Headed for the Okanagan? Check out Kelowna’s newest restaurant, Home Block. Attached to the esteemed CedarCreek Estate Winery, the pretty thing has only just opened but is already firing on all cylinders.
The restaurant – constructed of fieldstone and reclaimed timbers from a 100 year-old barn (and named after CedarCreek’s Home Block Vineyard) – is certainly among the most beautifully situated in the Okanagan, parked as it is overlooking the lake and the setting sun. The big modern room takes “open concept” outside with no immediately discernible divide between the restaurant’s exterior and interior.
The broad, open kitchen looks out onto the dining room and patio, its right flank leading to a private room and its left connecting to a long bar, which leads to a cloister of other tables, among them an 8-10 seat slab under a big dome light. The steeply pitched roof results in a very high ceiling, which lends the whole a hushed, cathedral-like feel.
It is a stunning achievement; quite the feather in CedarCreek’s cap.
Visiting diners from the Lower Mainland might recognize chef Neil Taylor from his days at Cibo, Espana and The Fat Badger. They might also recall his affinity for British and southern European classics, which have always struck a delicious but tricky balance between the simple and the refined without being too precious or too familiar. (Witness his Sunday Roasts in miniature) His cooking – as far as I’ve known it through four different kitchens – doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but rather studs the tires, giving the dishes he chooses to ride just a little more grip. Fresh, punched up pastas? Yes. Bone-in meats fired on the largest Grillworks Infierno in BC? Truly, and the behemoth must be seen to be believed (the wood comes from seasoned barrel staves and fruit trees). Sticky toffee pudding? Done exactly like the darkly sweet show-stopper he used to serve at The Fat Badger. And what for the disinterested punter? Why not a bacon cheeseburger with horseradish and crispy onions plated next to hand-cut french fries…
The cross-section of the menu that I put away was a parade of flawlessness that still has me wishing it was closer to home. It’s the ideal winery restaurant, one that will excite the intrepid without terrifying the unadventurous or – and this is crucial – boring the staff.
Out front, the service team is led by Michael Ziff, who was instrumental in shepherding Vancouver’s multiple award-winning St. Lawrence restaurant through its all-important first year. He’s evidently put together a tight little crew that’s well-versed in the CedarCreek library and totally on board with Neil’s cooking. Michael is actually a seasoned veteran of several of our city’s best restaurants (including Chambar), and while it certainly sucks to see him seduced by tables afar, we should forgive his exit. Kelowna is a big lifestyle change for him and Neil, and they both appear to be enjoying it.
It’s a very rare thing for a room with an incredible view to even be remotely interested in raising its food, drink and service to a level so high that they collectively inspire return customers. But that’s what’s going on here. (Unfathomably, Vancouver has 22 kilometers of seawall, dozens of skyscrapers and a range of mountains at its edge and yet it still struggles to achieve this, struggling to support comparable approximations fewer than half a dozen times over the past 20 years.) Home Block changes the game in the Okanagan – especially the Kelowna area – by not only raising the bar for winery restaurants, but also for restaurants in general.
Bottom-line: If you’re headed anywhere near this part of our province this summer, be sure to make a reservation and go.