BOOZER: So What Is The Deal With Fernet Branca, Your Bartender’s Secret Sauce?

by David Greig | First produced by self-taught apothecary Bernandino Branca in 1845, Fernet Branca is an Italian amaro, specifically a fernet.  It is a type of potable bitters made by infusing a base spirit with a number of herbs and spices, thereby creating a secret, proprietary recipe. In this case, the blend includes saffron, gentian, rhubarb, chamomile, myrrh and up to 40 others. It is then aged for 12 months in Slovenian oak.

Yes, but what is it really…

Fernet was (and still is) prized for its medicinal qualities, particularly in aiding the digestive system in times of need. It was also, oddly, the inspiration behind the Booker Prize-listed novel Cooking with Fernet Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson in 2004. Some refer to it as the Thinking Man’s Jagermeister – making it pretty much the very definition of an “acquired taste”. Most recoil at their first sip, but learn to cherish it as one would an endearingly abusive lover. It serves a modern purpose as a bartender’s secret handshake, garnering a knowing look, nod and wink from any self-respecting barkeep upon order. Setting its stall staunchly in the so-bad-it’s-good category, it’s as close a thing as there is to drinking with irony. In other words, it’s “Snakes On A Plane” for bar geeks.

And How Should I Use It?

“Hanky Panky” (created by Ada Coleman in the American Bar at The Savoy in 1925)

1.5 oz Gin
1.5oz Sweet Vermouth
2 dash Fernet Branca

Stir with ice in a mixing glass. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with orange twist. Enjoy.

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U.K. import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine and can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping around town.

Seen In Vancouver #295: A Rapturous Cocktail For An Apocalypse The Never Came

Local barman Shaun Layton created this liquid negotiation with God last night just 23 minutes before the supposed start of the Rapture (6pm, Universal Texas Time). Seeing as we’re all still here, it looks like he saved the world. Attaboy Jesus Shaun!

ALSO SEEN IN VANCOUVER…

10 Minutes With Jake Skakun Of L’Abattoir And Cherries & Clay

Jake Skakun is the sommelier at Gastown’s L’Abattoir and shares editorial duties with our friend Kurtis Kolt over at our favourite wine blog, Cherries & Clay.

Three things about Mt. Pleasant that make you want to live there: I love that it’s a neighbourhood that actually has community and feels like a neighbourhood. A lot of my great friends are close by. There are restaurants and bars that I truly enjoy visiting.

Default drink/cocktail of choice? Cru Beaujolais or anything from the Jura. Lapierre, Foillard, Breton, Puffeney and Tissot are a few French surnames that make me happy.

Drink/cocktail you’ll never have again? I wont write anything off completely, but you’ll never see me order Vodka/soda or a watery Pinot Grigio. I’m long over the phase of drinking drinks with no flavour.

Fashion turn-off? Too much perfume – something that’s taken seriously in the wine community. Tone down the high school-strength doses.

Fashion turn-on? I’m more of a style-class-elegance kind-of-guy than a short-skirt kind-of-guy.

The Vancouverite that you admire most? Currently Daniel Sedin. Ask me again in a few weeks.

What trend have you followed that you now regret? I stand by all of my past trend decisions. Even the era of very spiky hair.

What are the three things you’d like to change about Vancouver? This is a poignant issue in BC, but most who know me are already aware of how critical I am of how our government monopoly handles the sale of wine. I believe the BCLDB should be drastically reformed and that the government shouldn’t be involved in the retail side of wine. Most of the laws we’re forced to work within are remnants of our province’s brief 3-year stint with prohibition. It’s time we reform these 90+ year-old laws. We have an industry with so many spirited and knowledgeable people; if we weren’t stifled, we could have a truly great wine culture. That’s a topic for a whole separate article. I also wish that Vancouver had better solutions for supporting people with mental illness and addictions. And finally, more bike lanes.

