Vancouver’s Botanist restaurant and cocktail bar provides a gastronomic take on botanical flavours, sustainability and Pacific Northwest Coast produce.
The unsustainability of meat-centred dining and year-round supplies of imported fruits and vegetables, is leading many chefs to emphasise local, seasonal produce and vegetables as key ingredients. Red Ochre and Orana emphasise the bounty of South Australia with Murray River Cod, Spencer Gulf prawns, and kangaroo prepared using unique flavours of Australian native ingredients: Davidson plums, wattleseed, eucalyptus leaves and beach succulents. Africola’s North African-inspired cuisine includes vegetables as equal partners alongside seafood and meats. Mouth-watering dishes, such as fried cauliflower with tahina cream and agrodolce, or Ngeringa carrots with curried almond aioli and bottarga, tempt even the most diehard carnivore.
At Botanist in Vancouver, executive chef Hector Laguna explained the restaurant’s philosophy of creating distinctive Northwest Coast cuisine emphasising pure and natural local produce with plants firmly centre-stage, rather than just accompaniments to meat and seafood. Botanical themes permeate the whole dining experience. The glass-enclosed garden terrace dining area is filled with more than types of food-producing plants including rare fruit bushes, coffee plants, green tea camellia, ginger and cardamom. One the open chefs work with calm concentration, alongside a circular shelving unit filled with jars of preserved fruits and vegetables.
The botanically-themed cocktail menu is headed Flowers and Trees, Fruits and Vegetables, Orchard and Field, and Herb and Spice. Unique cocktails are made from gin, vodka, whisky, tequila, mescal and less-common basics – fir gin, mushroom rye, and Italian artichoke liqueur – blended with plant-based ingredients: birch sap, electric daisies, oyster leaf, seaborne tincture, kinome leaf and clarified milk. These are served in bespoke glassware with appropriately-themed embellishments: a glass of Candy Cap Magic nestles in forest moss; Deep Cove is flavoured with sea buckthorn, tinted with blue algae, and presented in a glass vessel set into driftwood; Pretty Bird cocktail, made from gin, berries, seeds and bubbles, is served in a hand-blown, bird-shape glass vessel. The botanical fun continues with non-alcoholic beverages such as Heartwood, made from cedar, smoked alder, and birch sap, and Not Yet, made from carrot, golden beet, ginger and lemon.
The wine list is an extensive terroir-driven selection from boutique wineries that use sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture and winemaking practices. Wine director Jill Spoor travels internationally to identify producers, sample wines, and meet winemakers. “Our wine program is all about purity and wines that are expressive, clean, bright, and lively. It is an honour to represent these tiny wineries and share them with our guests. Many guests say, ‘I don’t recognise any of these wines’, but that is a good thing. I can share their stories which are often about passion and care for the environment.”
Our meal begins with lavender and dill-cured salmon with sorrel foam, garnished with salmon roe, salmon berries and buckwheat, served with sparkling rosé. Next, a Roche Pinot Gris beautifully matches a delicious, bright green cherry heirloom tomato gazpacho topped with water buffalo ricotta and artichoke chips.
Octopus is delicious when prepared and cooked well. Laguna char-grill it until tender and flavoursome, adds a Mexican flavour and gentle spice with chorizo and chorizo vinaigrette, and serves it on super-creamy cauliflower purée with fine shavings of cauliflower and watermelon radish.
The fish course is a prettily-presented and richly-flavoured sea bream decorated with slices of tiny baby zucchini ‘scales’ and served with a buttery, melt-on-the tongue squash sabayon and sweet young baby summer squash. The accompanying Tellme Rodriguez’s Mountain Blanco, a dry-style Muscat from Sierras de Malaga in Spain, is soft yet savoury with creamy vanilla tones.
Next. Laguna draws on his Mexican background, serving tender, pink duck breast with charred corn and fermented jalapeño, used in moderation to provide subtle heat, and chanterelles, crispy, shaved burdock root, and black shallot jus. The complex flavours are perfectly matched with a Wilhelm Walch Santa Magdalener Classico from Italy.
Dessert is Cherry Chocolate Cheers S’more, a luscious take on a North American campfire classic traditionally made with chocolate and roasted marshmallows sandwiched between two pieces of graham cracker. Our dessert is a more sophisticated version with Aero chocolate house-made graham crackers formed into a curve, filled with Tanzanian chocolate cremeux, hot cherry confiture, frozen cacao nib parfait, hints of saltiness from salted chocolate chunks, and finally a wedge of creamy Brillaste- Saverin cheese – an inspirational combination of flavours. It is served with a Cream Micalle Sherry. I cannot think of a better way to round off a wonderful meal.