Yesterday afternoon I met up with chef Lee Cooper, co-owner/co-chef of the upcoming Coquille Fine Seafood restaurant in Gastown. We broke the news of the upcoming establishment at the end of the last summer. If you missed it, here’s an excerpt:
One of the best restaurant locations in the city has been picked up by chefs Lee Cooper and Jack Chen of Gastown’s critically acclaimed L’Abattoir. I’m talking about 1 Water Street, or what used to be the old Secret Location address on the northwest corner of Maple Tree Square. Their plan – already well underway – is to build a modern seafood restaurant.
In order to understand what’s coming it’s important to know what came before it. Until it closed in July 2016, Secret Location was for four years connected to the high fashion and lifestyle store of the same name next door, which is still in operation today selling – among a great many other hilarious things – $1,000 fedoras. Despite the best efforts of some very talented kitchen staff (including executive chef Jefferson Alvarez), Secret Location was almost always empty, having never found its target audience of young 1% types who like to eat where they shop. The most common crack about the place was really just a simple observation, one that is often uttered by industry people when they come across a new build sullied by a poorly considered concept: “It will make a great restaurant for someone else one day.”
Indeed. Secret Location’s failure opened the door for chef/restaurateur Lee Cooper – who is once again being backed by Nin Rai (one of his partners at L’Abattoir) – and chef Jack Chen, who was Cooper’s opening chef de cuisine at L’Abattoir. This is the first time Jack has had any skin in the game as an owner, and it’s cool to see him graduating thus. (I’ve watched him and Lee cook close-up through many a service, and they function together like a quiet, well-oiled machine.)
Running the front of house will be Liam Todd, who you might recognise from the floor at L’Abattoir or Savio Volpe; or possibly from Nightingale, where he was a member of the opening crew.
(For the sake of clarity, it’s important to note that Nin and Lee’s other partner at L’Abattoir, Paul Grunberg, isn’t involved in Coquille, just as Nin and Lee aren’t involved in Paul’s other project, Savio Volpe. I guess it’s one big open marriage, if you will.)
From what I understand of the concept, Coquille will be a modern take on a classic seafood restaurant (full name: “Coquille Fine Seafood”). Jack and Lee want to play in the narrow space where familiarity and creativity intertwine, allowing them to look anew at old standards such as crab cakes, seafood towers and fish and chips. If I had to pin it this early, it sounds like a cross between L’Abattoir and Joe Fortes.
The entrance to the restaurant is being moved from the front of the building to its side. Its interior will be split into two zones: the upper part being a bar and lounge area with an 8-9 seat wood (complete with shucking station and ice display), while the lower part will be a dining room anchored by a series of large, scallop shell-shaped booths (Coquille being French for “Shell”).
On my walk-through yesterday I was excited to see how far the restaurant had come along. They were closer to being finished than I thought they’d be. To the left of the entrance were the scallop shell-shaped booths described above, while the upper area – with its long bar and open kitchen – was similarly sorted. As you can see in the images above and below, there’s still much work to be done, but Lee told me he and Jack hope to have it open by the middle of February, so it’s less than a month away.