Inside Verre, Coal Harbour’s Newest Restaurant

Verre – the new Coal Harbour restaurant from first timers Matthew Fidler and chef Liam Breen – is on the very verge of launching in the old Crime Lab space at 550 Denman Street. I looked inside earlier this afternoon as they were getting ready for a reveal to local media.

The new, modern European-themed restaurant will host private friends and family services on Friday and Saturday to further test their timing and systems. They will take Sunday off to reset and then open to the public on Monday, December 10th. I won’t spoil it for you, but Breen’s menu reads rich and fantastic. Think parmesan-crusted veal chops, whole branzino, duck confit cassoulet and so on. (When I walked in today unannounced, chef came out of the kitchen holding a piece of foie gras in his one hand and a raft of papers in the other. A good sign.)

Now that I’ve seen it all dressed up, I’m really excited about Verre. It looks and feels like the sort of place Vancouver largely turned away from in the wake of the 2008/9 Financial Crisis — a seaside amalgam of Parkside and DB Bistro with bits of Fuel and Cru thrown in for decadent good measure. Of course we’ve welcomed several risk-taking and wonderful restaurants that needle towards the high end in those 10 years (L’Abattoir, Wildebeest, Kissa Tanto, etc.), but we would have seen many more had it not been for the crash that forced our food scene to a different track – one that rewarded folksy familiarity with no end of counter-service and comfort food. So even though I’m as down for fried chicken, tacos and ramen as the next guy, I’m raising a glass and crossing my fingers to the notion that we might have room enough for more places like this. Of course, the address is unquestionably challenging, but that shouldn’t matter if they really nail it, which I selfishly hope they do.

For a refresher on the project, here’s what I wrote about it a few weeks ago when I first got wind of it…

550 Denman St. doesn’t necessarily scream confidence when it comes to restaurant projects, having turned and burned several over the years, among them The Change, Sol Sun Belt Cookery, Bravo Bistro and Crime Lab. At the start of her review of Sol in 2012, Vancouver Sun food critic Mia Stainsby wrote thusly: “On my first visit to Sol Sunbelt Cookery, it was ‘what’s wrong with this picture?’ The food was delicious. The view from the patio was postcard-Vancouver (the two usually aren’t compatible). So where was everybody?”

That’s been the trouble. This little corner of the Coal Harbour seawall (see map at bottom) might as well be on the moon in the evenings, especially during the rainy season when summer’s reliable supply of joggers, rental cyclists and strollers from here and abroad largely disappears. That doesn’t mean that success will be forever elusive here. Not at all. It’s just that it likely won’t come easy. Does it ever?

Taking up the challenge are chef Liam Breen and front of house guy Matthew Fidler. They took possession of the 2,300 sqft space last winter with plans to open a 70 seat Modern European restaurant called Verre.

Breen, who is from Vancouver, cooked overseas for many years before his return home last Christmas, most recently running kitchens in Dubai (most notably at Marco Pierre White Grill and The Maine Oyster Bar). Though I’ve never eaten his food before, but I’ve seen lots of photos of his plating, which looked so promising that I may have drooled a little on the glossy magazine that featured it. Many people will recognize Fidler from his service at Tacofino and Crowbar — always a sincerely chummy and welcoming guy.

On my walk-through of the space late last week, it was clear how much it had been transformed even though boxes containing tables, chairs and just about everything else required to launch a restaurant were piled high in the middle of the dining room.

I’m excited to see how the design works out, with its glassed in wine cellar, 11 seat horseshoe bar and platform seating overlooking the 24 seat patio, seawall and mountains beyond. Maria Alejandra Kim-Petzel from Raw Interior Design Inc. is responsible for the look (see also Parkside Brewery in Port Moody), which was nowhere near being complete on my visit. That being said, design elements (think rose gold, marble, lots of greenery) and the overall vision were more or less explained via mood board (and my own imagination), so I think any and all anticipatory zeal is justified, and not just because Vancouver’s 22km of seawall could always use another restaurant that’s actually worth going to.

I glanced at Breen’s working dinner menu, too. I won’t attempt to quote it but it definitely reads refined, and much more French/Mediterranean than broad strokes pan-European. I pressed the chef on what level he was looking to land on in terms of customer experience, and he said casual fine dining. I think his menu choices and plating style might be of an echelon a little taller than that, which is only to say it’s fair to have high expectations on the food front here.

Verre expects to be open before the end of this month. Service will be dinner only until March, after which they aim to flirt with breakfast and lunch for the Spring/Summer.

Though they’re still waiting on a bunch of wine to arrive and jolly up the pretty cabinetry, it’s looking pretty good in there on the eve of their launch. Take a closer look below…

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