional advisors to enRoute and its annual “Best New Restaurants in Canada” operation.) But does it mean a forever-unbroken boulevard of green lights for the place? Hardly. A kitchen is only as good as its last service, so only time will tell. Local restaurant historians (are there such a thing?) will remember that chef Moreno Miotto’s Bis Moreno closed shortly after it received the same accolade in 2003. Also not long for this world were Fraiche and Boneta. There are no guarantees in the restaurant world. As is the case in every business realm: shit happens.
Though – and I say this in selfish preface – the enRoute love might make it harder for diners to get a table in the short term, it’s an honour that is well deserved. To offer thoughtfully constructed tasting menus with quiet confidence (and even quieter self-doubt) in this cutthroat-competitive, do-just-one-thing-well fixative age of fetishized fried chicken and instagrammed ramen is pretty ballsy.
Globe & Mail critic Alexandra Gill was more succinct, summarizing it thusly in her review last May:
Falling in love, whether with a restaurant or fellow mortals, is a funny thing. That first flush of endorphins makes everything brighter and shinier. You know there are bound to be cracks and flaws that you can’t yet see. But that instinctual feeling of having found a missing link cannot be denied. Mak N Ming is the bright, glowing yang to Vancouver’s waning yin: small yet serious; formal but not stuffy; ambitious without overreaching; familiar and still exciting. It’s modern fine dining for people who truly adore dining, not just going out to see and be seen.
Mak N Ming construction, November 2016 | photos: Scout Magazine
It is awards like these that help draw attention to the very limb that Mak N Ming went out on, the national praise helping to shine a bright light on the more creative and fearless corners of Vancouver’s culinary scene. I hope it will inspire other local restaurateurs – especially the newer generation of its cooks (long may they run) – to keep fleshing out our city’s lowered-nose, low-overhead retooling of the casual fine dining experience.
I was at a dinner at Mak N Ming a few days before the list was announced to the public (last week’s irreverent, Thriller-themed feast). The spirit in the tiny, Japanese/French-inspired kitchen – that night amplified by guest chefs Mark Singson, Sean Reeves and Trevor Bird – was playful and inventive, while the clean-lined, woody room was full and fun. I remember thinking – jealously – how lucky Kitsilano was to have it.
But it’s not the neighbourhood’s little secret any more; for the next little while it will be thought of as one of the best new restaurants in Canada. I join their fans in wishing them a good ride, and whatever luck they might need in meeting the onslaught of high expectations.