Is there a local bartender who could sell you anything? Shaun Layton and David Greig are two of the most talented barmen I’ve known and it’s not just because I work with them at L’Abattoir. Any variation on a Last Word by those boys is absurdly good…the latest is a Mezcal Last Word and it may change your life – or at the very least, the way you think about cocktails. Read more

GOODS: Gastown’s “L’Abattoir” To Launch Sunday Night Service Beginning April 10th

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L'Abattoir is located at 217 Carrall St in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood | 604-568-1701 | www.labattoir.ca

The GOODS from L’Abattoir

Vancouver, BC | L’Abattoir, the Gastown hotspot recently voted Best New Restaurant in the annual Golden Plates issue of The Georgia Straight, will be open seven days a week beginning April 10th. Just in time for longer days and warm summer nights, the addition of an extra night of service stems from an overwhelming number of requests from patrons who want the option of dining at L’Abattoir every night of the week.

Led by General Manager Paul Grunberg and Chef Lee Cooper, L’Abattoir serves French influenced West Coast fare paired with innovative imbibing programs from Sommelier Jake Skakun and Head Barman Shaun Layton. The restaurant offers a variety of settings including 13 stools in the front of house bar and lounge, 46 seats in the elevated dining room and 22 seats in the romantic atrium off of Goalers’s Mews. Read more

Gastown’s “L’Abattoir” Seeking Self-Motivated Chef De Partie…

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L'Abattoir is located at 217 Carrall St in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood | 604-568-1701 | www.labattoir.ca

Job Posting from Scout supporter L’Abattoir

Vancouver, BC | L’Abattoir is seeking a motivated Chef de Partie/Line Cook. The successful candidate will be a self motivated, driven individual who committed to ongoing learning and personal growth as a cook. Minimum 2 years experience is required for this position. Please apply in confidence to info [at] labattoir [dot ca]. Details about the restaurant after the jump… Read more

Gastown’s “L’Abattoir” To Plate Prix Fixe This New Year’s Eve…

December 17, 2010 

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L'Abattoir is located at 217 Carrall St in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood | 604-568-1701 | www.labattoir.ca

News from Scout supporter L’Abattoir

Vancouver, BC | Diners looking to satiate themselves in gourmet style this New Year’s Eve need not look further than Gastown’s hottest new restaurant, L’Abattoir. Chef Lee Cooper and his team will be ringing in 2011 with a five-course menu priced at $75 per person, while Shaun Layton and wine aficionado Jake Skakun will be pouring custom cocktails and boutique wines throughout the evening. Whether guests are looking for an elegant evening of food, friends and great music, or some pre-party sustenance that will keep them dancing late into the night, L’Abattoir will certainly satisfy. Full menu and details below. Read more

Scout Jobs: A Winter Of Warmth Hosting The Door At L’Abattoir

December 8, 2010 

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L'Abattoir is located at 217 Carrall St in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood | 604-568-1701 | www.labattoir.ca

Job Posting from Scout supporter L’Abattoir

Vancouver, BC | Gastown’s L’Abattoir restaurant is seeking a part-time host/hostess for 1-3 shifts a week, daytime and evenings. Experience required. Email resume to info@labattoir.ca or hand deliver Tues-Saturday between 4pm and 5pm. Learn more about the restaurant after the jump…(THIS POSITION HAS BEEN FILLED) Read more

Gastown’s Popular “L’Abattoir” Taking Its First Reservations…

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L'Abattoir is located at 217 Carrall St in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood | 604-568-1701 | www.labattoir.ca

News from Scout supporter L’Abattoir

Vancouver, BC | Gastown hotspot L’Abattoir will begin taking dinner reservations just in time for the busy holiday season. Fans of Chef Lee Cooper’s innovative West Coast fare will now be able to secure tables via labattoir.ca, or by phoning the restaurant directly at (604) 568-1701.

“We strive to offer our guests an exceptional experience every time they dine with us,” says owner Paul Grunberg. “By implementing a reservations system just in time for one of the busiest calendar months of the year, we’ll be able to ensure guests are afforded every opportunity and convenience to join us, both over the holidays and in the months to come.” Read more

Saying Goodbye To The Kitchen Pass At Gastown’s “L’Abattoir”

September 26, 2010 

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by Andrew Morrison | Tonight’s my last shift working the pass at Gastown’s L’Abattoir. A big thank you to all the staff for tolerating my presence in their midst, and to owners Nin Ari, Paul Grunberg, and Lee Cooper for allowing me the opportunity to play witness to the opening of their superlative restaurant. I’ll miss my brothers in arms, Dylan and Joe (and all the bacon brioche that we sneak at the end of the night), and the excitement that comes when the room is packed and the pass is full of dupes. I might even miss polishing 1000 pieces of cutlery a night (probably not). For certain, pulling 150+ covers in a 70 seat room made for a fun, hectic ride. I’d never before worked with so solid a crew, both front and back. From orientation and training to opening night and every shift since, it was a pleasure and a privilege that I won’t soon forget. Thank you.

Some of the insights gleaned during my stint will be in Vancouver magazine’s November issue (in a wide-ranging story on the exploding dining scenes of Gastown and the DTES), but you’ll be able to read more about my L’Abattoir days in a story on the current state of restaurant service in our city that is coming out in the March 2011 issue (I think) of the same magazine. I’ll be working at West next (shadowing the legendary Brian Hopkins), and maybe on the floor at one other restaurant (not sure which just yet). But that’s all beside the point. I clock in for my final shift in two hours. Come in, say hello, and try the beet soup with meatballs, dill, and horseradish creme fraiche. It’ll blow your freakin’ head off.

Here are just a few of the tasty memories I’ll be taking with me… Read more

Ah, So This Is What It Feels Like To Be Scared Of Alexandra Gill

September 7, 2010 

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I was on the Urban Rush television show again today and hosts Michael Eckford and Fiona Forbes were ribbing me about working two nights a week as an expediter at Gastown’s L’Abattoir (if you didn’t already know, I’m there researching for a Vancouver magazine story on restaurant service that is due this Spring – please be sure to say ‘hi’ if you come in). Anyway, I didn’t take offense. They were just kidding around.

Still, having invested a bucket of my own sweat in the place since opening night nearly two months ago, I’ve grown quite proud of the restaurant, especially the people who work there. So when I heard that both my colleagues at the Globe & Mail and the Vancouver Sun had come in for reviews while I was off traveling, indulging in my real job (the same as theirs), I couldn’t help but feel nervous. What if it’s bad? What if it’s fucking terrible? Oh my God, I thought. We’re going to get anally raped and crucified.

Since many of you aren’t restaurant wonks (please don’t change), let me tell you about Alexandra Gill, Vancouver’s food critic for the Globe & Mail. Of the five or six paid restaurant reviewers in town, she is by far the most feared. I’d put the number of people in the local trade who like her column at about 17 out of 40,000, and I’d wager that 10 of those are either drug addicts, liars or probably both. But they all read her.

She might pen a dud every few months (most weekly critics do), but damn it if there isn’t always an entertaining flick of the knife, a slash that leaves a mark. When she really sinks her teeth into a restaurant’s jugular, it’s the ultimate schadenfreude sundae. Even when I love the restaurant that is being torched, it’s as mesmerising as watching a cheetah take down a Thompson gazelle in slow motion. First comes the run and then the turn. Once you see the claw hitting the ankle and restaurant’s center of gravity falter, it’s all blood and dust from there. I imagine she’s exhausted after writing her best. Panting. Too spent to eat. And at the end of every read I don’t know whether to burn the paper or keep it in order to study how she does it.

While she doesn’t have the power to break a restaurant, she sure can make the people who work in them angry. She’s even made me angry at times, but only when I think she’s gone too far. For a few years – when I had a hotter head – I wasn’t all that kind to her. Why? Because – gasp – she spoke her mind, kept her own counsel and could give a damn about what anyone thought of her. I’ve written wholly reactionary words about her over the last five years, none of them nice. To be honest, I’m quite sure that some of them were downright awful.

So when Paul Grunberg, L’Abattoir’s owner, told me that she was writing the review, my sphincter involuntarily tightened. I felt the fear, the very same that most chefs and restaurateurs might feel whenever she calls to “follow up with a few questions”, only it was amplified, like ten-fold. I very quickly convinced myself that, despite the obvious merits of the restaurant (which she would ignore), she was going to take every backhanded thing I’d ever written about her and use this golden, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to slam it all back in my dumb, smug face. Yes, and with a big fuck you and a steaming turd on top. I was a liability to the restaurant, a walking time bomb. And she was holding the detonator. How could I have ever been so plum stupid to have set the hard-working people of L’Abattoir up for this? What a total asshole.

But she’s the pro and I’m the child, given to wild delusions fed by my sometimes Herculean sense of self-importance. Of course she loved it. She wrote almost the exact same review I would have done if I wasn’t polishing the restaurant’s glassware and trying not to get in anyone’s way. She probably had no idea I was working there. She could probably give a fuck, really.

Phew.

Mia Stainsby’s review comes out late tonight in Sun. Naturally, I’m convinced that it will be hand delivered by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, that it will be terrible, and that it’s somehow all my fault.

Help Wanted: “L’Abattoir” Seeks Experienced Chef De Partie

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Scout supporter L’Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown is seeking a reliable, motivated chef de partie immediately. Please reply by email in confidence to info@labattoir.ca with a resume detailing no less than 2-3 years experience. We look forward to hearing from you.

Thoughts And Photos From The First Few Days At “L’Abattoir”

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Those were a fun first few days at L’Abattoir in Gastown. With the kitchen in calibration mode to perfect their timing, the pace was calculated so as to guarantee necks above water until close. The door was managed really well, and the action was all very smooth from my vantage point on the pass (the busy communications and exchange station in the kitchen where the plates are finished by the chef and then distributed to the staff). Almost as many customers were turned away as were seated on opening night, which is, I think, a jolly good harbinger of things to come.

From valet parking needs to service protocols, some interesting dynamics are already emerging, the most fascinating of them being those generated by the neighbourhood itself. As I’m sure most of you are aware, Gastown enjoys a late crowd these days, especially on weekends, and since the kitchen only stays open until 10:30pm, it’s Shaun and David at the bar who are receiving the wave of latecomers. As we are busily shutting down (polishing silver and stemware), they get pretty well slammed with folks keen to take a peek, wish them well and get their drink on. They’re both solid pros, however, dudes long accustomed to high volume. Most of my experience has been at slightly more formal restaurants that don’t attract a crowd seeking Negronis and Manhattans, so it’s weird to be finished with food service and then confronted with a crush of bodies at the bar. It’s pretty awesome. Read more

Training Days Inside Gastown’s Highly Anticipated “L’Abattoir”

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As regular readers might remember, I’m writing a feature for Vancouver Magazine on table service in the city and how it’s been evolving with our restaurant scene. To gain some insight, I’m putting the old apron back on (God help you all) and getting back to work. I’ll be at South Granville’s storied West Restaurant for a night later this summer, but right now I’m concentrating on the opening of L’Abattoir in Gastown (I’ve been invited to clock in at Deacon’s Corner, too, and I hope to be able to make that happen, too).

So far it’s been a lot of fun. We did cocktail and wine training yesterday and talked a little about service philosophy and the different protocols associated with each (table settings, approach, et cetera). It’s been fascinating to watch them try and create their own style to suit their vision for the restaurant. I’m really very psyched about the whole “embedded” experience, though not a little freaked that I might drop something. In a few hours we start the final menu tasting, followed by a proper dry run of friends and family. The opening to the public, if all goes well, should be a ‘go’ for Friday (knock on wood). Lots of photos of the room and our training sessions after the jump. Read more

On Staff Orientation & Service Stories @ Gastown’s L’Abattoir

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I’ve started researching for a couple of features for Vancouver magazine this week. One of them is on restaurant service across the city, which as I’m sure you’re aware can range from the outright deplorable to the superbly air tight. I’m taking it as an opportunity to work shifts at three different establishments that will hopefully reveal to readers some of the different kinds of styles and philosophies represented in the more fascinating coves of our restaurant scene. One of these will be the soon-to-open L’Abattoir in Gastown.

It’s my hope that participating in service through the prism of a hotly anticipated restaurant opening will prove of interest on several levels, not least because the exhilarating systems check that is opening night is something that only happens once in a restaurant’s lifetime. It’s then that you discover what works and what doesn’t, and when experience steps in to calibrate.

Staff orientation began yesterday, with the fourteen member front of house crew (several familiar faces) in their civvies listening to co-owner/chef Lee Cooper going over the menu, wine guy Jake Skakun explaining the list, and bar manager Shaun Layton (interview) presenting his cocktail list in a room that was still very much under construction (see pics below).

Though I wasn’t umbilically attached like the other staff, I was still a little nervous. It had been about 10 years since I’d done any sort of orientation in a restaurant, and nearly four since I hung up my apron and started writing full time. I’d like to think floor work is “old hat” or like shoes I can just slip back on whenever the fancy strikes, but the butterflies suggested very much otherwise. Good times… Read more

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