by Andrew Morrison | Chef David Gunawan of South Granville’s Farmer’s Apprentice and Grapes & Soda is on track to open his newest venture, Royal Dinette, this week. I took a peek inside yesterday afternoon as the staff were busily getting the 80 seater set for tonight’s media reveal. The official opening is tomorrow (Wednesday, July 22).
Located in the heart of the financial district (905 Dunsmuir St.) on what used to be the main floor of the two-storey Blackbird Public House, it’s a bit of a weird one as it pairs one of Vancouver’s most respected chefs with the oft-reviled Donnelly Group. That’s sort of like putting Peter Pan in a room with Darth Vader — an odd couple indeed!
Gunawan has certainly staffed the place well, starting with Jack Chen as Head Chef. I worked with Jack five years ago when he was chef de cuisine at L’Abattoir. I remember the guy as quiet, smart, exacting, calm, cool, and very talented. He’s been with Gunawan at Farmer’s Apprentice since the start and has been instrumental in making it one of the most well-reviewed eateries in the city. Meanwhile, in the front of house, Royal Dinette has Chen-Wei Lee (ex-Bao Bei, Wildebeest, Chambar) and Jonathan Therrien (Chambar, Cafe Medina) running the floor with long-time Chambar fixture Wendy McGuinness in charge of the bar. It’s a dream team, for sure.
It’s a striking space, the interior design and branding both pointing toward a modern, sophisticated take on the classic diner. The look is pure mise en scène however, sharply different from the cozy-homey-rustic aesthetic that has – to date – typically aligned with Gunawan’s ingredient-driven, seasonal, farm-to-table style of cooking. The draft menus I’ve seen certainly bend toward the locavore milieu at both lunch and dinner, with fresh pastas, a deep selection of salads, and delicious-sounding treatments of sustainable seafood. For certain, there’s not a patty melt in the bunch. The menus read really well when I scanned them – focused as they are on freshness and seasonality – and I can’t wait to sink my teeth into them.
How it will all be received is anyone’s guess. I expect/trust that the food and drink will be the best for many blocks around, but people who work in finance are subject to a stigma – true or not – that sees them giving few shits about where their food comes from. What’s more, this section of downtown is ruled by Joey and the Cactus Club in the day and is a bit of a desert wadi at night. So it’s definitely a risk, but who doesn’t like those? Take a look…