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“Cafe Medina” Lands New Location Downtown, Prepares For Move This August

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When Scout broke the news that Cafe Medina would be moving this summer, we asked our readership to vote on where they’d like to see the new location of the popular Beatty St. brunch spot. Well over 1,000 of you responded, with Mount Pleasant and the DTES (specifically Gastown, Strathcona, or Chinatown) being your favoured destinations. Alas, owner Robbie Kane is staying close to home, opting for the short-lived Tappo Restobar spot (formerly Q4 al Centro) at 780 Richards Street.

It’s a wise choice, and even though the move takes Medina a few blocks further away from me, I’m thrilled at the prospect. The change will not only increase Medina’s seating capacity to 75 people (up from 65), but it will also allow for a proper bar. And since bars are generally evening fixtures, we can expect the restaurant to eventually expand its operations and start serving dinner, perhaps as soon as this Autumn — and there was much rejoicing.

Further cause for high fives is the assurance from Kane that “all the favourites” will remain on the menu. To me (and Kane confirms this), that means things like the amazing tagine, the fluffy Liege waffles, and the dreamy short rib friccasse with applewood smoked cheddar and arugula. With the move, however, will come significant menu changes. And it’s ok to be anxious about that.  If you love Medina as much as I do, you might even be terrified. My initial fears, however, have since been calmed.

Those who enjoyed the Mother’s Day brunch at Medina may have spied Bittered Sling co-founder/chef Jonathan Chovancek observing operations. That’s because he’s been freshly brought aboard to steer the new Medina’s culinary ship forward. An admitted fan of the restaurant since its launch, Chovancek is very familiar with the existing menu, and is already at work experimenting with new items. “My goal is to slowly incorporate new dishes that will become classics, new favourites,” he says, adding that he’s keen to honour Medina’s legacy.

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Chovancek may have top drawer farm-to-table sensibilities and great relationships with local farmers and producers (one of the best pieces of salmon I’ve ever eaten was prepared by him several years ago out at UBC Farm), but the thing that quiets the anxieties I have about the changes to come is his demonstrated adaptability. By his own account, he’s an “interpretive chef” — he’s not one to be pigeon-holed as a proponent or purveyor of one particular cuisine. And I trust that the pan-Mediterranean/Levantine milieu of Medina won’t prove too difficult for him to unpack, iron out, and wear as if it were tailored to fit.

His experience inspires further confidence. With skills honed at Vancouver Island’s Aerie Resort and Sooke Harbour House, Ontario’s Eigensinn Farm and Avalon, and here in Vancouver via catering outfits like Culinary Capers and Kale & Nori, it’s not as if Chovancek is unfamiliar with high expectations. And it’ll be great to see him behind a line again. Bittered Sling, the company he launched with partner Lauren Mote, is now largely a retail operation that runs itself, so it’s not hard to measure his motivation. “I need to be cooking again,” he says with smile. Too right.

As for the space, don’t read anything into the photos you see above. It’s got high ceilings, windows, an open kitchen, and a bar. Beyond that, there will be next to nothing left of Tappo Restobar when they’re finished with it. Not even the floor is staying. Brian Kane – Robbie’s big brother and a production designer in the film trade for 30 years – is doing a complete overhaul, and I’m very excited to see what he comes up with.

The new Medina is on track to open in August, not long after the original location closes it doors.

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