In December, 2019 we first got wind of Barbara, a 17-seat Chinatown restaurant from chef and first-time restaurateur Patrick Hennessy. Covid-19 slowed its construction some, but it’s now nearly finished.
I’m really excited about this project. Small, intimate, chef-driven restaurants are becoming fewer and farther between in Vancouver, which isn’t all that surprising given this city’s juvenile fetish for big box, corporate, cookie cutter chains that do very little to advance the ball of our restaurant scene. Sadly, I fear they will be even less common after the pandemic runs its catastrophic course, which is why I can’t help but look at the coming of Barbara – and other restaurants like it – like the hatching of golden egg. It should be witnessed. It should be celebrated.
If this is the first time you’re hearing of it, here’s a length-edited excerpt from my first piece on it, written the week Patrick got the keys…
It is named after the chef/owner’s mother, who taught Patrick how to cook and encouraged his love of food at a young age. The 500 sqft restaurant project is located on the ground floor of the new Brixton Flats building at 305 East Pender Street.
When I took a look inside the space last week it was as raw as can be, but I’ve seen some renderings of the design by Ply Architecture, which will come complete with a mural by local artist Sarah Delaney, millwork by Union Wood Co. and contracting by Harmony Pacific — it looks pretty sweet.
What has me salivating isn’t its location or the promise of a cool interior. Rather, it’s Patrick’s cooking. This guy has been developing his talent in and outside of Vancouver for a long time. He has plenty of prime time experience, counting sous chef turns at Kissa Tanto and New York City’s acclaimed Eleven Madison Park on his resume, plus a five-year run as the sous chef at Chambar.
He’s a careful guy – as evidenced by a two-year search for the right location – but he has a lot of industry goodwill blowing his sails. In developing Barbara – essentially a casual, chef-driven small plates concept (soundtracked by early 90s hip hop, thank goodness) – he has received guidance from many in the Chambar diaspora, restaurateurs like Robbie Kane of Cafe Medina and Justin Tisdall of Juke Fried Chicken, not to mention Chambar’s own Nico and Karri Schuermans (to date, almost two dozen restaurants – several of them among the best in Canada – have been opened by former Chambar employees).
All of that is to say if you consider yourself even a minor food enthusiast or hardcore restaurant zealot, Barbara needs to be on your radar.
They were nearly finished when I looked in on progress last week. The last time I was in there it had been completely empty, so it was cool to see it filled in and matching the design renderings I’d seen from Ply Architecture. I love the mural work by Sarah Delaney, and the pink neon ‘Barbara’ sign – an actual trace of Patrick’s mom’s signature – really fits the room.
Both Patrick and GM/Bartender Betty Cooper (ex-Nightingale, Hawksworth, Boulevard) were there at the L-shaped bar, ordering essentials like cooking wine and awaiting the arrival of new chairs and stools (the red seats visible in the photos are just temporary). When they open in early June there will be reduced seating for social distancing, which is hard to imagine given their already comically limited capacity.
The only other conceptual alteration brought on by Covid-19 was Patrick’s determination to support local farms, distilleries, wineries and breweries as much as he can. He showed me a draft of the first menu, which looked like a lot of delicious fun, but this was perfunctory and I committed nothing to memory — I want the surprise! Take a look inside…