Before the new year I asked readers who had visited the new Beach House in Dundarave to give me their impressions. I appreciate the onslaught of mail that ensued. Not surprisingly, the majority of correspondence compared the newly opened restaurant to the former one, which closed in 2018 for a significant period of renovation.
Most correspondents lamented the loss of a certain beloved dish to the new menu, or remarked on how little seemed to have changed from an interior design perspective from the old to the new.
After a recent visit to Beach House for a seafood focused dinner with my friend Gil, I suggest it is best not to think of the new Beach House as a new iteration of an old favourite, but rather as an entirely different restaurant linked only by name and location to the business that closed in 2018. Much has been made of the alleged Earls takeover of the space, but I should point out that the original Beach House, opened in 2010, was already owned by the Fuller family of Earls fame.
Despite my reservations about yet another franchise-style venue, I did not feel the chain’s influence over much of the experience, save perhaps in the freshman-like newness of the staff, which, though clearly not an industry veteran squad, was nevertheless endearingly earnest and eager to please. The restaurant is certainly not branded as Earls and successfully maintains a stand-alone vibe.
I visited on a rainy Tuesday night, without a reservation. The restaurant was maybe a third full, so Gil and I had our choice of tables, opting for one on the upper level in order to afford a good view of the room’s operation. I would characterize the interior design as clean, bordering on stark. Tiled floors, white walls and ceilings, accents of greyish wooden beams that might be alder, maple, or ash, and muted lighting contributed to the space’s contemporary feel, very much in keeping with the sort of reserved esthetic one might find in a new West Vancouver beach house proper. Floor to ceiling glass paneled doors still prevail on the lower level and I imagine that when the weather changes in the late spring, a patio will offer coveted seating.
Gil and I were alerted to the Tuesday evening specials by our server. Every night of the week has a different featured offering and we were pleased to discover that these specials were actually compelling, not the typical rotating roster of thoughtless discounts that so often inform weekly specials. On the night of our visit, Royal Miyagi oysters were on offer at $1.50 a piece, along with a suite of heavily discounted sparkling wine options.
It should be said that I have consumed more oysters on the half shell with Gil than with anyone else on the planet. When we used to work together at a local restaurant, we were both on shift one evening when oysters were on a New Year’s Eve taster menu. Inclement weather scuppered the evening’s flow and we ended up with nearly a full room’s worth of no-shows. At the end of the shift, north of evening and approaching morning, the kitchen was distraught to find themselves in possession of a hundred or so uneaten oysters with a painfully short shelf life. Enter Gil and I who, cracking a bottle of sparkling, were good for over 40 of said bivalves between us. Not surprisingly, then, we made exceptionally short work of a dozen Beach House oysters on the half shell, served with mignonette and lemon, and a glass each of Blue Mountain Brut ($10) while we considered the rest of the menu.
We segued into the main meal with an order of Grilled Octopus ($16.50), served in a chunky grilled tomato fondue with chorizo, basil, and croutons. The octopus, which was tender and clearly fresh, was regrettably lightly portioned, the dominant elements of the dish being the tomato sauce and croutons. We lamented the complete absence of bread on the menu (or in the restaurant, as it happened) as a slice of rustic sourdough or grilled focaccia felt necessary to mop up the savoury tomato fondue.
The kitchen graciously obliged our order of a main plate as a second appetizer; we were tempted by the Braised Short Rib Pappardelle ($22) but neither of us wished to commit to it for our mains. The kitchen split the dish into two bowls for us and we relished the perfectly al dente housemade egg noodles, the succulent, melt-in-your-mouth short rib (served in fork-torn ribbons) and a generous handful of king oyster mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, and shaved Parmesan. A subtle hint of hot chillies revealed itself on the back palate.
For his main, Gil ordered Icelandic Arctic Char ($34). While the signature pale pink flesh of the fish was cooked closer to medium than the expected medium rare, it nevertheless remained tender and light, with a crispy seared skin, and married nicely with perfectly executed celery root ravioli, fennel, sunchokes, and leeks. A sauce of white wine emulsion arrived on the side and needed to be returned to the kitchen for reheating, though it ultimately lifted the dish with a boost of richness.
I chose Pan Seared Monkfish ($32) and was grateful for my selection, the dense, lobster-like textured fillet proving immaculately fresh. A smoked potato puree was a bold counterpoint to the fish and was elevated by salty pork lardons, confit shallots, and house-made potato chips. A thick, rich grainy mustard cream sauce was presented on the side for self-portioning as required. Of the two fish ordered, the monkfish was my preferred preparation, though I would have paid a bit extra for one or two of the excellent ravioli from Gil’s plate.
We succumbed to nostalgic impulse when we spotted Baked Alaska ($10.50) on the dessert menu, the dish taking us back to special occasion dinners with parents in the early ’80s when it was a de rigueur treat. For the uninitiated, baked Alaska is a dish in which a densely packed scoop of ice cream is coated in meringue and then baked under high heat until the meringue sets and adopts a caramelized, in places singed, exterior. The Beach House version was a faithful rendition of the classic, with soft peaks of meringue baring chestnut-hued caramelization; the dessert looks satisfyingly like some sort of alien flora about to burst open in bloom. The salted caramel ice cream remained wholly frozen in the centre, providing both the requisite heat and texture contrast to the soft chewy exterior.
Gil and I debated whether or not we would go out of our way to return to Dundarave for another meal here, the Beach House having managed to pull off a thoroughly enjoyable dinner service. I feel compelled to return to investigate brunch service to see if any of the same good seafood can be enjoyed for a slightly less steep price tag. I imagine the restaurant will prove popular with neighbourhood diners and summertime visitors.
Beach House Restaurant, 150 25th Street, West Vancouver.