WITH a name that evokes the thunder of wild cattle across the Serengeti, and an emphasis on "wholeanimal cookery," I was expecting Wildebeest to be somewhat . . . primal.
I think I can be excused for the assumption.
Everything breathlessly tweeted, Instagrammed and written on Facebook about the place - in only three weeks since its opening - has been about the meat. Wildebeest is not for vegetarians.
So I was pleasantly surprised last week when I joined a media lunch at the new Gastown space and found an elegant room, sophisticated food, and a fully fleshed-out (excuse the pun) concept.
Co-owned by Abigail's Party's James Iranzad and the Diamond's Josh Pape, the restaurant is all soaring ceilings, exposed brick and rough-hewn wood. There's a noticeable nod to history here. In the dining room, light bulbs hang from curtain pulleys salvaged from the Pantages Theatre. The tables, kitchen pass, bar, shelving, even the stairs leading to the wine bar, are made of wood from the old police stables.
The effect is thoughtful and polished - much like the food. Executive chef David Gunawan is in the kitchen.
Best known around town for his stint at West restaurant, he moved to Belgium in 2011 to cook at Michelin-starred In De Wulf.
At Wildebeest he keeps a tight rein on the ingredients, even working with local farmers to choose the diets for the chicken, pork, lamb, and veal featured on the menu.
We sampled several dishes during our lunch - I'll soon be back to try more.
Heirloom radishes were served whole, in a bowl of honey yogurt and cool beet sorbet, in which we could dredge them before crunching down.
We snacked on buttery Castelvetrano olives, made even better by having been smoked; and a rich country paté, served with toasted bread.
Luscious, olive oil-poached halibut arrived resting in a savoury pool of dill-scented whey sauce and pearl tapioca; while slices of tender pork jowl came arranged atop plum and long pepper-scented oats.
Courses were matched skilfully by sommelier Lindsay Ferguson: a pretty Sangiovese rosé with the halibut and a refined Pierre Ponnelle Bourgogne Passetoutgrain with the pork.
In fact, her entire list offers some unique bottles from both Old and New World wine regions. The underground wine bar also offers 12 wines on tap, including JoieFarm's Noble Blend, from the By the Glass system.
Together - the space, the food, the wines, and Pape's cocktail list - make for a very civilized meal out. There's nothing beastly about it at all.
Wildebeest is located at 120 West Hastings St., Vancouver, and is open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday.